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Paddling Whistler’s River of Golden Dreams

Isn’t the River of Golden Dreams a dreamy name for a river?

Well, this river in Whistler, British Columbia, really is like its name. (If you haven’t visited Whistler yet, it’s one for your Canada bucket list.)

It’s easy to paddle, even if you’re a beginner.

And one of the best things to do in Whistler in summer (spring and fall too) is paddling a canoe or kayak down this dreamy river.

Couple in a red kayak paddle the River of Golden Dreams, Whistler.
It’s a dreamy summer day on the river!

River of Golden Dreams, Whistler

Canoeing the River of Golden Dreams, Whistler
Canoeing the River of Golden Dreams, Whistler

The River of Golden Dreams is a 3-mile (5-km) river between Alta Lake and Green Lake. (Some people call it the Whistler River of Dreams.)

It’s short, but incredibly scenic!

The wildflower-lined river meanders through a landscape of snow-capped mountains, cloaked in evergreen forests.

Black bears are sometimes spotted along the way too.

To paddle the River of Golden Dreams in Whistler, you start at Alta Lake.
Wildflowers, maybe bears, a scenic river and lakes – it’s a dreamy paddle!

Whistler River of Golden Dreams: Route

Alta Lake geese
Cute goslings follow mama and papa on Alta Lake

You put in at Alta Lake to paddle first down the length of the lake.

You might see Canada Geese (and in early summer, perhaps cute little goslings swimming in a line by the shore).

At the end of the lake, you glide by a field of bulrushes.

Then you enter the narrow, slow-moving River of Golden Dreams for a magical paddle through wetlands, eventually getting out at Green Lake.

Your goal is to end up at Green Lake

Interested in skiing Whistler in winter? Read our guide on Whistler vs. Blackcomb

River of Golden Dreams water level

The water runs quite fast and is high in spring.

If you go in high summer, the water level is usually low (only two or three feet) and you can lazily make your way along the river’s many twists, turns and sharp bends.

In late summer, the water level is low, and you’ll probably have to portage one section.

Alta Lake water lilies
Water lilies on the river

Word of caution

If you don’t want to get wet, consider portaging the tricky curve of the river. You’ll know it when you come to it!

If paddling without a guide, make sure to ask in advance about this section.

If you don’t portage, your canoe might tip otherwise, and you could get dunked (like one of us did) – especially if the river is running high.

Whistler River of Golden Dreams
Many paddlers portage the tricky section to avoid getting spilled

Read next: Enjoy a walk in the park to Brandywine Falls (a 15- to 20-minute drive south of Whistler)

River of Golden Dreams map

See below for the paddling map of the River of Golden Dreams.

River of Golden Dreams map
River of Golden Dreams map

River of Golden Dreams tour

The best way to experience the river?

Take a guided Whistler kayaking or canoeing tour of the River of Golden Dreams.

Paddling tours are 3 hours long, including 20 to 30 minutes on Alta Lake. At the end, you’re driven by return shuttle bus back to Whistler Village or Alta Lake, where you started.

We’ve gone with both of these companies and can recommend them :-).

Whistler Eco-Tours

River of Golden Dreams canoeing
Canoeing Whistler’s River of Golden Dreams with WET

Go with Whistler Eco-Tours (WET), and your naturalist guide will entertain you with tales about Whistler’s history (and fascinating local characters), as well as the area’s geography, wildlife and flora and fauna.

Example: “See that beaver den? It actually has different chambers – including a separate beaver “toilet” room and another room for drying off after coming in from the river.”

Morning and afternoon tours are offered.

Whistler Eco-Tours: See their website here.

Backroads Whistler

Backroads Whistler also offers guided trips on the river. Several morning and early afternoon departure times are offered.

Guides are experienced, and we felt comfortable on the water.

Backroads Whistler: Book a guided canoeing or kayaking tour

Self-guided Whistler canoeing and SUP

Young women on SUP boards on Alta Lake
Who wants to go SUP instead?

If you have previous paddling experience, you can rent a canoe or kayak from either Whistler Eco Tours and Backroads Whistler and explore Alta Lake and the river on your own.

Note: A “rescue fee” of $75 per person applies if you get stuck.

There’s also the option to go stand-up paddleboarding on Alta Lake – SUP rentals and lessons are offered.

What else to do in Whistler? Go on the Joffre Lakes hike – it’s awesome!

Prefer a lazy River of Golden Dreams float?

Floating down the River of Golden Dreams
Floating down the River of Golden Dreams in Whistler in an inner tube

You can also do as the locals do and float down the river in a cheap little inflatable or inner tube, taking only the bare essentials…

Like beer or soft drinks dangling in the water to keep chilled – and duct tape for that “pffft…” sound.

Our top travel tips and resources

Hotels: is great for scoring a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one. (We especially like their flexible cancellation policy!)

Vacation homes, condos and rentals: We prefer and use Vrbo (Vacation Rentals by Owner).

Tours: For the best local food, walking and other guided tours, plus skip-the-line tickets to attractions, check out Viator (a TripAdvisor company) and GetYourGuide.

Car rental: Renting a car is often one of the best ways to explore off the beaten path. Discover Cars searches car rental companies so you get the best rates.

Travel insurance: SafetyWing is designed for frequent travelers, long-term adventurers and digital nomads. It covers medical expenses, lost checked luggage, trip interruption and more. We also have and recommend Medjet for global air medical transportation and travel security.

Travel gear: See our travel shop to find the best luggage, accessories and other travel gear. (We suggest these comfy travel sandals for city walking, the beach and kicking about.)

Need more help planning your trip? Check out our travel tips and resources guide for airline booking tips, ways to save money, how to find great hotels and other crazy useful trip planning info.

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Paddling the River of Golden Dreams, Whistler

Photo credits: 2, 5 to 11, 13 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 1, 12 Backroads | 3 Whistler Eco-Tours

About the authors

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Eric Wight

Sunday 12th of August 2018

Hi! Re cheap vinyl tubes. Foliage lines both sides of the river and pops tubes on a regular basis. You can't just jump out and scramble up the river bank when your tube deflates. In spring and early summer, the water is cold. Remember when you were 18 years old and nothing phazed you? Now you are a little older and realize taking $20 tubes down the river is not a good idea.

Janice and George

Sunday 12th of August 2018

Good tip :-). We agree, paddling in a canoe is better, especially if you're older than 18 :-).


Friday 19th of August 2016

I've kayaked down this river before and loved it! I'm just wondering.. if you were to float down in a tube.. where would your starting point be? When we kayaked, we crossed Alta Lake first. Is there a way to park and be able to start tubing directly at the river?

Janice and George

Saturday 20th of August 2016

Glad you liked kayaking down the river... But we don't really know the answer to whether you can park closer to the start of the river. Perhaps look at a Whistler map and see if there's a street close by. Or ask a local - how do they do it?