Wells Gray Park, British Columbia: 40+ waterfalls and more

Wells Gray Provincial Park was another awesome discovery during our 2020 stay-in-British Columbia- summer. The park, located in east-central B.C., is a massive wilderness area with only its southern portion easily accessible to visitors. Known as the waterfall park, it has 40 named falls and many more tucked away in the wilds. It has great hiking and an extensive network of rivers and lakes for rafting, canoeing, kayaking and fishing. We only scratched the surface during our four day visit. Here’s what we fit in.

Waterfalls

Some of the most impressive waterfalls in the park are easy to access right off Clearwater Valley Road, the main entry into the park. We visited in early September, and although this is a low water flow month, we were not disappointed. Water volume is at its peak during spring run off (May-June).

Stop at the Visitor Information Centre in Clearwater to get a map showing locations of waterfalls and other attractions. The waterfalls described below are shown by location— driving south to north on Clearwater Valley Road. Note: the kilometre references indicate distance from the information centre.

Spahats Falls

Spahats Falls (at km 10.3) is an elegant ribbon of water that plunges 80 m from an opening in a gigantic rock face down into the Clearwater River. The vertical walls of the deep, narrow canyon add to the drama. It’s only a 5-minute walk from the car park to the viewing platform.

Moul Falls

Moul Falls (at km 21) is a beauty to look at, and for those who dare, there’s a narrow path that leads behind the falls for a fun and slightly wet perspective. The round trip to the falls from the parking lot is 6 km. The trail is easy except for the last 500 m, which is steep and can be slippery.

Dawson Falls

Dawson Falls (at km 40.8) is a 90 m-wide band of water that tumbles down the Murtle River and is flanked on both sides by thick forest. This majestic wilderness scene is accessed by a 15-minute walk from the car park. Be sure to continue another 5-minutes beyond the fenced viewpoint for a close-up view at the edge of the falls.

Helmcken Falls

Helmcken Falls (at km 42.5) is the most famous falls in the park. It drops 141 m and holds the title of 4th tallest waterfall in Canada. The viewing platform is just a few minutes walk from the parking lot. It gets busy in the peak summer months, but we shared it with just a dozen other visitors on a weekday in early September.

Bailey’s Chute:

Bailey’s Chute (at km 57) is more rapids than waterfall, but was one of my favourite stops. For just a few weeks a year, in early September, this is the scene of one of the most amazing animal migrations—the salmon run. I could have stayed at the viewing platform all day watching the Chinoock salmon hurl themselves up the powerful chute—the end of an incredible 600 km journey from the Pacific Ocean. Bailey’s Chute is a 10-15 minute walk from the parking lot. It’s also the start of the West Lake Loop, a trail with stunning vistas of Clearwater River (more below).

Walking/Hiking

Wells Gray Park has an impressive selection of trails through pristine forests, along wild rivers and up panoramic ridges. During our sampling of shorter hikes we found out that there are some great multi-day backpacking options. I’m already scheming for next summer.

Trophy Meadows

The 11 km out and back hike to Trophy Meadows is most popular during the mid-summer wildflower bloom, but it was beautiful after the bloom too. Just a 45-minute hike through the forest brings you to vast meadows. I can imagine how amazing they would look covered with flowers. It’s not long before you reach the alpine and gorgeous Shiela Lake—a perfect place for a picnic at the backcountry campground. The trail is well-marked and rated moderate. There’s a wealth of exploring beyond Shiela Lake. Access to the trailhead is via a 15 km gravel road (in reasonable condition) off Clearwater Valley Road. The turnoff is just beyond Spahats Falls, at km 11.4.

The Horseshoe

This is an easy 6 km out and back hike to an overlook of a horseshoe-shaped curve in the Clearwater River. Salmon use the gravel beds of this shallow, calm section of the river to spawn. We went twice, hoping to see bears fishing for the exhausted salmon. No such luck, but it was pretty anyway and super peaceful—no one seems to use this trail. The trailhead is across the road from the parking lot at Ray Farm, at km 57.

West Lake Loop

We loved this 6.6 km loop that is accessed at Bailey’s Chute. The trail gets its name from the lake on the right side of the loop, but our favourite section was along the Clearwater River. There are lots of views of the fast-moving river, particularly around the rapids known as Marcus Falls and Myanth Falls. Just before you get to the latter, there’s an awesome pebble beach. Most people don’t go further than Bailey’s Chute, so this loop is very tranquil.

Paddling

Before visiting Wells Gray, I had never heard of the extensive canoeing/kayaking opportunities on Clearwater, Azure and Murtle lakes. Our half day paddle on Clearwater Lake (at km 68.5—the end of Clearwater Valley Road) whet our appetite for a longer trip next summer. All three lakes have backcountry campsites that are first-come, first-serve. Rental canoes are available at the Clearwater Lake campground.

Trip Planning Information

  • Wells Gray Provincial Park is 447 km driving distance from Vancouver (about 5.5 hours), and 317 km from Jasper National Park.
  • The main gateway to Wells Gray is the town of Clearwater. Clearwater Valley Road provides access to the Wells Gray Park Corridor and runs about 70 km from the Wells Gray Visitor Centre.
  • There are very limited facilities for food/supplies in the park, so stock up in Clearwater or Kamloops.
  • There are camping and lodging facilities inside and outside the park. The Wells Gray Vistor Centre website has a listing of options. Be aware that the attractions are spread along the 70 km corridor (not including hiking access roads), which can make for a lot of driving depending on where you’re staying.
  • We really enjoyed our stay at Clearwater Springs Ranch, accessed approximately 32 km along Clearwater Valley Road and at Clearwater Lake campground, near the end of Clearwater Valley Road (km 65.5). We were lucky to find an available campsite without booking; it’s best to make a reservation. If you just show up like us, you’ll need cash ($23).
  • The park can be visited year round, but park-run campgrounds are only open May through September.

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Categories: British Columbia | Tags: , , , | 38 Comments

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38 thoughts on “Wells Gray Park, British Columbia: 40+ waterfalls and more

  1. What? There are 40 waterfalls just in Wells Grey Park? Yes, Canada, particularly the stunning British Columbia region, is a great place to live during the pandemic: you’ll never run out of places to visit.

    Waterfalls are wonders of nature that humans have adored since ancient times. The sight, sound, and feel of waterfalls are what make them so appealing to us. I love waterfalls and I wish we had more of them right here in Sligo; listening to the sound of waterfalls makes me happy and content. Thanks for sharing so many beautiful photos. Helmcken Falls caught my eye right away- such a beautiful place. Aiva 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Unbelievable isn’t it, Aiva? There are actually more than 40—these are just the ones that are reasonably easy to access. Wells Grey Park was another great B.C. discovery for us this summer. I had heard about the park but had no idea about all its glorious waterfalls. If we get up the courage to drive the mountain passes in winter, we may go back to Wells Grey and see the park blanketed in snow and the falls mostly frozen solid. I too am mesmerized by waterfalls and am lucky to have some beautiful ones in my local area. Here in Vancouver, where the falls usually don’t freeze, they are at their best in November and December with all our heavy rain. Glad you enjoyed the tour!

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  2. Horseshoe curve looks pretty awesome. Beautiful clicks!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. trishehunt

    Once again a trip beautifully captured! So glad you and Mike went Caroline. Yes we have all fallen in love with our beautiful province again during these trying times. We were so impressed with the voluminous waters in May and I was surprised at how robust the flows were even by Sept. The spawning salmon — how special and what a shot! (Amongst many other spectacular photos – well done :)). Look forward to commiserating on a winter trip, a whole new perspective there. Trish

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    • So happy you got us on to this, Trish. A winter trip is sounding better by the minute. There’s apparently good snowshoeing/cross country skiing and I imagine those waterfalls look pretty cool all covered in ice.

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  4. AndyG

    It’s been a while since we visited Wells Gray – it really is waterfall paradise. It’s hard to appreciate how tall some of the falls are as the gorges are just so deep. We hiked a trail to an alternative view of Helmcken Falls that had no fall protection at the edge of the cliff – very scary! Would love to go and see Moul Falls, reminds me of a waterfall in the Yorkshire Dales that you can walk behind too. Trophy Meadows has been on our list forever… and maybe we should try a canoe trip for once? Did you visit the Ray mineral spring? That was very cool – cold fizzy water from a hole in the ground!

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    • We walked a couple of kms on the alternate trail to Helmcken Falls but ran out of time and didn’t think it would be wise to be out on that cliff in the semi-dark (maybe not during the day either!). Trophy Meadows was so beautiful, even without the flowers. It’s definitely on our list to revisit during blooming time. Sounds like we should have visited the Ray Mineral spring (another one to add). The canoe trip look like an interesting option. I’ve been googling Murtle Lake—a little more off the beaten path versus Clearwater Lake, so perhaps less busy in the height of summer (though compared to Bowren Lakes I think Wells Gray canoeing is much less known).

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  5. josypheen

    Woooow! I love your salmon photo at Bailey’s Chute! It must have been amazing to watch them jump through the reapids!

    We LOVED visiting the main waterfalls at Wells Gray, but like you, it just whet my appetite so I would love to go back to hike and explore more. I didn’t know we could hire kayaks and explore the lakes as well. I may have to copy you and look into that next summer!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, we found out that there’s a lot more to the park than the waterfalls, which are totally awesome. Clearwater and Azure lakes can be accessed at the end of the Clearwater Valley Road and Murtle Lake is a separate approach from the town of Blue River. They each have convenient rental places. We checked out a couple of backcountry camping spots on Clearwater Lake and they beautiful and have outhouses, bear caches and picnic tables. Perhaps we’ll see you there next summer!

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  6. Mike Hohmann

    Great trip, Caroline. I car camped and backpacked in Wells Gray PP w/ my dog about 18 yrs ago. I think we were there for about a week. It was a fantastic place to visit and explore! That was part of a 2 mo.trip out through Saskatchewan, and up through Alberta, to Watson Lake then south into BC and back east again on Hwy 1. I promised my wife we’d do the trip again one day -just the two of us! We’d better get busy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mike! Your trip 18 years ago sounds like a really interesting one with places that are off the beaten path. I’m sure it would be cool for you and your wife to do the trip again and for you to see if/how things have changed since then. I hope we’ll be able to visit each others countries again one of these days! As I’ve mentioned to others, Wells Gray is an overlooked park and wasn’t on our radar until friends visited earlier in summer and raved about it. I’d like to explore it in more detail and especially do a multi-day go canoe trip. Hope you’ve been getting in some hiking and radio-related activities.

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  7. I’m so glad you posted this! I’ve been looking into Wells Gray a lot this summer and now seeing your pictures, I wish we went. The waterfalls are awesome, and so varied. I love the salmon picture, no grizzlies? I’ll have to see if we can still go this year as we’ll probably start having snow here in a couple of weeks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s hard to know how much we can fit in before the weather turns. Having said that, locals we met told us that the park is glorious in winter too with the frozen waterfalls and backcountry skiing. Our trip was hastily planned and it was only once we got there that we learned more about the opportunities for multi-day hiking and canoeing/kayaking. We’re definitely interested in visiting again, maybe combine with a Mt. Robson backpacking trip, which we’ve never done.
      Seeing the spawning salmon was really cool. Our hosts at the B&B said the bears had been spotted scooping up the exhausted fish but we unfortunately didn’t see them.

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  8. What a beautiful place! And gorgeous photos.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

  9. These falls are all so beautiful. Thanks for revealing this great park to us!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. That first waterfall photo! 😍 And I’m loving that loop trail scenery as well. What a marvelous way to spend your 2020 summer.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This region is paradise. Totally stunning.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. What great places to visit. You captured it well.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Yet, another stunningly beautiful park in British Columbia! Every single photo in this post really is so pleasant and refreshing to look at, which reminds me that this year I haven’t done any outdoor activities at all, apart from visiting some ancient temples outside Jakarta. But for now, I think I’ll just enjoy your uplifting and inspiring posts, Caroline.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Bama! I’ve always found it uplifting to be in nature so I’m glad this comes through in my posts. I’ve been deriving even more pleasure and comfort from my outdoor adventures during these troubling times. I must admit though, I’ve been thinking more and more about when I’ll be able to travel abroad again. I enjoy reading about your temple and cultural visits; it gives me a change of scenery and the opportunity to armchair travel.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. wow. such a huge province it’s hard to imagine – but there are much bigger ones too in Canada! So much nature and beauty thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point about the size of Canada’s parks. It’s all relative, isn’t it. Wells Gray is indeed large but compared to other parks, especially in Yukon and NWT it’s quite small. We’re lucky to have so many beautiful parks of all sizes. Thanks for reading.

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  15. It’s been neat being able to explore some of the parks in our own backyard. Wells Gray Provincial Park looks like a place that I’d enjoy. Great shot of the fish jumping out of the water!

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    • It doesn’t have the in-your-face wow factor of Banff/Jasper etc. as you drive through, but it has so much to offer with little effort and has a wealth of pristine wilderness to explore. I loved that it wasn’t busy. It’s a very chill park.

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  16. It’s another beautiful park in the Rockies, I drove from Banff to Jasper on the other side of the mountains, but I don’t know Wells Gray yet. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lots of people are not familiar with Wells Gray. We had no intention of visiting until friends of ours went earlier in the year and raved about the park. Apparently it is more popular with European visitors than Canadians (in normal years). I haven’t done that Banff to Jasper stretch in a long time—so beautiful.

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  17. Loved the salmon caught mid-air (happy coincidence or was it meant to be?). I have to be honest, had I been around there I wouldn’t have been able to shake off a Credence Clearwater Revival earworm…:D

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    • Too funny. I never thought of it while there but now you’ve got me mumbling “there’s a bad moon on the rise”. The salmon was very intentional. We stood there for an hour, cameras poised to catch the jumping salmon that attempted the leap every few minutes. It’s astonishing how addictive it is to watch spawning salmon. We have hundreds of poor quality photos.

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  18. Oh my goodness! I love that each waterfall is so completely different, and I especially love the jumping fish photo! I drove through this area of BC once many years ago but it’s nice to see it in more detail. Sometimes I forget that there’s a whole bunch of land in the middle of BC between the Rockies and the coast.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It kind of looks like I photoshopped that fish—so crazy to see fish swimming against that wall of water. I’m glad you mentioned about sometimes forgetting that there is stuff in the middle of BC. Wells Gray is a bit of an overlooked park precisely because of the perceived bigger attractions of the coast and the Rockies. I kind of hope it stays that way (it’s a real gem).

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