Paddling Whistler’s River of Golden Dreams

Toronto Star, Sept 14, 2016, WHISTLER, B.C.—Picking your paddle is one thing, but for this canoe ride — down Whistler’s River of Golden Dreams — it may be more important that you pick the right partner. While paddling skills are helpful, a good sense of humour is crucial.

The gentle, five-kilometre route starts in Alta Lake, meanders through a pretty little stream of lily pads, includes a tiny portage (just a few metres — no time to even haul the canoe overhead) and continues along a narrow winding river lined with brush (this becomes important later). The adventure, and potentially your friendship with your paddling partner, ends at Green Lake.

It’s a popular little ride with locals and visitors alike. In fact we run into a “Whistler traffic jam” in the lilies — several inflatable rafts tied together with a number of young limbs hanging out. The conglomeration politely moves over to let our convoy of canoes pass. When we get to the winding part of the river that sense of humour becomes important because you are pretty much guaranteed to hit the greenery overhanging the shore at least once. Or maybe 100 times.

Canadian Wilderness Adventures puts you in sturdy, metal, seemingly indestructible canoes and you aren’t going that fast when you hit the shrubs, so no one gets hurt. After the first couple of crashes you may get the swing of paddling around the tight corners and work together to avoid playing bumper car with the shoreline. Or you may get better at ducking.

Either way, you are likely to have a laugh, provided you have selected the appropriate partner. Mine, a lovely young Australian woman in a practical trench coat, was either not bothered by my performance in the stern or too polite to scream at me. Not that screaming would have helped much.

The River of Golden Dreams was named for an old cheesy song that visitors are said to have sung as they floated with the current. But these are more cynical times and the locals are now more likely to call it the River of Broken Marriages.

I find this comforting.

And maybe the lovely young Australian woman does as well. As we take off our life jackets and give back our paddles, she lets out a hearty laugh. Perhaps due to relief. Or perhaps because while on the water, we collected enough twigs in our hair and broken branches in the canoe to have a rather impressive bonfire.

When you go

Find out more: Three-hour Alta Lake canoe tours (book at canadianwilderness.com) cost $99 per adult, $69 for youth (13 to 18) free for children 12 and under (with one child per paying adult, riding in the same canoe or with the guide). You meet your guides at Alta Lake and drivers meet you at Green Lake to take you back to your vehicle.

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