Floating down the Shenandoah River – Harpers Ferry

Posted on Posted in Everything Else, Reviews, Trips in Eastern United States

Recently, Brandon (my boyfriend), his son and I met up with some of his family to utilize tubing vouchers he purchased from River & Trail Outfitters.  It was a perfect day to float on a river, but I have to admit, I have mixed emotions about the experience.  This was my very first time river tubing.  Brandon had been before but I wasn’t able to join those times so I wasn’t completely sure what to expect.

We left fairly early that Sunday morning, as our appointment time was at 10:30am.  It was about an hour and a half drive from Baltimore to Harper’s Ferry, a drive that I am all too familiar with.  Once we got to the main building to check in, the parking situation was horrendous.  There were very few spaces and the place was busy.  After a few minutes of driving up the road looking for a spot, we turned around to head back to the main parking area and were marshaled into a spot by an employee.

We were given a few documents to sign for safety and liability.  As it turned out, we were told there was another location about 10 minutes away that we had to drive to.  So we hopped back in the car and to the next location.

After making it to the next location, we checked in at the little booth and were told we could give them our car keys to ensure they are safely kept rather than taking them along the river.  So after handing them the keys and hearing the list of instructions, we grabbed a life vest (which wreaked of mildew from previous tubers) and waited at the picnic tables for the green “pickle bus.”

We waited for what felt like a lifetime because there was only one bus driver (or at least only one that I noticed).  We were instructed to pick a tube color, some had the center cut out where as others did not.  You could also purchase an “upgraded” tube that had a head rest on the back.  Floating coolers were also available for an extra fee of $10.   When we picked our tubes, we were to hand them to the bus driver so he could load them into the trailer.  As everyone filtered through the line, we sat and waited on the big green school bus, ready to go to our THIRD location of the day.
The bus driver was friendly and cracked a few corny jokes while yelling over people talking loudly on the bus.  He was attempting to explain what we should expect on our river floating adventure.  He mentioned that creating a ripple in the water will deter the occasionally seen river snake, and that the float would take approximately 2 hours to complete.  An intercom would have been handy, however, as his voice couldn’t compete with everyone else’s; he was extremely difficult to hear.  After a short ride up the road, we were dropped off at an opening in the river (which appeared to be shared with the company River Riders) and we were on our way.

River & Trail Outfitters recommends that people wear shoes other than flip-flops when floating on the river.  It seems this is because the river is very shallow and rocky.  Also, flip-flops fall off easily.  I figured this out as I tried jumping onto the tube only to lose my shoes twice.  Fortunately, I was able to find them pretty easily so they weren’t gone for good!

As we slowly floated, I took notice to the fact that the river was very crowded.  Not only with people tubing, but also people in various stops along the river that were swimming.  It was disappointing to find quite a bit of trash littering the sides of the crowded waters.  Many people had coolers full of alcohol and some even had music.  This was definitely a beer drinkers kind of activity!

There were points where the scenery was better than others, and a couple of short areas where the water was more rough than others.  Some areas were so shallow that our tubes would get stuck on the rocks below.  The river was calm.  REALLY calm.  There were times when we wondered if we were even moving at all.  When we made it to the point that we could actually see the parking lot that we were to stop at, I was starving and ready for the ride to end, but it was a tease.  Although we could see the ending point, it would still be another 45 minutes until we were able to reach it.

It was about 2 hours, as we were told, until we finally made it back to the parking lot.  We decided to eat lunch at their own Blue Heron Grill since it was the only choice on the premises.  Most people brought their own food but we were unprepared!  We approached the grill, which ended up being nothing but a dingy old food truck.  I’m not going to lie, it looked sketchy.  I’m no diva, but I was expecting something different when I had read there was a grill on site.  A woman manning the truck showed us the tiny menu of overpriced food.  A simple hot dog was $5!  I guess that’s how they can make a few extra bucks since no other food is close by.  Rather than having a register at the truck, she sent us over to the same booth we left our keys at, to pay for the food.  They would then give us a ticket to bring back over with our food choices.

The Blue Heron Grill
The Blue Heron Grill

I watched as she made the food.  She pulled out a bag of Food Lion french fries and dropped them in the oil to cook.  As she prepared the hot dogs, she didn’t use gloves or anything.  Lord only knows where her hands had been and she was handling everyone’s food.  Gross!  I don’t need 5-star restaurants by any means, but a certain degree of sanitary measures would be nice.  If anyone wanted onions on their food, the customer was told to get it straight out of the container it was sliced in.  Needless to say, the food was lackluster and the prices were ridiculous.

The kids enjoyed the tubing trip and so did the adults that had alcohol to take along.  Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the river ride, but I was bored.  Next time I think I would opt for the next level up, but we had young kids on this trip so the “mellow” river experience was necessary.  We did end up going around once more only because the kids really wanted to.

So here are the pros and cons of this experience:

Great for kids and families
The river was safe and calm
There was plenty of parking at the float site
Staff was very friendly

The river was a little too calm/slow (for my liking)
Things were unorganized
Seemed understaffed
Food was significantly overpriced and the truck looked straight out of a horror film
The food
Port-a-pots seemed as though they has never been cleaned
The river was very crowded
Parking was terrible at the first location


Would I do this again?  Probably not.  But they have plenty of other experiences to try.  Harper’s Ferry is beautiful so I always love going there, but I think next time I will opt for the zip-lining, whitewater rafting or whitewater rapids tubing.  It’s a great idea for people with young children and/or a lot of time to kill.  Oh and…..bring your own food.  😉

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