South Platte tubing season is here

You’ll have to pay to park, but the water’s gonna be perfect.
3 min. read
Tubers attempt to float the very low South Platte River at South Platte Park in Littleton, July 4, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

It's that time of year, dear reader, for our annual South Platte River tubing report.

Let's start with the haters out there: Yes, the river is not the cleanest.

But for some of us, floating serenely down its southern section, between I-470 and the Reynold's Landing (by the Breckenridge Brewery in Littleton), is a treat like no other. You might consider giving it a shot.

For the non-haters, we have some news: For the first time, the managers at South Platte Park, where our favorite tube route begins, have instituted a parking reservation system between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Rezzies cost $10.

Click here for our guide to tubing this section of the river.

What's the tube forecast this year, you ask?

The season has officially started.

Temperatures are hot enough to warrant a swim, and the river's flow through Littleton is at the upper end of the Goldilocks zone, between 100 and 500 cubic feet per second (CFS).

If you have little kids, you might want to wait until levels drop from their current 400 CFS level. That could make the half-dozen rapids along the way a little bit scary.

Skot Latona, South Platte Park's manager who was named a "real-life Leslie Knope," said the water is still pretty cold, but that won't last for long. Lots of people have already taken the plunge this year, he said.

Tubers float peacefully through Littleton on the South Platte River. July 16, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

While Latona can't predict the future, he said he suspects water levels will remain in that Goldilocks zone through the start of July. Those flows are dictated by how much water is stored in the Chatfield Reservoir upriver, and how much water is needed downriver.

"We're expecting good flow this year, because all the reservoirs are full and the snow pack was strong," he told us.

It's a welcome change from the last few years, when the Goldilocks period only lasted a week or two.

Wait, why is parking no longer free?

Demand is high, is the short answer. Latona said Denverites really discovered South Platte Park, and tubing it, in recent years.

"This got so big that we had long lines to the point where we had to have ranger down there constantly, to keep roads clear," he said.

The parking lots there are small and things could get chaotic when people showed up en masse.

"Last Fourth of July, we had over 50 cars waiting for a parking spot," Latona said.

So he's hoping the system will keep things calm. The reservation fee offsets the cost of hiring a third-party company to manage things and is ultimately cheaper than paying rangers to be traffic cops.

But there may soon be fewer reasons to park all the way down at South Platte Park, Latona told us.

The Mile High Flood District (MHFD) is spearheading a project to reshape the river by Reynold's Landing, which Latona said should provide an all-day hangout spot. People may not need to park in his park once it's done.

MHFD executive director Laura Kroeger told us the improvements replace three big rapids around the landing with more, smaller water features. They're also planning to revamp pedestrian trails and access, so people can easily float downstream, walk a few hundred yards back up and do it again.

Work on that section of the river is slated to begin this autumn, and may take as long as two years, Kroeger said.

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