Tubing down a river, whether it be the Shenandoah or the Rapphanock, is an annual rite of passage among D.C. area residents. With area temperatures expected to hit the 90s well after Labor Day, then settle into the idyllic mid-70s through the end of September, there’s plenty of late summer days left to plan out a proper tubing trip.
To make the most of it, ensure there is festive drinking and snacking involved during the excursion, and have a plan for somewhere to eat before you head back to town. Here’s a guide to making the most of a river day, aimed at food and drink lovers.
Things to know:
*Err on the side of over-wrapping any food that you want to keep from getting soggy. Think ziplock or reusable waterproof storage bags on top of wrapped sandwiches and chips.
*Snacks that are easily handheld, do not require refrigeration, and can withstand sogginess are great bets. Go for granola bars and fruit like watermelon and prime-time peaches and plums. Individual WaWa soft pretzels were a big hit on a recent trip.
*Most outfits will allow you to rent a separate cooler raft for housing your beverages and food. Make sure any coolers you bring are waterproof and small.
*Be discreet and sensible when it comes to alcoholic beverages. Public drinking is technically illegal in Virginia; most companies generally will not prevent you from bringing beverages on the water. Rarely are police patrolling the river, but it’s something to keep in mind (for liability sake, they do reserve the right to check coolers). Beers and boozy seltzers by the can tend to be easy bets, and you can also make a batch punch if everyone has a non-glass cup they bring along.
Areas for tubing:
1. SHENANDOAH/FRONT ROYAL
Bring a Banh Mi: Beyond snacks, why not try a banh mi sandwich for a lunch picnic on one of the “island” stops along the river? They’re well-packed and portable, and many great Virginia sandwich options are on the way to Shenandoah, just off I-495 in Falls Church. Lee Sandwiches opens the earliest at 7 a.m. (plan at least 15 minutes for picking things up, as there’s usually a short line even early in the morning); Banh Mi DC is another great option, open at 8 a.m.
Where to Eat Afterwards: Front Royal and the surrounding area’s restaurant scene has been improving in recent years, with everything from breweries to decent Thai food. But keeping in mind you’re likely going to be wet and dressed casually after a day of tubing, we recommend casual burger restaurant Spelunker’s for these purposes (you can even do the drive-thru if you just want some onion rings and custard for the ride back).
2. HARPERS FERRY
Bring a Bagel: Another idea for a portable lunch comes in the form of a bagel sandwich. Feel free to make something ahead, or consider stopping somewhere like Bethesda Bagel on the drive up to West Virginia.
Where to Eat Afterwards: Harpers Ferry has a few options for a quick, casual bite. Consider grabbing a pepperoni roll (a West Virginia speciality) made on Bolivar Bread Bakery sourdough from H. B. Snallygaster’s General Store & Cafe. Harpers Ferry Brewing tends to host food trucks; Cannonball Deli’s an option for pizza and sandwiches; Yatai is a new trailer serving up hibachi.
Bring a Breakfast Sandwich: Princess Anne Street standby Mason-Dixon Cafe is the spot to order all-day omelets and eggy handhelds alongside home fries (or cheesy grits for a little extra). Fredericksburg sits right off the I-95 corridor, which means there’s plenty of pit stops along the way like fast-casual mecca Central Park.
Where to Eat Afterwards: Historic downtown Fredericksburg is packed with family-friendly dining options. Consider crab cakes and homemade chili from retro standalone staple 2400 Diner; barbecue bacon burgers and cheesecake from homestyle favorite Charlie G’s; or draft beers paired with pizza at family-owned Irish gastropub J. Brian’s. And, of course, a trip to Fredericksburg isn’t complete without (waiting in line for) a homemade frozen custard cone from 76-year-old local landmark Carl’s.