Winding it’s way through the hills near North Conway, NH, the Saco River is the perfect place for a river float. Cruise down the river in a tube or kayak and stop at one of the many sandy beaches along the way. There are many routes to choose from and you can simply take a mellow 1 mile float or a slightly more exciting 3 mile float with some small rapids.
Saco River tubing is one of the best summer activities in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and a great way to take a break from hiking and exploring.
In this post we will share everything you need to know to plan and make the most of your day on the river including where to rent your tubes/kayaks, what to wear and whether you can do this trip on your own.
We love our home state of New Hampshire and you can find lots of posts on Chasing ADVNTR to help you plan a visit to this small be awesome New England State.
We’ve been on and along the Saco River many times, but most recently did a 3 mile float during the summer of 2023 and will share our experience and everything we learned when planning the trip.
What to Expect on a Saco River Trip
There are several companies offering Saco River tubing trips and there are slightly different routes depending on the company. In general most of the tubing trips are 1-3 miles in length and you can choose either a flat water float or one with a few rapids (The Redstone Rapids Route).
These route typically take between 1-4 hours depending on the strength of the river and how much time you spend stopping along the way.
For almost all of the trips you will rent a tube or kayak and then do the trip as a self guided float. Depending on where you are floating and the company, a shuttle will either transport you to the start or from the end of your float.
You can see a list of companies that you can rent your tubes from below. Many of these companies also offer shuttle service if you plan to use your own tube.
Beaches: You will find many sandy beaches and sand spits along the river. These spots are great top stop at for a break or set up and have a picnic.
Rapids: Most of the river is flat water, however the Redstone section has several small rapids that are fun but can be a challenge with young kids.
Coolers: You can ee more below on exactly what to bring with you on the river trip, but many people brought coolers along with drinks and snacks. You can put these in a dry bag, a mesh bag, or bring a cooler and rent a cooler tube – yes, this is a real thing! Then tie off your cooler tube for the float and enjoy your cooler along the way.
Where is the Saco River?
The Upper Saco River, where most people tube, and where the rental companies offer Saco River tubing trips flows south past North Conway before making a sharp turn to the northeast in Conway. The Saco River then crosses the Border into Fryburg, Maine.
This Saco River Map is helpful as it shows the locations of the access points to the river.
If you are coming from other areas around New England, you can reach North Conway on Route 16. Here are some common driving distances:
- Boston to North Conway: 2 hours and 45 minutes
- Portland to Boston: 1 hour 40 minutes
- Burlington to North Conway: 3 hours
The Saco River Map Below shows the general location and flow of the Saco River
Where to Rent Tubes for Saco River Tubing
There are many companies along the river where you can rent tubes, kayaks or canoes. Check what shuttle services are available. The tubes are generally designed for river floats and are tough enough for the rocks in the river. If you have your own tube, be aware that it could pop if it doesn’t stand up to the rocks.
Also many of the companies give you the option for a bottomed or bottomless tube.
What to Bring Tubing on the Saco River
Below you can see a list of the things to bring with you on the Saco River. Note that if you are doing the float on the cold day, you may want to adjust this list:
- Bathing Suit
- Phone (in a waterprood Bag)
- Warm layer
- Extra Sunscreen
- Ball to toss
Our Saco River Tubing Trip We most recently did a Saco River tubing trip in the summer of 2023. The previous month had a lot of rain so the river was running high and fast. Due to the age limits on the Redstone Rapids - we couldn't do this part of the river with our 11 year old, so we rented Tubes from Saco Bound and did the 3 miles float. The did the float on a hot Friday in July and several of the other tubing centers on the Saco were sold out. We had a great experience at Saco Bound and rented tubes and walked straight to the river from the center. The entire tube took us 2.5 hours and included several short stops at beaches along the way. The river passes a large rock in the center of the river that marks the halfway point and finishes after passing under the large bridge. On the left is the pick up spot. We waited about 15 minutes for a shuttle ride and were back to out car quickly and easily. This trip was truly so easy and fun!
Common Questions About Tubing the Saco River
Can you bring alcohol on the Saco River?
You can bring your own drinks but may not bring any glass on the Saco River.
Can you bring your own tubes to Saco River?
Yes – you can bring your own tubes on the Saco River. Many personal tubes are not tough enough to withstand the river rocks and can pop. Make sure you have a sturdy tube or consider renting a tube.
How deep is the Saco River tubing?
The river is generally quite shallow and we could stand in many parts. You will find some sections where the river is deeper than your head.
How long does it take to tube the Saco River?
Depending on the float it generally takes between 1-4 hours to tube down the river. It is possible to put together a longer trip or do the entire float more than once.
Can you bring dogs to Saco River?
You can bring dogs on the river. We chose to leave our pooch at home as we were concerned with her popping the tube. It we rented a canoe we would have brought our dog.
How cold is the Saco River?
When we visited the river in late July the temperature was comfortable and just a bit chilly (we live in NH though and are used to the water temp). If you are tubing the sace river on a cold day or early in the season, the water will be much cooler.
Do you need shoes for river tubing?
We went 50:50 on this. My son and I wore shoes and my daughter brought shoes and tied them to their float. It was nice to have shoes to get to and from the river, but walking in the sand in the river was difficult and I almost lost my shoes several times.
Can you bring a cooler on Saco tubing?
Yes – you can rent a tube for your cooler – they are oval shaped and fit a cooler perfectly.
Is the Saco River clean?
The river is generally clean. It was murky due to the recent rains when we were there but it is a popular place for boating and fishing. In the past, the Saco river was contaminated, but is considered safe for boating today. Please remember to pack out any trash to help preserve the health of the river.
Looking for more amazing places to explore in New England?
You might also like our adventures on the Maine Island Trail.