Tubin’ the Tar
Go with the flow and find a lazy river near youBy Tara Verna
Birding chirping … turtles sunning themselves … feet dangling from a bright orange tube into water the color of sweet tea … kids laughing and splashing … a cold sip of a drink … the silvery flip of a speckled perch … jeez it’s hot! ... bouncing off the tube for a quick cool, dip … clambering awkwardly back on … gazing up into a canopy of kaleidoscopic greenery … oh, look! A heron! Ah, the magic of tubing a lazy river in North Carolina!
Something for everyone
I’ve been tubing down the Tar River in northeastern North Carolina a few times. Each trip has been a welcome respite from stress, the pandemic, daily life — in other words, magic. You’d have to work hard to be unhappy on a lazy river, as it offers something for just about everyone. My kids found joy in splashing and dunking one another; beaching their tubes on large rocks along the way for a picnic; leaping from said rocks or half-submerged trees to cool off. I loved watching their antics, feeling the pull of the gentle current and the water flowing over my feet — closing my eyes to drink in the sun and feeling goosebumps while passing under the shade of a towering oak. My sister-in-law took a continuous stream of photos with her phone, tempting fate by holding it over the river, straining to get that “perfect” selfie or action shot. My husband kept the cooler tube close, indulging in snacks and drinks and sun with a little too much abandon, until his skin was approaching lobster-done.
Although our trip lasted about three hours and only covered 1.5 miles, the Tar River is actually 215 miles long and averages 3–6 feet deep. It winds its way southeast, from Roxboro through places like Louisburg, Rocky Mount, Tarboro and Greenville.
In the past, it was used as a major route for tar-laden barges as they headed to the sea, hence its “tar” moniker. Today, it’s home to an amazing number of species that rely on this river ecosystem, including bald eagles, osprey, beavers, deer and more.
Miles of adventure
The Tar River is one of more than 40,000 miles of rivers and streams in North Carolina, so there is certainly plenty to choose from. You can go it alone or rent your equipment from a company like Tar River Life (tarriverlife.com). Most of these companies offer tubing as well as kayaking or canoeing. A few allow children as young as 3, but most encourage ages 5 and up. They’ll typically have you park your car at the end point and bus your group to the start. After you finish, you’ll have a short walk back to your car.
You’ll find something unique about all of them. The Tar River trip offers a high bank at the end and if the water is deep enough, my kids love running and cannon-balling into the river. I love the stone, graffiti-covered wall at the end where we take our “after” shot, imagining we look like a rock band rather than simply drippy, tired and sunburned — but happy.
Just what the doctor ordered
After coping with the stresses of a pandemic for more than a year, it might be just what the doctor ordered to capture a little vitamin D and downtime on a lazy river. Megan Greer, general manager of Tar River Life, finds her own version of healing in the river.
“As a staff, we tend to take the river for granted,” she says. “But after this past year, it has rekindled our passion to see people enjoy it so much — we feel so much gratitude.”
Plan your trip
With thousands of miles of river to explore across the state, there’s likely a lazy float waiting to be had not far from you. Here are a few outfitters to help get you on the water — call ahead to confirm availability.
Smoky Mountain Tubing, Bryson City
deepcreekcamping.com | 828-488-6055
French Broad River
Zen Tubing, Asheville
zentubing.com | 855-936-8823
Silver Creek Tubing, Saluda
silvercreektubing.com | 828-894-2331
High Mountain Expeditions, Boone
highmountainexpeditions.com | 828-202-1981
Smoky Mountain Tube & Raft, Cherokee
cherokeetubeandraft.com | 828-497-4545
Loafers Glory Rafting & Tubing, Bakersville
loafersgloryrafting.com | 828-688-9290
Dillsboro River Company, Sylva
North Carolina River Riders, Ronda
northcarolinariverriders.com | 336-244-6220
Dan River Adventures, Stoneville
danrivercampground.com | 336-548-0080
Tar River Life, Bunn
tarriverlife.com | 919-496-9237
- Leave your keys in your car, or attach a spare in your wheel well with a magnetic clip.
- Make a day of it by arriving late morning. Bring your own rope to tie off of a bank for lunch.
- Take your time and be “lazy.”
- Rent a cooler tube. You’ll supply the cooler and munchies. But you can attach it to your tube and have a ready supply of drinks (no glass) and sandwiches along the way.
- Rent a dry pouch for your phone.
- Wear sunscreen and sunglasses.
- Keep a set of dry clothes in your car.
About the AuthorTara Verna is the creative director for Carolina Country.
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