A complete guide to tubing the Davidson River in Pisgah National Forest outside Asheville, NC. There are three viable runs and something for everyone on the Davidson River. The Davidson offers the most family-friendly environment for tubing and is some of the cleanest water in Western North Carolina.
Step 1: You need a tube; you can rent one at the entrance to Pisgah National Forest or buy one from Amazon or Walmart. The Intex tubes that are sold on Amazon work great, that is what we use, and they hold up well. If you are buying a tube, make sure you have a pump. We strongly recommend you upgrade from a manual pump!
Step 2: Pick a run; there are three to choose from.
Art Loeb Park to Sycamore Beach – This is the most family-friendly run at about 1 mile long.
Davidson River Campground Swimming Hole to Sycamore Beach – Also very family-friendly but about 2 miles long
Coontree Picnic Area to Sycamore Flats – 6-mile float for those looking for a much longer float
There is a trail that follows the river so it can be run over and over again, and it is a nice relaxing float. If you have very young kids, I would set up shop at the beach and allow any who want to float to head 1 mile upstream and put in and tube back.
Park at Art Loeb Trailhead. If that is full, you can park at the Sycamore Flats Picnic Area or along the road in between these two locations.
There is a put-in for tubes right behind the Art Loeb Trail sign.
Float down to Sycamore Beach; if you miss it, you can get out around the bend at Sycamore Flat Picnic area about 200 yards downstream. The Picnic area tends to be crowded, but there is a lovely deep swimming area.
Once you get out of the water, you can walk back up the trail to the Art Loeb Trail Head. You will encounter a footbridge about halfway back. You can take either path; both lead to the same place. If you want to walk directly into the parking area, take the footbridge. If you want to avoid the parking lot stay on the main trail.
We usually set up at the Sycamore Beach area and anyone who wants to tube to take the trail up and float down. Small kids tend to have a blast at the beach area as the water has calm shallow water areas most of the time.
If you want to grill out setup near the Sycamore Flats Picnic area, which has many grilling areas and makes an excellent spot for larger groups. Make sure to get there early to claim your picnic area on the river, as those spots go fast in peak season.
You will want to head to the Davison River Campground Swimming Hole. If you are staying at the campground, it is an easy walk to the swimming hole.
If you are not staying at the campground, you can park at the Art Loeb Trailhead. Once you park, cross the bridge and take the trail immediately on your right called the “Exercise Trail.” Follow it to the Davidson River Campground Swimming Hole. This is all National Forest and entirely open to the public regardless of whether you are staying at the campground.
This is one of the best swimming holes in the area and can be extremely active, never fear if you don’t like crowds; just put your tube in the water and float away. We suggest you tubing to Sycamore Beach; if you miss the beach, you can pull out at Sycamore Flats Recreation Area. If you want to do it like a pro, have someone meet you there in a vehicle to run the tubers back to the swimming area.
Once you reach the beach area and want to continue tubing, the trail from the beach leads directly back to the swimming hole. Don’t take the footbridge that crosses the river unless you want to head to the Art Loeb parking area. You can also put your tube in at the Art Loeb trailhead if you don’t want to head back to Davidson River Swimming Hole.
This tubing section is much longer than the other two we discussed, and you will need two cars or a drop-off driver. You don’t want to walk 6 miles back to Coontree, and there is no direct trail, and you will be on the side of the road or bushwhacking.
This will be a nice long float in your tube, not recommended for very young kids.
Get someone to drop you off at the Coontree Picnic area, walk to the swimming hole, and put in and enjoy the float. The first bridge you pass will be to the Chapel in Davidson River Campground, which is closed to vehicle traffic. The second bridge will be the bridge to Davidson River Campground will serve as a landmark to let you know you are about 1-mile from the sycamore flats rec area. The third and final bridge is a footbridge about half a mile away from your pullout. If you pass another bridge, you have gone too far; no biggie, just pull out and take the trail back to Sycamore Flats Rec area.
It may be possible to put in all the way at the John Rock Park Area and Trout Hatchery area for tubing.
Above that, there is a small dam, and the river narrows. Above that, there are some waterfalls. If you are looking for a super-private area with a nice tubing area and your own personal waterfall, check our Leboy Falls.
If you want to camp in this area and Davidson River Campground is not your speed, check out Little Slick Rock which is arguably the best camping spot in the area for those looking for a spot with swimming.