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Tanking: The Nebraska River Float Experience

Tanking is becoming one of those summer pastimes that’s becoming as prevalent as horseback riding in Nebraska. You kinda have to do it at least once. And those that love it, seem to really love it. 

I’m feeling a little less than 100% Nebraskan since I’ve never tanked, but I hope to someday. I had a bad experience on a tubing float trip and ever since, I’ve been anxious about going paddle-less down a river. Still, I’m game to try it. I’ve canoeed many summers down the Niobrara River. I’ve even kayaked at midnight and tried yoga SUP at dusk, so I’m not completely terrified of water. 

So, before I climb into a livestock tank and float down a river with some friends, I figure I should investigate what exactly is tanking and ask the experts a few questions.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking the link, I receive a small referral stipend.

Three groups floating down a river in tanks
Photo courtesy Sandhill River Trips

Related post: 101 Things To Do In Nebraska

What is tanking?

All it requires is a group — be it your family or bunch of friends — plus a livestock water tank, and a river to float on. A tank typically holds three to six adults. Don’t expect to do much paddling, so it’s a lot more laid-back than a canoe or kayak float.

The tanks, which measure seven to nine feet across, are practically unsinkable.

When an outfitter gives an estimate time for how long a float trip will take, it is just an estimate. Many people may stop on a sandbar to hang out for a while and that will always add on time.

What should you bring on your first tanking trip?

I contacted a few experts for help in writing this, and by experts, I mean tanking outfitters who’ve seen enough to know what to do and what not to do. Thanks to Steve at Tanking Down The Elkhorn and Cay from Sandhill River Trips.

  • Umbrella…”not for rain, but to offer some shade on stretches of the river were there is none.” – Steve
  • Plenty of water…”Coolers are usually filled with alcohol, but little water. Tankers should be drinking one bottle of water per alcohol drink to stay hydrated on the really hot days.” – Steve
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Water shoes (from experience on the Niobrara River, flip flops are a bad idea; closed-toed water sandals are better.)
  • Snacks
  • Good attitude…”Sit back and relax. Enjoy being outside and forget about technology for just a little bit. Just be in the moment and enjoy the scenery.” – Cay

What not to bring tanking?

  • Big coolers…”it is better to have multiple smaller coolers than one big one.” – Steve
  • Glassware
  • Valuables such as jewelry, anything that you’d hate to lose

Rivers where you’ll find tanking options

While you may have heard that Nebraska has the most river miles of any other states, any quick Internet research will reveal the real truth. Nope, this state is not No 1. Still, we have a lot of waterways, especially for a landlocked state.

Nebraska does have its fair share fo striking river ways, though. According to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, we have about 197 miles considered “wild and scenic.”

Omaha friends, I’ll tell you, the closest river where you can tank is the Elkhorn River. The rest are I’ve found so far are more central and west of here. My list, so far:

  • Calamus River
  • Cedar River
  • Dismal River
  • Elkhorn River
  • Middle Loup River
  • Niobrara River
  • North Platte River
What's "tanking"? Read this guide to tanking on rivers in Nebraska! Tanking is a low-key float trip for friends and families. It's a fun summer activity for groups of friends or families.

Nebraska tanking outfitters

Since live stock tanks aren’t a typical household item — well, the kind that are outfitted with chairs and a table — so you’ll want to find an outfitter to rent you the gear.

Western Nebraska outfitters

  1. Dusty Trail Outdoor and Water Activities, 2617 N. Buffalo Bill Ave., North Platte

Float trips are down the North Platte River.

Note: Dusty Trail offers short and long trip options.

Find a hotel in North Platte

2. Little Outlaw, 1005 E. Highway 20, Valentine

Float trips are on the Niobrara River.

Note: Little Outlaw started out in 1992 by offering just canoes and tubes, but has expanded to include tanks and kayaks.

Find a hotel in Valentine

Kayakers and tankers on a float with Sandhill River Trips
Photo courtesy Sandhill River Trips

3. Sandhill River Trips, 608 Court St., Thedford

Float trips are down the Middle Loup and Dismal Rivers.

Note: This outfitter has a nice partnership with the Ewoldt’s Grocery in Thedford – it’s where the shuttle picks you up and drops you back off. Stock your cooler at the store before you leave, and according to the outfitter, you can call ahead and they can have your order filled for you when you show up.

Central Nebraska

4. Broken Arrow Wilderness, 1025 Road P322, Fullerton

Float trips are on the Cedar River. 

Note: Weekday rentals are pretty reasonable – starting at $70 for four people.

Find a hotel near Fullerton

5. Calamus Outfitters LLC, 83720 Valleyview Ave., Burwell

Float trips are down the Calamus River.

Note: This outfitter also offers lodging and Sandhill Ranch Habitat Ecotours.

Find a hotel near Burwell

6. Crazy Rayz Tanking, 82228 499th Ave., Spalding

Float trips are on the Cedar River. 

Note: Crazy Rayz hosts an annual River Bash with live music at the end of May.

Eastern Nebraska

A family seated in a blue tank at Tank Down the River by the Elkhorn River
Photo courtesy Tank Down the Elkhorn

7. Tank Down the Elkhorn, 23301 W. Maple Road, Elkhorn

Float trips are on the Elkhorn River.

Note: Weekdays will be cheaper than the weekends (except holidays), and there’s a special price for shorter Friday Night Floats.

Find a hotel near Elkhorn

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