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Paddling Whistler’s River of Golden Dreams

Please only travel when and where it’s safe, and follow all local guidelines. Also double-check what's open before your trip.

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

Well, this river in Whistler, Canada, really is like its name.

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.

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

River of Golden Dreams, Whistler

The River of Golden Dreams is a 3-mile (5-km) river between Alta Lake and Green Lake.

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…

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).

Alta Lake water lilies
Water lilies on the river

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

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 (see “Word of Caution” below).

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

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

And see here for the location map of Alta Lake. (You can zoom in or out.)

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:

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.

Sample:

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.

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

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: See their website here.

Self-guided paddling

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

What else to do in Whistler? Go on the Joffre Lake hike! See here

Prefer a lazy float down the Whistler River of Dreams?

Do as the locals do and float down 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).

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

Beautiful BC Guide

Pssst! See our “British Columbia Travel Guide”

It’s packed with lots of great info on unmissable destinations, wineries, secret places, other cool things to do in BC (like storm watching in Tofino!), epic hikes, taking the ferry between Vancouver and Victoria, the best time to visit and more…


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Paddling the River of Golden Dreams, Whistler

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


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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 :-).

Andrea

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?