There are many ways to travel in Whistler – bike, skateboard, run, swim – but one of the most satisfying and perspective changing is by waterway. Whether you are leisurely floating down a picturesque mountain stream or rafting down rivers fueled by glacial meltwater, the Whistler area’s rivers offer both adventure and a way to stay cool in the heat of summer. Whistler is the divide between the Green River and Cheakamus River basins, so whichever direction you go, north or south, you are following the flow of snowmelt from the mountains surrounding you.
The River of Golden Dreams
For an idyllic and leisurely experience, nothing beats a float down the River of Golden Dreams. A vessel that floats and a bathing suit is all you need to enjoy this classic Whistler experience, starting from the north end of Alta Lake and meandering through varying levels of water (sometimes shallow, bring a patch!) until it empties into Green Lake by Emerald Estates. The river is more like a babbling brook and is friendly to all types of watercraft, from inner tube to canoe to stand up paddleboard. With cold beverage in hand and floaty beneath your bum while a new mountain vista greets you around every corner, you can’t help but feel that life doesn’t get any better.
The name is said to have come from the song Down River of Golden Dreams, which was popular during the heyday of Rainbow Lodge, owned and operated by some of the first settlers in Whistler, Myrtle and Alex Philip. Alex, a hopeless romantic, would paddle honeymooners down the river in a large canoe by moonlight, where they could snuggle and take in the beauty of the valley. Now if that’s not romantic…
Whitewater Rafting Adventures
Looking for something a little more adventurous? The Whistler area’s many rafting excursions will jolt you out of your reverie. Rather than DIY river floats, these burly rivers require sturdy rafts and experienced guides to be navigated. Four major rivers offer whitewater adventure – from the family-friendly and scenic Cheakamus River, the team building challenge of the Green River, or the thrill-seeker’s dream: the Elaho-Squamish River route, a full day tour ending in Squamish. All rafting tours offer snacks, safety briefing, and PFDs (personal flotation devices).
If you want an elevated experience and have a little money to spend, heli rafting is a combination air-to-water encounter like no other. Flying over the mountains and glaciers that feed the river, you then descend to the headwaters of the eloquently named Elaho River, where rafts and guides await.
Traveling by water gives you a perspective outside the ordinary and connects you in a deeper way to the land and its history. A river is like the artery of the mountains, connecting you to the glaciers, eagles, salmon, bears, and cedars: the flow of life. And there is no cooler place to be in the heat of the summer. So what are you waiting for?
Whistler River Tours
The following operators offer tours and rafting trips on the major rivers mentioned above.