At the end of June, we decided to go hiking on Deep Creek loop trail due to the great trails, and the ability to see three different waterfalls. We loved the hike and the waterfalls, but what caught our attention the most was all of the people having a great time tubing down Deep Creek. We left vowing to come back and try out the tubing sometime soon.
This past Sunday, during 4th of July weekend, all of our kids where home, nobody was scheduled to work, and with no plans, we decided to head out as a family and try out Deep Creek Tubing. Tubing at Deep Creek turned out to be one of the most fun things we’ve done since moving to the Blue Ridge 6 years ago.
Read on for all the details, photos, tips, cost and more!
Deep Creek Tubing
The Deep Creek area of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located just north of Bryson City, and easy to get to. I’ve included full directions at the bottom of this article. Deep Creek has:
- a Campground
- a Picnic area
- Picnic shelters
- Miles of hiking trails
- 3 large and beautiful waterfalls (2 very close to the parking lot)
- and Tubing
Deep Creek Trail runs along side Deep Creek for miles. The parts of Deep Creek near the Camping and Picnic areas is perfect for tubing, and as a result one of the most popular destinations for families in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
You’ll follow the main entrance road past the picnic area, and to the end, where the Deep Creek trail head begins. There is a parking lot just to the left that is often full during the summer. Missing this area will be difficult, as you’ll see tons of people in bathing suits carrying brightly colored tubes up the trail.
Most people hike up Deep Creek Trail about a mile to the second bridge where Indian Creek trail branches to the right. There will be signs here saying “No Tubing beyond this point”. This is due to the creek getting to rocky and dangerous for safe tubing. Just before the signs and the bridge, there will be paths down to the left that provide access to the creek and a place to get on. Again, it will be hard to miss, just follow the people.
This particular access point is a great spot for older kids and adults, but I wouldn’t personally recommend it if you are tubing with smaller children. Instead, I would begin tubing just past the first bridge. The area from the first bridge to the second is a lot of fun, and the most exciting, but it has some fairly strong flowing waterfalls that can and will tip you over.
Our first time down, we started from the second bridge and went all the way down with our 8 year old daughter. I tipped over once, but was able to keep her upright, but it was difficult going, and on subsequent runs, her and I waited at the first bridge for the rest of our crew, and joined them there.
Toms Branch Falls, near Deep Creek Trail head.
For most people though, tubing all the way from the second bridge at Indian Creek Falls, down to the Toms Branch Falls is really fun, incredibly beautiful, and very refreshing on a hot summer day. Tubing this whole stretch takes about 20-30 minutes, and the walk back up isn’t too bad as it’s mostly flat.
You can tube down past Toms Branch Falls, but Deep Creek gets a bit shallow, and we found ourselves getting stuck on rocks often.
What you can expect is a mix of very slow relaxing areas, and areas of fairly fast moving but small waterfalls. I would say the biggest is maybe 3 feet tall. you will get wet and sometimes soaked, especially if you tip over. The water when we went was very cool, but refreshing, especially after hiking up the trail for a mile or so.
As you tube down, there are a few very calm areas of the creek that make for great spots to just stop, float and enjoy the sites and sounds. I literally could have just sat there and floated around watching all the people go by.
The tubes themselves are strong, but difficult to maneuver, which adds to the fun and adventure. Expect to bump people too, which is a fun way to socialize and get to know people. We found ourselves running along with a really nice family a few times in a row.
I don’t want to scare you, because overall tubing down Deep Creek is fairly safe, but not without a little danger. You are tubing down a natural creek, full of rocks in rushing water. If you go under, you can get injured. I bumped my head one time when I flipped, and got some water up my nose, but nothing major. Just be smart, and careful and you’ll be fine. If you have small children tubing with you say 10 years or younger, I would recommend keeping them with someone that is a strong swimmer or putting a life vest on them.
While we’re far from experts, you do learn a few tips pretty quick that help to make your experience more enjoyable:
- The deepest areas of Deep Creek tend to be on the left side (side furthest from the trail). Staying in deeper water, keeps you from getting stuck on rocks or bottoming out.
- Try to stay in the main current, and pay attention to the strongest current areas and target them with your tube. This will again keep you from getting stuck on rocks and also keep you from getting caught up in calmer areas of water which are a bit difficult to get out of sometimes due to them swirling.
- The rocks are sometimes difficult to see, but when you do see them and can’t avoid going over them, lean back a little or try to pull up the edge of the tube that will hit the rock first. This will allow water to go in-between your tube and the rock and often let you flow right over it. I would also suggest you lift your posterior as well, to avoid getting bruises where you don’t want bruises 😉 Fortunately the rocks in the water are very well rounded and smooth due to years of rushing water.
- Try to remain a reasonable distance from other tubers. This will help keep you on track, and also avoid both of you getting stuck in between rocks.
There are no bathrooms near the trail entrance or trail parking lot. The closest bathrooms are in the picnic area loop. They also have changing facilities. I’d recommend making a stop there on your way in.
There are some pretty dense woods next to the parking lot and along side the trail and creek. We saw many people, especially with young kids venturing in for obvious reasons.
What to bring with you
While we brought most of what we needed, we did learn a few things and the next time we visit we’ll bring a few extra items. Here’s the item we would recommend bringing with you:
- Cooler with waters (or whatever your preferred beverage is). You do a good bit of walking, and tubing, while relaxing, does involve a bit of exercise.
- Food – There aren’t really too many restaurants near by, and you’ll have tubes with you. We ate lunch at home, and just brought snacks. I think next time though, we’ll arrive a bit earlier, and plan to pack some sandwiches.
- Water shoes – You’ll thank me for this later, but pick up some good water shoes. You won’t want to carry your shoes in the tube, and you won’t want to walk up Deep Creek Trail barefoot. Also, the bottom of Deep Creek is rocky, and slick. Water shoes make all the difference.
- Bathing Suits/Change of clothes – The water is pretty cool, so I wouldn’t recommend wearing normal clothes. Wear a bathing suit. I would also recommend that both men and women wear quick dry shirts. This will keep the tubes from irritating/scratching your skin. Ladies, if you’re a bit modest, you might want to wear some bathing suit shorts to wear over your bathing suit bottom, as you’ll be spending half your time walking up the trail.
- Beach towels – We brought a beach towel along for everyone, plus a few extras.
- Canoe Paddles – This is one item we didn’t bring on our first trip, but wish we had. Steering your tube is about near impossible with your hands due to the current. A small Ore would have been ideal, and in fact we saw a number of people with these.
- Waterproof Digital Camera – Another item we didn’t have. So we couldn’t take pictures while tubing, and to get pictures I had to walk to the car, get the camera, hike up, then hike back.
- Waterproof Cell Phone Case – We left our cells in the car, but if you want your cell phone with you (for video or pictures), get a waterproof case. Don’t think you’ll be able to keep your cell phone dry, you won’t.
- Sunscreen – While most of the creek is shaded, there are parts of the trail and creek where you’ll get direct sunlight. If you’re skin is sensitive, we would recommend some sunscreen.
- Waterproof Hat – I didn’t think to do this, but wish I had: bring a hat. The top of my head got sunburned, and I have lots of hair.
- Cash – Bring cash. Some places take credit cards, but you’re in the remote mountains of Western NC. Many people only take cash. If you forget cash, tree are some ATMs in nearby Bryson City.
- Lanyard Keychain Holder – Another item I failed to bring. I tied my key to my bathing suit strings, but having a lanyard would have made things much easier.
Try to keep as much stuff in your car as you can. You won’t want to have to carry it along as you hike up the trail with your tube, and you won’t want to have to worry about losing it while tubing down the creek. If you can’t attach it to you, and can’t waterproof it, don’t bring it.
One final note for you ladies. While there were many young girls and women there in bikinis, I would personally recommend a one piece. With the current and small waterfalls, you stand a very high change of losing your top or bottom in the current if you tip over. We unfortunately saw this happen a few times, resulting in some very red faces.
You’re probably thinking: Great info, but where do you get the tubes? Good question!
You can bring your own tubes, but most people rent them. These are not your average tubes, and purchasing your own of the same quality is expensive. The tubes you rent are heavy duty, and designed to take the rocky conditions in the creek.
Before entering the park as you wind around Deep Creek Rd, there are numerous places to rent tubes. You’ll see lots of signs – including few with some bad, but hilarious “tube” puns. Some of these places provide tube rental only, while others offer stores, ice cream, clothing, shoes, etc. Generally, the closer you get to the entrance, the more expensive the tube rental becomes. I will say the place right before the entrance is really nice, with lots of different types of tubes, but they aren’t cheap.
With 6 kids, we’re a bit frugal, so we stopped at a place about a mile or so before the park entrance called TubeWorld. You’ll see it on the left, close to road. We would highly recommend renting your tubes from TubeWorld. The cost is $3 per tube all day.
As we pulled up to TubeWorld, we were promptly greeted by a very friendly and helpful gentlemen named JD. JD not only rented us 8 tubes, but managed to also tie all of them up on our Ford Expedition for us. We looked like a tug boat going down the road, but knot tieing and roping job was top notch. JD was a Park Ranger, veteran, and old boy scout (as you can tell by his knot tying skills).
Total cost, $24. If you stop by TubeWorld, make sure you tell them Blue Ridge Mountain Life sent you. Make sure you talk to JD too, just a super nice fella.
A few tips on renting tubes:
- Pay attention to the time they need to be back. We saw most places saying 6pm. Tubeworld is open until 7:00pm. The extra hour was really nice.
- Pay attention to how the tubes were tied up and together on your vehicle. You’ll need to tie them back on when you’re done. JD did a great job of showing us how to do this.
- Make sure all of your tubes are fully inflated.
- Drive slow once the the tubes are on your car, you don’t want to lose one.
- Replacing a tube costs around $50.00, so don’t lose them or let them out of your site where someone could grab your tube.
Directions to Deep Creek
From the intersection of highway 441 and 19 in Cherokee NC, take Highway 19 south to Bryson City, NC. Turn left onto Everett Street, right onto Depot Street (at The Great Smoky Mountain Railway), and then left onto Deep Creek Rd. Follow the road right into the Park, an follow the signs to Deep Creek Trail.
We called it quits around 6:00pm. That gave us time to dry off, change clothes, hit the bathrooms, get the tubes back on the vehicle and return the tubes by 7pm. We stopped in Cherokee on the way home and grabbed some dinner.
If you are from out of town, there are hotels in nearby Bryson City, and Cherokee. There is also a really nice national park campground in Deep Creek that we’re going to try in the future and also a private campground just outside the park.
We had a blast Deep Creek tubing, and our kids are already asking to go back. Definitely one of the top places we’ve been in the area, and one of the most fun family events we’ve done. Highly recommended, especially given the low cost.
Have you been to Deep Creek? Did you tube? Tell us about your visit and/or share your tips in the comments below!