This most-talked about rafting adventure is not something to be missed; in fact it’s in the Top 3 of Whistler Blackcombs 99 Things to do in Whistler. The Golden River runs all the way from Alta Lake (in the south) up to Green Lake (north of Whistler Village). While this may seem like a short distance, 3-5km in fact, don't dedicate anything less than an entire afternoon to this activity; it’s sluggish pace will take you roughly 3+ hours to complete [and Lorimer Road is the best place to start].
But what’s so great about cruising down a freezing cold river, you might ask? Picture the most relaxing laziest rivers at any water park across the country and then times it by 10, now add in nature, snow-covered mountains, hot sunshine and cold beer… now that’s what I call a Sunday afternoon.
Like any river, it makes several twists and turns and has random bursts of steady flows that come out of nowhere. Figuring out how to maneuver your Explorer is probably going to be the trickiest part of your day. The most physical part of your day is going to be blowing the sucker up (especially if you got the bigger, more luxurious Explorer 300 like I did when they were on sale – who can pass up 50% off when you live in Whistler!) And the most rewarding part of your day is going to be at the end, when you make it down the entire river with your raft still beneath you. You may laugh, but a popped raft isn't a rare occasion. This leads me to my second tip, duct tape – and plenty of it. While a man-made river is designed for you to mindlessly enjoy, the natural lazy river isn’t as thoughtful. It is surrounded by bushes, trees, twigs, rocks and the occasional stick poking out – and what happens to a soft plastic raft when it bumps quickly into one of those…well, you don’t want to find out. Especially considering the river is not up to most people’s standard swimming temperatures. Adding a duct tape layer, or ten, around your raft will only increase your chances of staying afloat, and bring more peace of mind to those who aren't confident in their paddling abilities.
While this may seem terrifying, it really isn’t; it’s just a mere warning. The best part about this is the adventure. And of course, bringing some beers and relaxing as you occasionally steer your way down the river while staring at the mountains isn't so bad either. If you're lucky enough, you may even spot a bear from the shoreline!
A lot of tourists do this adventure too, however the only difference between them and the locals is the significant increase in cost to do this otherwise cheap fun. This is also not just a sport of the lazy, beer-drinking, sun tanning drifters - a lot of SUP, kayaks and canoes make there way down the river as well. That's going to be my goal by the end of the summer, to stand up paddleboard down it.
The good news for canoeist taking on the Golden River is the lack of paddling you’ll have to do in order to get to Green Lake. Steering and the occasional lily-dip will get you there in plenty of time and really, why rush? This is a perfect time to take in the scenery and gear those muscles up for the trip back. Going up stream is not as hard as you’re imaging, but after that lazy coast down, it’s no walk in the park either.