Tubing the Chattahoochee River in Helen, Ga is a rite of passage. It’s that thing that every local and visitor alike MUST do when coming within at least 100 miles of the Alpine city. This summer we took the boys for some tubing in Helen as part of their birthday celebration. Yes, they are still talking about it!
Want to spend the day tubing yourself – either with the family, with friends, or on a special adults-only outing? Here are 10 things you need to know before “shooting the hooch” in Helen, Georgia.
Where to Get Tubes
Our family took the “green tubes” down the river, with the Cool River Tubing company in Helen. We started our adventure at their Chattahoochee Outpost. You can also start at the Headwaters Outpost, or visit their booth on Mainstreet.
The staff was super friendly, and it was easy to use their shuttle service to the drop-off point.
You can also take the “pink tubes” with Helen Tubing & Waterpark. We didn’t have the opportunity to try their tubing offerings, but we did check out the waterpark. In fact, the slides there are one of the main reasons my boys wanted to visit Helen for their birthday.
The oldest was tall enough to go down the four slides – 42-inches and taller. The youngest is still too short, but he and I enjoyed the 1000-ft lazy river and the playground. The lazy river here is also a great alternative for those times when the water level is too low for tubing (see below).
Cool River Tubing vs. Helen Tubing
- There is only one ride down the river with the pink tubes (one entrance and one exit point) while the green tubes offered a long and short ride.
- The pink tubes are a little cheaper in price; it’s nominal but can add up for large parties.
- The pink tubes allow young ones; kids must be 3yo or older to ride the green tubes.
- If you want to take on the water park, enjoy unlimited tubing on the pink tubes for free.
- There is a single water slide you can also enjoy with the green tubes too. There is an extra $5 cost. You must be 42″.
- Helen Tubing recently added a 25-foot tall, 4-lane rock wall at their water park.
- Cool River Tubing has a picnic area for customers with pavilions, tables, and grills.
- They both seem to close their season after Labor Day weekend.
Watch the Water Levels
If the water level is too low then they won’t run the tubes. Usually with a low water level Cool River will just recommend the shorter run, rather than the longer one. Call and ask – don’t be shy. If you’re in town, you can ask any local or eavesdrop on almost any conversation. Everyone will be talking about it.
When we visited the water levels were low. It had been raining on and off for a few days, but there hadn’t been enough time for the water to run down from the mountains. Because of that we took the short ride, which lasted about 2.5 hours. Yes, you’ll see on many websites that the short ride is only 1-1.5 hours…but if the water level is low then it doesn’t flow as easily and the ride can take longer…which we loved!
Buy or Bring a Stick
Everywhere I researched prior to our tubing adventure indicated that we needed a push off stick on the trip, especially if the water level is low. The staff at Cool River recommended a push stick.
We didn’t buy a push stick. We totally regretted it!
BUY THE STICK. Or you can bring your own (no – you aren’t going to find one along the side of the river bank). You can purchase them for $5 (give or take) at both tubing locations. Then keep the stick, and use it again the next time! Trust me. Buy the darn thing.
Everything is Going to Get Wet
You are going to get wet, even if you take the tube with a bottom. Prepare for this. Wear your swimsuit or something akin to one. I wore my suit with a swim cover (mostly because I’m over 40 and I look it. Lol.) Don’t wear jeans, though. Even jean shorts. Denim gets super heavy when it is wet.
I also used a waterproof case for my iPhone so that I could take photos. Both tubing outfitters sell waterproof cameras if you prefer to take that route.
Don’t forget water shoes. We wore our KEEN sandals and that was perfect. Again, both tubing outfitters offered these. You don’t want to go barefoot, as you might need to get out of your tube, and you never know what’s going to be in the river. A fish hook in the heel will not feel good. Standard flip flops aren’t a good idea either. If the river is really flowing, those flops will come right off. It’s really best to be wearing some type of water shoe that will not easily come off your feet.
Save Your Beer for Afterward
You can’t blame the tubing companies; this is the law of the City of Helen. No alcohol, no coolers, no glass and no litter.
If you need to hydrate, you are allowed one 32-oz non-glass drink container but don’t even think about sneaking the booze. The Helen PD are not shy about enforcing good clean fun.
Stay Attached to the One You Love
If you’re tubing with little ones, I highly recommend that you grab a leash from the outfitter to attach their tube to yours.
The leashes are free to use, but they recommend just one strap per two tubes for safety reasons. So, you can’t strap eight tubes together or anything!
If you’re floating with older kids or friends, then I’d say forgo the leashes. Use your push stick to take hold and wait on the tube that is behind you.
Go Early to Beat the Crowds
We visited Helen on a weekend and were holding our tubes at 9am when they opened. In fact, we were the first ones on the bus to the drop-off point, and I HIGHLY recommend this.
First, it was much easier with kids when we didn’t have to worry about navigating around other tubers. We had the river to ourselves, pretty much. And we like it that way.
Second, you don’t want to have to wait in line to pay, then wait in line to get on the bus, then wait in line to get in the water. Especially with kids. If you can’t get there early, I certainly wouldn’t discourage you from going. But it was perfectly peaceful that Saturday morning, and we OWNED the river.
Finally, if you wait too late in the day, there is a chance that the outfitters might have to stop selling tickets. Only a certain number of people can fit on that stretch of the river. Especially on a holiday weekend, don’t risk going too late.
No Restrooms or Shopping Stops
There are no restroom stops along the way. The only authorized stop is with Cool River Tubing, if you paid to ride the water slide. For those, there is a designated stopping area. Otherwise, don’t get out of the river with your tube.
Much of the land along the river is privately owned, so you’d be trespassing on homeowners’ properties. Second, shop owners don’t want wet patrons dripping Chattahoochee water all over their wares. Who can blame them? Just remember. “Go” before you go.
Kids and Pups are Welcome
As mentioned above, kids must be 3yo and older to ride with Cool River. There is not an age limit with Helen Tubing.
All kiddos must have a certified life jacket. We brought one for the 4yo and he wore it. The 8yo is a superior swimmer so he didn’t wear his life vest, but they did have him keep it in his tube. In fact, he wore it for awhile because it made him feel more comfortable (which I appreciated).
Both outfitters allow pups. They can ride with you or you can rent them their own tube and tether it to yours. Please bring a towel for the bottom so their claws don’t ruin the tube, otherwise you might have to buy it.
Mind Your Stuff
Remember, everything gets wet. You also don’t want to lose your keys or valuables. Locker rental is available at both outfitters, with restrooms and changing areas. You can also do what we did and put your stuff back in your car before boarding the bus.
Both places also have a rack for your keys. Cool River Tubing requires a photo ID exchange for keys to make sure no one takes yours. Whatever you do, just don’t take your keys with you. Murphy’s Law.
The Best AirBnB Stays in Helen
Disclosure: Thank you to Helen, Ga for arranging for us to visit Cool River Tubing and Helen Tubing. Opinions here are all our own.
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After 18 years in software development, Lesli bailed on the corporate scene. When she’s not traveling, she’s hiking in the mountains or checking out Atlanta’s culinary scene, whiskey in hand.
Lesli has two kiddos -Cooper and Elliot- plus two bonus kids currently at UGA, and she’s happily married to her soul mate.