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A Do-It-Yourself Guide to the River of Golden Dreams in Whistler

Banner River of Golden Dreams

Want to spend a summer afternoon on the river like a Whistler-ite? Then you’re going to want to get your butts down the River of Golden Dreams. A local gem, a local dream. 

Wave bye-bye to that gnarly throw-yourself-down-a-hill crazy bike park malarkey and say hello to the laid back do-it-yourself river cruise. 

What is the River of Golden Dreams?

people floating down a river of rafts

A lazy activity for the hungover Sunday afternoon, float the river of golden dreams

The River of Golden Dreams in Whistler is a 5km stretch of winding river which begins at Alta Lake and runs all the way down to Green Lake. 

With each bend of the river, there are magical snow-capped mountain views, riverbanks lined with wildflowers and lush green forestry. Wildlife is always apparent on the river from eagles to beavers, ducklings to bears – you’re sure to spot some critters – so keep those eyes peeled! 

Generally, the Whistler’s River of Golden Dreams needs a minimum of two hours, but you can take as long as you please – no watch necessary when you do-it-yourself. 

This is your day and there are many ways for you to explore… whichever takes your fancy. 

Most locals will do it with an Explorer 200, but this is going out of favour now. Explorer 200’s are essentially disposable rafts, and we want to protect this beautiful stretch of river. Single use plastics  – even plastic boats – are no longer kosher.

Call up a friend with a canoe, or rent one from one of the many local rental locations to avoid popping a disposable raft on the river. 

If 5km sounds a little too intimidating for you, then don’t worry, there are many stops on the way. Whether you hop off at another location and call it a day, take a chill out on one of the river banks or sneak into one of the little sun-drenched river pools along the way for a rest. 

Whatever floats your boat – literally.

How to “Do” the River of Golden Dreams in Whistler

The question is, how do YOU want to do the River of Golden Dreams? 

Remember this is your big day out! You are your own guide! Do you want to float along on an floaty with some paddles, find a stable canoe, or what about a kayak? Perhaps stand up paddleboard? All of these are options.

  • Float

Let’s start off with the local way – an raft and some paddles. You can grab a raft for just under $30 and some paddles for around $20 bucks Whistler Hardware store on the village stroll. 

The Re-Use it Centre  ALWAYS has paddles, if you struggle to find them on the stroll and they’re very affordable. Make sure you’ve got a pump, to pump up your boat. Grab a few life jackets as well, the waters are cold should your ship sink!

Local Tip: Always be sure to take a repair kit with you in case you get a puncture and be careful of sharp objects. A popped floaty in that cold water is not always a good time (you’ve been warned!). 

  • Kayak

Another sturdier float is in a kayak. Equally fun, and not as disposable. Fly solo in a single kayak; if you’re not down for teamwork or a double kayak if you are. 

There are a number of companies who you can rent a kayak from on Alta Lake and then paddle down to the beginning of the river. A single kayak through Backroads Whistler will set you back $25 an hour and a double one $40 an hour, this includes a life jacket and paddles too.

If you are on a budget this is cheaper than buying all the gear yourself!

Hot Tip: Personally we’d recommend a double kayak that way you can con someone else into the front seat – while you do your part from the back (aka sit back and relax whilst they do all the hard work). Jokes aside, teamwork is the dreamwork and four arms are definitely better than two. 

  • Canoe

For the full Canadian experience, a canoe is the way for you. You can’t get a boat that screams CANADA more than the canoe! The beauty of it is that you can have up to three people onboard plus gear – which means more room for beevies, duh. 

A canoe with Backroads Whistler goes for $40 an hour based on two people with an extra adult costing $20 and kids $10 an hour. This rate includes life jackets and paddles as well. 

Local Tip: A canoe is a great way to explore the river in a more social manner. There is no risk that you’ll get split from your crew. You’ll be less tired and you have plenty of room to keep any extra gear like cameras or beers. 

  • SUP

Stand-up paddleboarding the river is a surefire way to get your arms working and your core cranking. If you’re after more of a work-out approach to the river, then this is going to be the best option for you. Who doesn’t want to work out with a beautiful backdrop? 

Plus if you get tired nothing is stopping you from taking a cheeky lay down on your board and soaking up some rays. 

A SUP with Backroads Whistler will cost you $30 an hour and includes a life jacket, carbon fibre paddles and a leash. They also have choices of boards from the wide stable inflatable boards for beginners to the touring boards for the pros. Inbetweener – no problem, try out the best of both worlds with an inflatable touring board.

Local Tip: We wouldn’t recommend your first day on the River of Golden Dreams in Whistler with stand up paddle boarding if you are a beginner. The river is 5km long and it can get tiring very quickly. If you’ve got the experience and are wanting to work out with a view – then definitely do it.

Backroads Whistler boat rentals (kayak, canoe and stand up paddleboards) can be pre-booked if you call before 11am. If you decide after 11am you want to hit the river, all boat rentals are available on a walk-up basis. 

If Backroads Whistler out of boats, then don’t fret. Whistler Eco Tours also operates rentals from the same location and are similar in price.

Planning for the Perfect Day on the River of Golden Dreams

What do you need for a perfect day on the river? We’ve got the low down on everything we think you need for the ultimate river day. 

Summer on a lake in Whistler

A relaxing activity to do on a hot summer day in Whistler, paddling the river of Golden Dreams

  • Rentals / Float: Firstly choose your mode of transport… then organize your rental or purchase your inflatable and don’t forget a pump and paddles.
  • Tribe: Gather your best tribe, who are down for laughs, some light (or heavy) exercise, good banter and some good old fashioned fun in the sun.
  • Cars: Be smart, leave one car at Alta Lake and one car at Green lake. Both have free parking and you won’t be stranded at the end of the day figuring out how to get back to where you started.
  • Beats: Bring a portable speaker so you can play your favourite tunes along the way. Waterproof suggested.
  • Crash: This is a more be-prepared-it’s-gonna-happen type of thing. You will crash and most likely end up stuck in the trees more than once, smile and go with the flow. Make sure you have your life jacket handy!
  • Towel & Swimmers: You will get wet, that’s a fact – if you don’t then you’re doing something wrong. Wear a bathing suit in case you take a bit of a swim and a towel to dry off.
  • Ziplock Bag: To put your phone in, it’s the smart thing to do.

Locals Tip:  If the unthinkable happens, hop onto Whistler Summer Facebook page, there’s a couple of locals who are happy to dive to the bottom to grab your missing items in exchange for a case of beer or a financial reward.

  • Sunscreen: Slip, slop, slap people – there isn’t a huge amount of shade on your journey and skin la rouge isn’t a good look on anyone.
  • Go Pro: Because it’s even more fun to rub it in everyone’s faces all the amazing times you had and show off all the amazing views #bestdayever.
  • Trash Bag: Don’t be that guy, no one likes a litterbug. Clean up your mess on your journey and ensure you leave no trace
  • Snacks: The day can get long and tiring, a few snacks will never go a miss. Nom
  • Beverages: Last but not least, a couple of adult beverages to share can never go a miss. Drink responsibly, one drink per person is a safe bet.

And the perfect way to end your day on the river? Seeing as you can only have one beer and paddle…we see the only way to end the day is beers and a BBQ. 

River of Golden Dreams Safety Talk

two people in a canoe on the River of Golden Dreams

Safety first folks! Make sure you can swim and have a life jacket.

You know what they say? It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Just make sure you don’t get hurt. While this is one of our favourite Whistler past times – it still is a flowing glacial river. Conditions can change, wildlife can be unruly and there is no lifeguard on duty. Unless you count the beavers?

Make sure you are smart, go with a group of friends, make sure you know how to swim and assess the conditions – if the water is only a couple of centimetres high – it’s probably not the day to be making the trip. 

You can technically get fined for not wearing a life jacket on the water. So if your rental comes with a life jacket – take it. If you’re floating and not a strong swimmer – you’re probably going to want to invest in one.

Last but not least don’t be a “that guy.” Us locals get frustrated with the amount of rubbish left on the river, which not only damages the environment but is a risk for the surrounding wildlife as well. 

Do not ditch your float at the end of the day, clean up after yourself and respect the river. 

Crashes are inevitable on the River of Golden Dreams, but try your best to get yourself out of the trees or river banks with as little damage as possible. 

So there you have it. Basically, if anything is going to float your boat this summer – then make sure it’s the River of Golden Dreams in Whistler. 

A local hotspot, a fantastic adventure and an all-around good time. You now have all the information you need for a do-it-yourself river cruise so there really isn’t any excuse not to try it, is there?