Tubing in Reno with Kids

Anticipation is half the fun! Photo by Frog Mom

Next time you go to Reno, skip the casinos. The cool cats surf and tube in Reno, did you know? Dress the kids in swim attire and head downtown to Wingfield Park where you can splash the whole day away at the Truckee River Whitewater Park. Next thing you know you put the right foot in and you go “Awww!” or “Eeeeek!” depending on how you feel in a snowmelt-fed river. But since the kids are in for fun, you don’t have a choice and you splash right in before dropping down pools and laughing it off. There’s something utterly crazy about going down the river and looking up to see the big ugly towers of casinos sprouting up from the river bank but that’s exactly what makes tubing in Reno so much fun. It sounds so off and yet it isn’t!

When we arrived in Reno during our Labor Day road trip, I knew I wanted to check out the river side. I vaguely remembered a Sunset magazine article on the waterfront district and we googled it to find activities to do with the girls after the Reno Museum of Art. As it turned out, the museum was closed on the day we went so we just walked over to the riverfront at Virginia Street and Mills Street.

Temps were soaring in the low 90s, a light breeze cooled off the riverfront and we were amazed to find a paved path along the Truckee River. Parts of the path hover right above the water in hanging gardens, others meet up with the street level under a green canopy of trees and you can hike for a good uninterrupted mile before turning back on your heels.

The highlight of our walk that day was a group of fearless surfers and rafters tackling a bigger drop pool on the river. The rafters struggled to go up the pool and the surfers took turns at water acrobatics at the end of two lines tied to a bike on the street! Geez, these guys sure were daring and when they wiped out, they just swam downstream until they could come back to the edge. Our girls were gobsmacked.

Then we saw a family of 3 – a dad and his 2 boys, ages roughly 8 and 10 – approaching on big tubes. The first slid down the drop and joined his dad. The young’un followed but got stuck in the whirlpool part of the drop. A surfer dude went to his rescue. A few other people followed the same route in tubes of all sizes. All this got us thinking and it didn’t take us long to find where people rented tubes: Tahoe Whitewater Tours.

The next day we were back with swim suits and water sandals. We parked the car in front of the tube rental office and rented 3 tubes for $6 an hour. I was planning to swim alongside the tubes so I had my swimming goggles on and a swimsuit. However after our first trip in, I found the right arm of the river to be so shallow that I dressed in capris and tee-shirt to avoid getting scraped on slippery rocks. Aha, that explained why I had seen so many people swim fully-dressed the day before! I thought they were poorly prepared for a river swim when in fact they were.

Filming with the GoPro
To get a unique angle the water experience, I filmed the first water trip with my Hero HD Helmet GoPro camera. This amazing high performance waterproof camera comes mounted on a head band and you can film any water or action sport without using your hands which is pretty neat. It shoots at a 170 angle which gives a nifty National Geographic magazine feel and the sound is true to life. Just tighten the headband around your head and get swimming! I know that I’ll be using it for my ski adventures too as I’ve seen great footage of winter sports with this camera.

 Hint: move curser to 2 minutes to avoid the lengthy preambles of “should I or should I not get wet”. The YouTube movie I made is quite long because once I was in, I was more concerned about the safety of my girls than the graphic diversity of my movie. Plus this GoPro camera doesn’t have any viewing screen and I wasn’t sure what I was filming – or whether I was filming. When the GoPro shut off on second take because the batteries went low, I didn’t realize it until I downloaded the files on my computer and saw they weren’t there. That was very frustrating but a 10-minute Google search showed it was a battery problem – not the fact I hadn’t pushed the right button. I charged the battery on a USB drive and was able to use the camera a few days later without problem in a lake. Aside from that, I was amazed by the quality of the image and I hope you’ll enjoy the movie.

Itinerary
From the tube rental place, you reach the river just upstream from Wingfield Island. The river divides into two arms. Right/south of the island is where the water is shallow, tame and safe for kids of all ages. Drop pools are smaller but still provide good fun. Left/north of the island is rougher to rough with much more depth, strong currents and higher drop pools. You won’t be able to stand everywhere and you’ll need to be a good enough swimmer to reach the shore in case of emergency. If your child is uncomfortable with water, avoid that part.

We explored both sides but after my 6-year old had a scary experience on the north side that ended up with a scraped knee, we came back to the south side and enjoyed it a lot more.

Safety
Kids will need more than swimsuits and tubes to go tubing. Any water sport has its own risks as I learned when my 6-year old’s tube flipped over sliding down a drop pool and she went under the water. Those were the longest 10 seconds of my life and until I was able to reach her downstream, my heart went in hyperdrive mode. When I got her out of there, her knee was bleeding and she was shaking. Me too. I wish the tube renters had warned us better about the north arm of the river.

So please even if the river looks tame, make your kids wear a lifejacket and a helmet. You can never be too cautious.

Practical Details

  • Tube rental: $6 an hour
  • Location: 400 Island Ave., Reno,
  • Phone: 1-775-787-5000
  • BYO: swim suits, waterproof shoes, towels and dry change of clothes.
  • When: Temps hit the 80s and 70s in September and October, it’s not too late this year to feel the rush!
  • Ages: I would not recommend this activity for kids under age 5.

Dining
You couldn’t think you could tube the day away without filling your stomach, right? First the kids. We took ours to The Hop, an ice cream shop where you can get the frozen thing in every color of the rainbow. They drooled over the windows, picked a flavor each and couldn’t finish their scoop. That’s when I saw on the counter a tiny sample cup for kids. Why didn’t the waitress give me that when I asked for kid size? Lesson: adult scoops are meant for adults.

In the evening, we had a wonderful dinner at Old Granite Street Eatery, a Reno restaurant where veggies mean more than mashed potatoes and good micro-brew beers exist. Following the Yelp reviews, we shared the Devils on Horseback as appetizers but I was tempted by the farm fresh deviled eggs too. All the menu looked right out of San Francisco’s Ferry Building! What a great surprise in Reno. Rather than the kids’ menu, my girls shared the pork tenderloin with sweet corn, bacon and Swiss chard and I had a wood grilled burger. My husband flank-steaked. All were incredible. I should add that parking was ridiculously easy and service very friendly. In a few words: go there to eat in Reno!

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Laure Latham

Laure is an author, environmental advocate, blogger, open water swimmer and now mother. She's passionate about inspiring families to enjoy the outdoors with their children, learning to unplug and living a healthy lifestyle, giving kids life skills and exploring the world around us sharing Family Friendly, Fun Ideas for the whole family on Frog Mom.

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