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DIY: tube down the Catawba River from Fort Mill

Floating down the Catawba River is the perfect socially distanced and refreshing summer activity! Here are some steps and tips based on our most recent tubing adventure so you can float with confidence!

1. Get a tube! A local tubing company is slated to open in 2021, but before they do and rentals are available, you'll have to buy your own tube. Due to popular demand, local stores have been sold out of tubes, but definitely check out your local Academy Sports, Dick's Sporting Goods, Walmart, Target, etc. Buying online? We recommend this tube! (also available on Amazon)

It's also important to stay hydrated on these hot Carolina days so be sure to buy a cooler tube (see a sturdier option here) or an extra tube/float/raft to hold your cooler. We didn't have a cooler tube, so we just used an extra tube! They also make this option that connects to the Intex tube but we like using our own cooler for maximum coolness and to ensure water doesn't leak in.

2. Pick your entry and exit points. There are several ramps across Fort Mill and Rock Hill to put in and out. Check out your launch options, or download the PDF of launch sites (see page 2).

According to the map, we have always put tubes in at Launch 1, Catawba River Access Lake Wylie Dam at 2541 New Gray Rock Rd , Fort Mill, SC 29708; we float 3.5 miles from the dam to the Pump House, officially the Riverwalk Access on Herrons Ferry Rd. Rock Hill, SC 29730 (launch 2). Depending on the flow of the river, the float typically takes about 3.5 hours.

UPDATED ON 7/16: Parking at the Lake Wylie Dam has been a situation. If you don't get to the lot early enough you can park on New Gray Rock Rd., but make sure all four tires are off the road so emergency vehicles can safely pass. Do not park in no parking zones, block driveways, or park on private property. Be aware of ditches (we have heard of many cars get stuck or tipping over). Lastly, be considerate and respectful of those who live there and don't leave trash behind.

We've heard another great option is entering at the Riverwalk Access ramp (launch 2) and exiting at River Park (~3mi from Riverwalk Access at 1782 Quality Circle, Rock Hill, SC 29730 (launch 3 on the map). River Park is temporarily closed so check before you go!

3. Get started early!

It turns out to be a full day, but you know what they say... early bird gets the parking spot! Plan to drop off your car at the exit point around 9:30am, aiming to be at the entry point lot around 10am. Even earlier is better. By the time you round up your crew, blow up your tubes, wait for people to enter the water, then figure out your formation in the water, it could be 10:30am by the time you actually start your float. It's a lot of coordinating but it's worth it!

4. Drop a car off at your exit point; have another car drive you to the entry point. This part is probably the biggest hassle you'll encounter. Tubing companies will have shuttle at your exit point to take you back to your car at the entry point, but since this is DIY tubing you have to be your own shuttle!

Have a friend follow you to the end point parking lot. Park your car, then hop in the car with your friend to take you to the entry point. When you exit the river, you'll have your car to take you and your friends back up to the entry point where the other car is! (Or you could call Uber - just remember a mask is required to ride.)

5. Blow tubes up at the entry point.

The tubes are too bulky to blow up and throw into the back of your car, so we recommend investing in an air pump that plugs into your car, or battery powered or rechargeable air pump like this one and blow up your tubes on site.

6. Put your tubes in the river and connect them with rope.

The tubes we recommend are great because they already come with a connector on each side of the tube, making it a breeze to connect! If you don't buy the Intex cooler tube that goes with it (that has the same connectors), then you'll need extra rope on hand to connect you to the cooler tube. You may also need rope if a friend doesn't have the same tube as you. It's a good thing to have handy just in case you need it.

With the above steps, you should be able to have a safe, enjoyable day on the river! However, here are more tips to ensure an even better day:

  • Invest in water shoes; rocks can be slippery when getting in and out of the water and this will help keep you and your feet safe!

  • Lather on the sunscreen.

  • Pack a hat and/or a sun shirt to maximize sun safety.

  • Bring a waterproof speaker to play some river tunes.

  • Have towels and dry clothes in the car waiting for you when you return.

  • Don't get on the river after a heavy rainstorm or a week of rain; dry conditions ensure a safer and slower flow of the river.

  • Pack a lunch! Make a sandwich or bring a Publix sub.

UPDATED ON 7/17: Life jackets are encouraged! Whether you wear them, sit on them in your tube, or have them handy, it's a good idea to bring them along to ensure the safest trip. One reader said she brings an extra tube for life jackets and whistles. Be sure to check the river levels before you go and remember it's not advised to tube after heavy rainfall. Conditions will not be safe due to water levels and strong currents.

Lastly, collect your trash and leave the river cleaner than when you started so we can all continue to enjoy this fun activity!

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