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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. 

UPDATE: This post was published in 2021 and has been updated in August 2023 to reflect change of ownership of one of the tubing outfitters and the fact that I finally tanked myself!

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 (Tip: Get an umbrella with a universal clamp that attaches it to most surfaces so you can have your hands free)
  • 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

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

Eastern Nebraska

7. Tank ‘N’ Tube River Rides, launching from Rawhide Creek Ranch at 4647 N. 230th Street, Elkhorn, Neb. Float trips are on the Elkhorn River.

Note: Floats are Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays along with holiday floats on Memorial Day and July 3 & the Fourth of July.

8. Elkhorn Outfitters, launching from Elkhorn Shores, 23301 W. Maple Road, Elkhorn, Neb. Float trips are on the Elkhorn River.

Note: Tubing trips last between 4 to 6 hours.

Find a hotel near Elkhorn

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Alan Hurst

Friday 23rd of September 2022

I seen your commercial on TV about going in a tank down a Nebraska river and could you please send me more information we are interested in next june or july for maybe around 15 people please send me your email address and I will get back to you also send photos ok see ya alan


Monday 24th of May 2021

So how do u get back to point A and get the tank back there? How do u know where to exit the river??


Monday 24th of May 2021

Great question! In my experience (not with tanking but with other float trips), people would park at the outfitter's location, and then the outfitter would bus your group to the launch point and then you float down until you return to the outfitter's location and your car. Some places may do it a little differently.

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