Of the many things there are to do during a Yampa Valley summer, perhaps the most quintessential is maneuvering an inner tube down the mighty Yampa River.
Though the activity looks next to effortless, there are some important rules and guidelines to follow while taking a relaxing float through downtown Steamboat Springs.
Tubers need to pay attention to the city's established rules, which include no glass, littering, alcohol or dogs. Steamboat has community service officers who enforce these rules and may cite individuals or companies whose customers are found in violation.
Peter Van De Carr, owner of Backdoor Sports at Ninth Street and Yampa Avenue -- an outdoor store that rents floatable tubes -- has friendly advice on when people should start tubing.
"The biggest thing for people to know is that the earlier in the day, the better chance you are going to have a great time," he said.
He recommends that people go before noon, which would allow them to avoid any afternoon thunderstorms or crowds.
For the last few years, the city has been working with river users to create a Yampa River Management Plan. Adopted in 2004, the plan permanently enforces a restriction the city put in place two years ago to only allow commercial tubers in the lower part of the Yampa River.
Those restrictions require four commercial companies that rent tubes to customers to put in tubers below the Fifth Street Bridge and take them out at the James Brown Bridge.
Tubers can rent tubes from commercial companies, who then provide a shuttle back from the James Brown Bridge. Van De Carr rents tubes for $15. The float is about 45-minutes to an hour, he said. The trip takes tubers through kayaking holes and other river features the city has put in place.
"It's a good family length, especially for the little guys," he said.
Tubers can purchase their inner tubes and rafts at area retail and auto stores, but supplies can run out during busy weekends.
Those not tubing with commercial companies technically have free range of the river; but the city suggests they too follow guidelines.
The river management plan recommends a voluntary restriction to not tube above Fetcher Park, which is behind the Mid Valley Shopping Center. Fetcher Park has a parking lot, restroom and picnic area and easy access to the river.
Vehicles parked in the parking areas of Fetcher, Rotary or Lions parks or in the Bud Werner Memorial Library and community center parking lots cannot be left unattended for more than two hours between 10:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.
The city recommends that tubers use the Howelsen Hill parking lots.
The city also has recommended that tubers park at the Stockbridge Multi-Modal Center on the west side of town and just down the river from the 13th Street Bridge. The area has a well-defined take-out point. If parking at the Stockbridge Center, tubers can easily shuttle by bus to the take in points, where parking is more limited.
Following tubing rules and etiquette is critical. That means everything from not littering and standing on the riverbed to leaving the dog at home.
Companies advise tubers to respect landowners along the river and to stay quiet in the marked quiet zones next to the Brooklyn, Fish Creek and Dream Island residential areas.
"It's more fun when everyone is being mutually respectful," Van De Carr said. "Think about all the other river users."
The tubing companies usually wait until the water flow lowers to around 300 to 200 cubic feet per second before sending tubers on the river. Tubing operations close down if the river is below 80 cfs, if the water temperature is above 75 degrees or if the dissolved oxygen levels are less than 6 milligrams per liter for 48 hours.
Van De Carr warns that while the river looks lazy and meandering, it is a natural river with an unpredictable flow.
"It's an active moving river. It has hazards. People ask me: 'Is it safe?' Well, no. It isn't safe. It isn't a Disneyland ride. There are no guarantees," he said.
For that reason Van De Carr suggests people wear life jackets or helmets, especially those who are not good swimmers or children.
If tubing is good in Steamboat, then tubing is likely good farther west on the Yampa, too.
There is no store that rents tubes in Craig, but Ned Miller, with the Sportman's Information Center in Craig, said that's no reason not to jump in.
Miller said tubing on the Yampa River is popular in Moffat County as well as Routt.
The best places to access the river in Craig are near the Loudy Simpson Park or off the old and new gold course roads, he said.
Craig is also surrounded by a slew of lakes, ponds and reservoirs that can also make for perfect places to float around in a tube.
Miller warned that the Elkhead River and its reservoir are closed this season because officials are working to raise the river's level 21 feet. People will not be able to access Elkhead waters until the project is complete in 2007.