Far from the ocean, tucked high up in the Coastal Mountains, Whistler is hardly billed as a 'water destination.' Which is fair enough, considering that most of the year Whistler's lakes and waterways are sheeted with snow and ice. But come springtime, the warm sun gently coaxes away winter's grip to make room for summer's water sports.
The lakes that dot the Whistler Valley are largely absent of motorized boat traffic, which creates a special, serene, alpine setting unparalleled by the rest of Vancouver's more popular waterways. If you're looking for a quiet afternoon of crowd-free blue waves, try these three ways to relax on Whistler's waterways without breaking a sweat.
1. Float 'em
River of Golden Dreams
The River of Golden Dreams connects Green Lake with Alta Lake. While the total distance between the two bodies of water is three kilometres, this meandering waterway covers some five kilometres.
(c) Tourism Whistler / Mike Crane
Floating down the River of Golden Dreams is popular for a couple of reasons.
First, its gentle geography means it can be enjoyed by even first-time paddlers. Second, a number of bends, bridges, fluctuating currents and the odd portage make it exciting to navigate. Last, it's incredibly scenic. Paddlers are immersed into unscripted nature. Flora bursts from the banks, concealing the river's edge. Aquatic grasses and plants dance in the shallows, stretching for the surface. For most visitors, heading to Whistler is 'getting away from it all'; venture one step further to lose yourself to nature in the beauty of the river's thicket. To spy some of the resident creatures - beavers, otter, eagles, osprey, fish, bats, birds, raccoons - that call this ecosystem home, set out in the early evening.
Tourism Whistler / Mike Crane
The River of Golden Dreams makes for a great half day excursion that can be extended by paddling either of the anchoring lakes. Launch from Lakeside Park, Wayside Park or Rainbow Park to paddle downstream from Alta to Green Lake.
Prefer to enjoy a guided paddle? Here are three companies leading River of Golden Dream excursions:
Stand Up Paddleboarding
The lakes that dot Whistler Valley are picture-perfect and tame enough for stand up paddle boarding (SUP'ing).
They’re not too small to be boring and not too big to be exhausting. Nose along shorelines to look in on stunning lakefront homes (ahem, mansions) or peel around pint-sized islands. Once you've found your 'lake legs' test your balance with SUP yoga.
Where to SUP in Whistler
(c) Tourism Whistler / Mike Crane
Alta Lake - one of the bigger lakes in the valley with plenty of places to launch from. Lakeside Park and Wayside Park are accessible by bus or a half hour walk from Whistler Village. Rainbow Park has a nice sandy beach and shallows.
Green Lake - Whistler Valley's largest lake is also its coldest. With glacial-fed waters, SUP'ers should take care not to fall into Green Lake, unless an icy bath is on the agenda. In addition to exploring the lake's coves and bays, paddlers can play i-spy with float planes that pierce the sky above.
Nita Lake & Alpha Lake - both lakes are small and tucked east of Whistler, a stone's throw from Creekside. Nita Lake is suitable enough for a SUP but it's Alpha Lake's cragged shoreline and small islands that hold my interest.
New to SUP?
Me too. Luckily I had the good fortune of being on the receiving end of a quick lesson from Backroads Whistler owner, Eric Wight.
Getting started is easy. Strap on the leash and gingerly lower yourself onto the paddle board. For a piece of equipment that is inflatable you'll find it surprisingly stable.
At first I was standing rigid with knees locked, which Eric quickly pointed out to me. He also chuckled and reversed my paddle because I was holding it backwards. (A rookie mistake, but one easily corrected!) After a simple demonstration of a J-stroke I was off and exploring.
SUP with Backroads Whistler. Image by Jennifer Larsen
SUP is a beginner-friendly activity. The leisurely SUP'er only needs basic technical skill to enjoy it. While I was paddling, I saw people of all ages casting off from the dock. There was a woman who at first looked unsteady but quickly gained confidence; there was a teenage boy who looked more comfortable on his board than a fish in water; and there was a woman my mom's age who happily putted along in a sturdy kneeling position. While that morning was a bit nippy, I could easily imagine myself here in the height of summer, taking an impromptu dip (whether on purpose or not) and sitting with my legs dangling in the cool water.
Rent a SUP in Whistler:
Backroads Whistler has been pioneering eco-adventures for the last 30 years. Wight prides his company on quality equipment rentals that are well maintained. (You won't find tired resort rentals here!) Their SUP's are epoxy boards which means they are light, stable and easy to learn on.
Tourism Whistler / Feet Banks
I can't claim to be an angler but I have learned a few things about casting a line from friends. Foremost, fishing provides the thrill of a catch, but it's also a lovely way to pass time outdoors. It's a perfect excuse to get on the water and enjoy some sunshine. Luckily, anglers in Whistler have a few stocked lakes and nearby rivers to choose from.
Where to go fishing within Whistler Valley
Alta Lake - catch and release; year-round bait ban. Fish for cutthroat and rainbow trout. Alta Lake is frozen during winter, typically thawing in April and freezing in November.
Green Lake - catch and release; bait ban and single, barbless hook restriction. Fish for rainbow trout and Dolly Varden char.
Guided Angling Near/Around Whistler
The lakes and rivers near Pemberton, Whistler and Squamish offer ample fishing and fly fishing. Those who want to tap into local expertise and secretive fishing holes should consider a charter with the following outfitters:
Bonus: Soak in'em
Address: 8010 Mons Rd, Whistler
Hours: Daily 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.; massages start booking at 9 a.m.
Price: Bath access $60/pp; one hour massage starts at $129
Whistler's Scandinave Spa is my happy place. A visit guarantees to invigorate and restore mind and body.
Upon arrival, amble along a path that winds through a stand of old growth cedars before depositing you in a timber-frame spa oasis. Stow away your gadgets, grab a fluffy robe and slip into serenity at this silence-only, open-air spa. Without any conversation, you're peacefully left to contemplate your own thoughts.
(c) Chad Chomlack for Scandinave Spa
Exiting the main lodge, visitors follow a hydrotherapy circuit of hot - cold - relax. Start off in the eucalyptus-infused steam room or lay a towel out in a toasty sauna. After 10-15 minutes, immerse yourself in a cold plunge pool or beneath a frigid waterfall for 10-30 seconds. With your senses tingling, stake out a spot in a solarium, on a deck or terrace, around a fireplace or nestle into a hammock. Repeat at least three times.
(c) Chad Chomlack for Scandinave Spa
My tips for visiting the Scandinave Spa:
- Plan to stay for a while - I suggest at least two hours.
- Don't be afraid to wander - canvas all corners of the property to find that perfect nook.
- Bring a book or magazine. If you're feeling contemplative bring a journal; silence and the beauty of nature make one for one inspiring setting.
- Feeling peckish? Grab your robe and duck into the main lodge for a complimentary apple or dine in at the Scandinave Cafe.
- Lockers, towels, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, cotton swabs, hair dryers and even hair straighteners are all provided. All you need is a swimsuit and pair of flip-flops.
Related content on Canadian Traveller