Charlotte,  Day Trip,  South Carolina

Tubing the Catawba River – 25 minutes from Charlotte

Tubing is the perfect activity to escape the heat of a Charlotte summer. Just 25 minutes from Uptown, you can set off on your tubing adventure. Here’s what you need to know.

The starting point for tubing is at the Catawba River Access point at Wylie Dam, south of Charlotte right into South Carolina. At the dam, you will find a FREE parking lot with spots for boat trailers and cars. Once the lot fills up, you are allowed to park along the entry road for the parking lot and the main road (new Gray Rock Road). HOWEVER, it’s best to get to the parking lots by 11am on weekends and holidays, or you will end up walking pretty far. I know that doesn’t sound too bad, but you will regret it when you have to lug your tube, cooler, and other supplies that far.

There are multiple endpoints for tubing. The most popular is the Pump House/Riverwalk. If you tube from the Catawba River Access – Wylie Dam to the Pump House, it will take you 3 to 4 hours depending on the water speed. Some days, it feels like you’re speeding down the river, and other days, it feels like you need to paddle yourself. Check out the York County page for details on tubing further down the river.

The most important thing to note is that you need at least two cars for this excursion. In the morning, drive both cars to the Pump House. Park one car in the gravel lots designated for tubing/river access. Do not park in the restaurant or other business parking spots or you may be towed. Leave anything you don’t need while tubing – towels, change of clothes, etc. – in the car you are parking at the Pump House. Take everything you need for tubing, including the keys for the car parked at the Pump House, with you in the other car. I bold and highlight this because my friends have made a mistake before and had to uber after forgetting the keys to the car parked at the end of the route.

Everyone should get in the second car and drive that car to the Catawba River Access – Wylie Dam. This is where you will unload all of your tubing supplies. I recommend keeping your tubes deflated until you arrive. You can buy an air pump that works with your car for less than $20 on Amazon. This is the one I’ve had for years, and I haven’t had any issues.

Once you’re ready, carry everything down to the boat ramp at the river. Make sure to pack lots of snacks and drinks for the day. I recommend connecting all of your tubes, including your cooler tube, while you are able to set everything in the water and stand at the bottom of the boat ramp. This will prevent everyone from floating off separately and trying to get back together. There is usually a line to do this, so be patient.

Tubing down the river will be a relaxing 3 to 4 hours, or longer if you tube past the Pump House. I do want to note that there are rocks in the water that are shallow and sometimes even stick out of the water, so make sure you are paying attention to what’s ahead of you because they will hurt your bum if you don’t (ask me how I know that). You can also “pull over” and stop at some rocks or the bank of the river for a swim stop or lunch. If the water is moving swiftly the day you are there, I would not recommend doing this.

When you are getting close to the Pump House, you will go under two bridges. Immediately after the second bridge, you will see the overhang of the deck of the Pump House on your right side, and the river entrance/exit point is after you go under the deck. You’ll look for a big concrete sloped walkway going down into the river on your right. It’s honestly kind of hard to see unless others are getting out at the same time, so just stay to the right side of the river when you get to the second bridge and the Pump House. You can even step out of your tube and walk along the edge of the river if you are at the shallow area.

I recommend deflating your tubes once you’re up on the concrete walkway. This will make it easier to carry everything to your car and pack it up. You’ll be glad you have the car keys for the car parked at the Pump House at this point.

I hope you enjoy your tubing adventure!


What to Pack: