The flotilla of river-goers passed by, carried on the current. Laying on inflated tubes with bright psychedelic shades of blue, pink and orange, they looked like a parade of characters from a Fellini movie. Many tubers grabbed hold of one another, forming thoroughly unsynchronized groups of four or more. Others towed floating coolers behind their tubes, sipping what we guessed were adult beverages. One couple went down the river in what looked like an inflated lounge chair; another person had a radio that blasted classic rock over the water.
After signing waivers and donning flotation vests at the dramatically named Satan’s Kingdom State Recreation Area in New Hartford, we were given a brief-but-thorough safety lecture by employees of Farmington River Tubing. Then we were led to the river and set adrift like Moses down the Nile. Over the next 2½ hours, as we traveled just under 3 miles downstream, we’d be jostled by rapids, knock into other tubers in an impromptu riverside verson of bumper cars, fall into the water, get trapped behind rocks (we quickly escaped) all while soaking up a vacation’s worth of summer fun and getting a surprisingly good ab workout (leaning forward in the tube to paddle requires your stomach muscles to work overtime).
Three sets of rapids provide exclamation points of excitement during the journey downstream. But they are a small portion of the trip. Most of it is a lazy river, where you kick back on your tube and relax as a gentle current pushes you slowly — in some spots very slowly — downstream. These portions are as fun as the rapids if you embrace them and go with friends or family.
We were a group of three and found it was more fun to hold on to one another and chat during the slower sections. We broke formation for the rapids, which jostled and spun us. One member of our party took a spill during the third rapid. She followed the advice given to us at the beginning of the trip to not stand up until she had floated out of the rapids. She emerged a few seconds later smiling.
Our only regret was not bringing sunscreen, an oversight that left two of us with red arms as reminders of our trip.
If you go: Tubing the river on your own is possible, but the majority of river-goers rent tubes from Farmington River Tubing. Guests must be 10 or older, weigh 50 pounds or more and be at least 4 feet tall. The tube and flotation vest rental is $20 and also includes a bus ride for you to get back to your car at the end of the trip downstream. It is recommended that you leave rings and other jewelry at home, wear a bathing suit and some type of footwear that won’t fall off and can get wet. The river is fastest after big rains and slower during droughts. Rentals are available through mid-September. Call the day of your visit for current hours, weather and river conditions. 860-693-6465, farmingtonrivertubing.com
More trippin’: If you’re not wiped out from your time on the river (we were), you can continue the outdoor theme at Enders State Forest in Granby, which is home to the eye-catching collection of falls known as Enders Falls and is about 15 minutes away by car.
Eating and drinking: Turn right out of Satan’s Kingdom and Brewery Legitimus is a mile up the road in a parking lot on your left. The taproom was hopping on the Sunday afternoon after our visit. Offerings included several Belgian-style brews as well as IPAs and other ales. Across the street back toward Satan’s Kingdom is Quercibella Wood-Grilled Food + Flatbreads, a well-liked area pizza and burger spot. We didn’t get to try it, but are eager to stop in the next time we go for a tube ride on the river. FYI: a notice on their website says they’ll be closed for a bit, reopening in late summer. Check the website (quercibella.com) for a reopening date.