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.
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 (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 (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 (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 (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 (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).
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.
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.
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.
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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