Foolproof Floating

Foolproof Floating

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Jemma Douglas

Everything you need to know for a fun, safe float on the lower Madison River.

In Bozeman everyone and their cousin has floated the Madison. You would also be hard-pressed to find a floater who had no ideas on how to execute the perfect afternoon. Through many years of combined experience at O/B, we’ve come up with a thorough rundown for a foolproof float. Differing opinions will be heard and systematically disregarded.

For any would-be tuber, there are six steps to a successful Madison River float: floating accessories, finding tubes, transportation, being safe on the river, actually floating, and telling tall tales. 


Step One: Gearing Up
Preparation is important for a good day on the river. We know it's just a leisurely float, but forgetting one of these things might make you an unhappy tuber.

  • Sunscreen: The Madison is in full sun the entire way; pack the SPF or risk exiting the river lobster-red.
  • River Shoes: Floaters who come before you are not always conscientious — the riverbed can hold items unfriendly to your feet. Come prepared.
  • Trash Bag: Leave no trace and keep the Madison clean.
  • Tubes: Can’t really go tubin’ without them.
  • Rope: Better than feet for keeping your group together and small children nearby.
  • Cooler: It gets hot out there, so make sure you have some beverages — and that the containers wind up in the garabage, not the river.
  • Towels and Dry Clothes: You know those afternoon thundershowers, where the temperature drops 20 degrees in five minutes? Enough said.
  • Snacks: Always snacks. Snacks on snacks on snacks. 

Step Two: Tubin' Up
The next hurdle is finding tubes to float in. Several local retailers offer them for rent; here are our favorites: 

  • Big Boys Toys: With a ton of variety and sturdy tubes, this Four Corners stop is a great place to gear up.
  • Montana Whitewater Rafting: New to the tubing world, the old hand at rafting brings some new surprises—like a $17 deal on a tube and a ride to the river.
  • ASMSU: Check out MSU’s outdoor rental shop for deals on tubes.
  • Round House: This local sporting powerhouse offers tubes for rent as well.
  • Pink Cowboy: A new outfit in the Korner Klub parking lot that supports breast-cancer research and offers tubes for rent.
Serious tubers might want to buy their own inflatables, so they're ready to float at a moment's notice. Try these local outlets:
  • Owenhouse Ace Hardware: Ace sells tubes at a reasonable price and will fill up your exsisting tube for $2.
  • Big-Box Stores: Walmart, K-Mart, and Target all have tubes at good prices.
  • Tire Shops: Call around to find the best deal; you should be able to pick one up for around $10.
Step Three: Transportation
A growing population, more and more students sticking around for the summer, and the increasing popularity of the river mean parking can get dicey. Montana Whitewater has a shuttle to the river which fixes the parking problem and the “no one wants to be DD” dilemma. A big school bus picks up passengers at the Montana Whitewater shack across from the high school and in Four Corners; for only $10, your ride is guaranteed to be safe. If you are planning on driving, make sure you have a DD, keep your keys in a safe place, and bring enough tiedowns to keep your tubes on top of your car to and from the river.

Step Four: Hazards

Even on the lazy lower Madison, dangers exist. We can all do better in regards to safety on the river.

  • Glass: Don't bring it to the river. Ever. To account for others' boneheaded behavior, wear the right shoes.
  • Wildlife: Watch out for rattlesnakes along the bank... and the crazy river otter that recently attacked a local floater.
  • Fires: The Madison has already had one huge, human-caused fire. Follow restrictions and be on the lookout for stupid people doing stupid things— like Smokey says, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
  • Drunkenness: Don’t get too inebriated. You could drown, drunk driving is bad, and you’re less fun to be with when you mumble and don't pay attention. Be smart.

Step Five: On the River
The actual floating of the river is super easy and a wonderful way to relax on a hot day. Watch out for shallow patches and rocks that become more frequent as the summer wanes. You can put in at Warm Springs, the most popular launch site, but make sure you have a shuttle car at the take-out or you’re in for a long walk or a dangerous hitch-hiking date. Most floaters take out at Black's Ford, but with creative carpooling there is no limit to where you float. Explore other options for a more personalized and less crowded afternoon. 

Step Six: Bragging Rights
The final step in any tubing adventure is to brag about it to all of your friends that didn’t come along. Certainly you had the most exciting trip of all time and the funniest thing ever happened—it’s a shame they couldn’t make it. They’ll be sure to come next time when the adventures will be grander and the fun more explosive. 

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