Hut-to-hut hiking in Wells Gray Provincial Park

There’s a real roof over my head, a cushy mattress to sleep on, hearty food, and I carry only a light-weight pack. Our 7-day hut-to-hut hike in British Columbia’s Wells Gray Provincial Park can’t be described as luxurious, but it’s a welcome upgrade from our usual backpacking trips. Under the guidance of Wells Gray Adventures, our group hiked through pristine alpine wilderness shaped by volcanoes and glaciers. At day’s end, we retreated to the rustic comfort of remote mountain huts.

Wells Gray Adventures is a long established company that offers guided hiking, paddling and skiing excursions in Wells Gray Provincial Park, in east-central B.C. They own and operate three backcountry huts in the park. Initially, I didn’t think we needed a guided trip, but the description of routes through total wilderness with no trail markings and the appeal of staying in huts changed my mind. I pitched the trip to some close (fully-vaccinated) friends and eight of us signed on for the 7-day adventure.

Note: In the description below I have not provided complete information about distances and elevation gain. The entire excursion over the seven days in mid-August was about 85 km (53 mi).

Day 1: Hike to Trophy Chalet

Our group arrives bright and early at the Wells Gray Adventures office where we meet our guide Travis, sign waivers and make last minute decisions about what to leave behind in our cars. “There’s extra shoes in all the huts,” Travis says, encouraging us to keep it minimal. My pack feels wonderfully light and I’m so happy not to be schlepping tent, sleeping bag, cooking supplies…

Travis loads us into the van for the drive to the trailhead. About an hour up a gravel road we stop at the side of the road. “This is where we start,” Travis says. There’s no sign, nor can I see a trail. He leads us down a little embankment and there indeed is a well-hidden but distinct single track. I realize immediately that doing this independently would be very difficult.

We hike though lush forest, slowly gaining elevation. Soon we reach open meadows with beautiful mountain views. By lunchtime we’ve made it to Trophy Chalet, the first of the three huts on our route and our home for two nights. It’s nestled in a clearing beside a little pond and its views over the mountains are glorious. Inside, the main floor holds the kitchen and large, communal table. A steep flight of stairs leads to a sleeping loft, partitioned into small compartments with privacy curtains.

On our afternoon hike near the Trophy Chalet, Travis leads us on subalpine trails that meander past pretty ponds and glacial-carved landscapes. The wildflowers are unfortunately past their prime, but there’s still some colour left and the abundant western pasqueflower (or, hippie heads) create a whimsical scene. By late afternoon, we make our way back to our chalet, its red roof a bright beacon in the wilderness. Today, we have not met one other hiker. It’s a great feeling to have this all to ourselves.

Travis makes dinner prep look effortless, and by the time we’ve played a few rounds of cribbage, there’s a massive feast of chicken, rice and salad ready to be devoured. The spectacular sunset is a perfect end to our first day.

Day 2: Day hike in Trophy Mountains

We’re elated to wake up to a brilliant blue sky. For much of the summer, the air quality and visibility due to wildfires in this part of B.C. have been poor. Travis says it’s the clearest he’s seen it in weeks.

Today’s roughly 10 km of hiking in the Trophy Mountains area is entirely in the subalpine. We’re awed by the wide open views and wildness of the place. Again we meet no one else on the trail. Travis guides us up and down rocky slopes, along ridges, through meadows and past exquisitely contoured lakes. “This is a good spot for a swim,” he says. A few keeners in the group take the plunge in the ice cold water.

The highlight for me is the view we get from Ptarmigan Ridge where we look over a series of lakes that “hang” at different elevations. It looks like a painting. I’m completely blown away by what we’ve seen today.

Day 3: Hike to Discovery Cabin

We’re moving on to Discovery Cabin, about 11 km north of Trophy Chalet. I’ve given up trying to figure out the route and simply enjoy being led through this remote wilderness. We pass by dozens of alpine lakes in the aptly named Valley of the Lakes. By lunchtime, we’re sweating and most of us take a plunge in Swimmer’s Lake. The cold takes my breathe away, but I’m definitely refreshed. The lakes are in pristine condition thanks to the small number of hikers and the company’s environmental stewardship. Travis encourages us to use our water bottles to rinse off sun block and bug spray before our swims, and he explains that even biodegradable soap can harm the ecosystem.

After summiting Eagle Pass, it’s all downhill through thick forest until we reach Discovery Cabin. The cabin is nestled in total seclusion near a wetland valley dotted with ponds and gurgling creeks.

Like previous evenings, it feels great to be in the comfort of our cabin where Travis gets dinner started and his sous-chefs are happy to pitch in. Tonight it’s burritos. There’s lots of chopping and grating and laughing.

Day 4: Day hikes near Discovery Cabin

Over breakfast, Travis lays out the options for the day. One of the best things about staying at each hut for two nights is that on the second day the group can decide how much hiking it wants to do. Half of us want to hike up to a peak, the other half prefer a flat meadow hike. “We can do both,” says our ever-accommodating guide.

We’re all in for a morning meadow hike. We follow Travis along the edges of verdant wetlands and across natural stepping stones over ponds and creeks; there are no trails. I lag behind, feasting on wild blueberries. It’s incredibly peaceful.

Travis suggests we delay our second hike until late afternoon when it’s cooler. We have a few hours of leisure time to read, nap and bathe in a creek just below the cabin. I sit in my own private creek nook and soak in the sun-warmed water. Wildflowers edge the stream and dragonflies dance overhead. It’s a sublime moment.

Half the group sets off on our late-day hike to Moul Peak; the rest hang back at the cabin. It’s all uphill, first through forest and meadows and then across steep, rocky slopes that, in parts, are still snow-covered. Once again, we’re grateful for Travis’s knowledge of this wild, untrodden area. The view back down to the Discovery Cabin is superb.

Within just a couple of hours, the sky has turned smoky. It’s unsettling how fast conditions have changed, but at least we’re treated to an awesome sunset as we hike back to the cabin.

Day 5: Hike to Fight Meadows Chalet

This is our longest hiking day, 21 km to Fight Meadows Chalet. I haven’t slept well due to stress about the poor air quality. I can smell the smoke in the air. As we hike the amazing flat-top ridge of Table Mountain the sky looks bluer. The rock-strewn, high meadows have a soothing effect on me. Unfortunately, by the time we make it to Philip Lake the smoke has settled in. There’s a small backcountry campground here; it’s the first time we’ve met other people since we’ve set out. Travis’s colleagues at Wells Gray Adventures have left a cooler of fresh food at the camp’s food locker. We devour the peaches and plums and divide up the rest to carry to the cabin.

The Cariboo and Fight meadows are among the largest wildflower meadows in Canada. Despite my fatigue and the smoky conditions, it’s really impressive to walk for hours through this vast, open meadow system. The names of the meadows and neighbouring Battle Mountain and Fight Lake derive from a mid-nineteenth century conflict between two Indian bands over cariboo hunting grounds.

We’re thrilled to get to Fight Meadows Chalet after a long day of hiking. Like the other two huts, it’s clean, well-equipped and comfortable.

Day 6: Hiking around Fight Meadows Chalet

Although it rained overnight, the smoky haze has thickened. I had been looking forward to a challenging hike up Battle Mountain, but we decide that a cardio intense hike isn’t a good idea for our lungs. I’m a little disappointed, but plan B—a mellow walk through the meadows—turns out to be very enjoyable. Today it’s all about slowing down and appreciating the intricate details of nature. We find so much beauty in the moss-covered rocks of little ponds, in the peacefulness of undulating meadows, in the fleeting pops of colour and faded blooms of wildflowers. As we’ve grown accustomed to, we don’t meet another soul.

We’ve made the best of the smoky day and I’m already conjuring up plans for a return visit to these wonderful meadows.

Day 7: Hike out and final thoughts

On our last morning we get one final walk through the meadows before the long, forested downhill hike via the Battle Creek trail. We lose over 1200 m on the roughly 9.5 km hike to the trailhead where a vehicle is waiting to whisk us back to our regular lives.

Unlike the Rockies, where even a “drive-through” is spectacular, the dense forest that blankets the lower and mid-elevations of Wells Gray belies the treasures found in its alpine and subalpine zones. Most visitors to the park congregate at its many “road level” activities—fabulous waterfalls, big lakes and comfortable frontcountry campgrounds. As we discovered, the upper reaches of the park are gloriously wild and mostly remain a well-kept secret. It was such a joy and privilege to spend time in a remote wilderness area. The scenery on the hike, the comfort of the huts, and the quality of the guiding exceeded my expectations. And, my hiking companions were top notch!

If you go:

  • Wells Gray Provincial Park is accessible from the town of Clearwater which is 447 km northeast of Vancouver and 123 km north of Kamloops.
  • Wells Gray Adventures offers 3-day, 5-day, 7-day hut-to-hut hikes. During the summer, the huts can usually only be booked as part of a guided hiking trip. The company also offers guided canoeing trips and guided backcountry skiing. In winter, huts can be rented for self-guided trips.
  • While in Wells Gray, make sure to visit the park’s famous waterfalls that are easily accessible from the park road. Read my blog about Wells Gray waterfalls and other attractions.
Categories: British Columbia, Hiking | Tags: , , | 45 Comments

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45 thoughts on “Hut-to-hut hiking in Wells Gray Provincial Park

  1. What a lovely and pristine landscape. A pity about the smoke, but it did make for a spectacular sunset. You must have been so happy to hike light for a change, Caroline.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jolandi! I was just thinking about you and remembered that your posts are ending up in my spam folder despite me indicating they shouldn’t (this is also the case for one other blogger I follow). Yes, the hike and carrying less weight were both great. Hope you are well.

      Like

  2. Caroline, I can’t get over how jaw-droppingly beautiful (and wild) this part of B.C. is – even with the smoky conditions on the latter half of the trip the undisturbed beauty of the area really shines through. I’m glad you were treated to some gorgeous blue skies despite the terrible wildfires this summer. And the fact that the group didn’t meet any other hikers for days just boggles the mind. The chalets might not be super luxurious but having a guide who also did the cooking sounds pretty sweet to me! I just had to google “hippie heads” when you first mentioned them and the pictures made me smile – I completely get why they got that nickname. My knowledge of flowers and plants is very limited, so I couldn’t identify many of the interesting-looking flora Bama and I saw on a recent hike we did. You’ll get a sense of that in the vague captions of my next post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Isn’t hippie heads much more descriptive than anemone occidentalis (western pasqueflower)! I didn’t know the real name until last summer. It is such a cool plant in its post-bloom period. You’d never believe that it starts as a small, delicate white flower in spring. James, I’m glad you admitted to the vague captions. I beat myself up when I don’t know the names of flowers/plants but the time it takes to do the research (for a blog post caption) can be ridiculous. I look forward to reading your next post.
      Having our guide do the cooking was a real treat. It was also a nice change from eating the less than inspiring, sodium-laden dehydrated packages that we use for our independent backpacking trips to minimize pack weight.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It looks like an astounding adventure with the comfort of the huts a big bonus. Your
    Photos are tourism brochure worthy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aww, thanks so much Sue. The huts were definitely a nice treat. I really appreciated the lighter pack and a more comfortable sleep versus our backpacking trips earlier in the summer.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I may have to do this one. Looks fantastic!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The meadow hike sounds lovely. Were there designated paths to walk on or were you following expressly behind where your guide was stepping?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your astute question, Atreyee. In the meadows, there were some narrow, designated trails. Our guide was very conscientious about where we stepped. We were told to stay on the paths and reminded not to plonk ourselves or our packs on the vegetation when taking breaks. Where there were no paths, we were careful to follow in each other’s steps. I was very impressed with the company’s dedication to minimal environmental impact in all aspects of backcountry hiking.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh I love it. Thanks for getting back to me about this as I’ve always been interested in meadow hikes, but have yet to do one.

        Liked by 1 person

        • You’re welcome. I think you’d enjoy this trek. Wells Gray has some of the largest wildflower meadows in Canada. Our timing second week of August was slightly late but everything bloomed early this year due to the heat wave. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any other questions.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. This looks like a great trek and getaway – the hikes, huts, wildflowers, and the company of friends. Loved the photos with reflections in the water and the very green one.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I could spend my next 10 years of vacations hiking hut-to-hut, especially when the huts and terrain look like that! I’ve enjoyed this kind of trip in parts of the Alps but had no idea it could be done much closer; you can be sure it’s being added to my growing Canada files. Your photos are gorgeous, and how nice to have a set of friends who share your outdoor interests!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Lexie! Yup, hut-to-hut is a wonderful way to do a hiking trip. I’m sure we will be seeking out more of these. I was actually quite surprised to come across the hut option in Wells Gray as hut-to-hut is unfortunately not well developed here. We had a fabulous time and it was fun to do this with good friends. Before the pandemic hit, I had done research on hut-to-hut in the Alps and Dolomites. Hopefully we’ll get the European experience at some point.
      As usual, if you ever need more info about a Canadian adventure, let me know.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. wow It looks like the perfect hike. views and a chalet at the end!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This sounds so fabulous. I can feel your peace and enjoyment jumping out from the screen. I’d love to do it tho don’t know if I have the stamina at the moment. I know I said that I’m a bit chicken about back-country hiking, but all I need is a guide and I’m happy happy. I don’t know if you know this about me, but for years I cooked in wilderness hunting camps in the far north of BC and Yukon – during those days I did huge amounts of back country hiking, but always with one of the guides. It was a really special time in my life and the reason I find your hikes so relatable, and makes me a bit jealous 😄
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alison, I think this could be just the thing for you if you wanted to do some backcountry hiking. If 7-days seems too long (though I’m sure you’d be fine) Wells Gray Adventures also offers shorter trips. We were really impressed with the quality of our guide and the strict environmental principals the company adheres to. If you go, attempt to aim for peak wildflower season in late July/early August. I’d be glad to provide more info if you ever need it. I’m glad my posts take you back to that special time in your life–so cool that you worked as a cook in remote hunting camps (the stories you must have!).

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Wow, so many amazing photos, Caroline, especially the ones with blooming wildflowers! Is there anything better than immersing yourself in real and wild nature where wildlife sightings are as common as sunsets and sunrises? Wells Grey Provincial Park looks like a world-class destination for hiking, and I am glad to hear you had a fantastic time exploring it on foot. Thanks for sharing and have a nice day. You know by now that your adventure posts around Canada always seem to brighten up my day and today was no different. Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • It makes me happy to read that my posts brighten your day, Aiva; I know how much you appreciate nature. Even though we missed the peak wildflower bloom it was still pretty awesome. I was just talking to Mike yesterday that I’d like to return next summer. Immersing myself in real, wild nature is indeed one of my greatest pleasures and I’m so grateful that I have the opportunities to do this.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. A magnificent adventure. I know WG Park well because I worked for the BC Parks Service one summer in the 1970s. It is a huge area with wonderful sights. My favorite is Helmcken Falls one of the highest waterfalls in Canada. Your post makes me want to re-visit as I’ve never been back.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That must have been an interesting summer job. I knew very little about Wells Gray until friends encouraged us to visit late last summer. We were blown away by the waterfalls (Helmcken is amazing). On that visit we did a very short hike to Trophy Meadows and that’s when I got the idea to explore more of this beautiful park. It’s such a gem. You should definitely go for a return visit.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I’ve never done a guided hike in Canada but you make it sound appealing, especially if that’s the only way to get those views. I really only thought of Wells Grey as a place to see waterfalls but the alpine is gorgeous, especially that view from Ptarmigan Ridge. Thankfully now the smoke has mostly gone from Golden and Calgary, hopefully that’s it for fires. Maggie

    Liked by 1 person

    • This was my first guided hike in Canada too. There is backcountry camping near the Fight Meadows Cabin, which I’m tempted to do next year, hopefully hitting wildflowers at their peak. But I think all the terrain between the huts would be really difficult to figure out on your own (for me anyway). Your comment about Wells Gray being a place to see waterfalls is exactly how I looked at. It is such an unexpected surprise to get all those open meadows and alpine scenery.
      You guys really got hit hard with fires this year. I hope things are better next summer but it’s very worrisome.

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  13. This sounds (and looks) like a 7-day hike that I would enjoy! I like the idea of just hiking with a daypack and staying in a remote mountain hut each night. I continue to be amazed that some people are willing to go for a swim in chilly water! The smoke is obviously not ideal, but that sunset on day 4 sure looks beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • OMG it was so nice to have a light pack. We only needed our clothes, toiletries, water bottle and a sleeping liner. It makes such a difference for me. As you know, I’m also not a fan of chilly water and usually avoid it unless it’s super hot out and I’m desperate for a little rinse. Thankfully my tolerance for being a little grimy when in the backcountry is high (apologies to my hiking companions).

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow…looks like an incredible hike! Beautiful views!! Loved the sunset pic!!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Caroline, what a lovely post, with some really really really nice photos!
    Also, the “Sunset at Trophy Chalet” is simply stunning!

    Wetland meadows, the climb at Moul peak and the stunning views on Ptarmigan Ridge, are the highlights.

    Thanks for sharing Caroline. I look forward to your next posts and greetings from Greece!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! Sorry, I don’t know your name and can’t find it on your site. The hike was amazing and it was so pleasant being able to stay in huts for a change. I remember you writing about mountain huts in Greece and being envious. We don’t have a lot of them here.
      Hope things are well with you and that you’re enjoying fall hiking. A busy schedule has kept me away from reading/writing. I hope to get caught up with your adventures soon.

      Like

  16. Caroline, please stop torturing me with those beautiful photos of nature you took from your hikes! (No, really I’d love to see more of them.) Finally, two weeks ago James and I went hiking to this place outside Jakarta after all these months being inspired by your posts. It was so nice to be back in nature, and the weather was perfect as well — although for some reason we completely forgot to wear sun block which resulted in mild sunburns. It’s too bad about the smoke, but a few days ago I watched an interesting video about forest fires and how stopping them in the past actually made the situation worse today. I don’t know if this is also the case in Canada, but in case you’re interested, here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0o6ezu_h6iE

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bama, I’m so happy to hear that you guys got out into nature. Perhaps a little extra vitamin D was good for you after being cooped up inside😉.
      Thank you for forwarding the video. It’s very interesting and definitely something that we contend with here in B.C. Like in the States, our Indigenous people too have a long tradition of controlled burns. The government appears to recognize the merit of this practice but not much has been done in the way of action. In recent summers we’ve been in crisis mode with all resources (including international assistance) dedicated to extinguishing or containing the wildfires. There are so many fires that many are in fact left to burn when they don’t threaten communities. We saw lots of these in the distance on our Wells Gray hike. I’m no expert on the subject and I can only assume that developing/implementing a comprehensive plan for prescribed burns in Western Canada is a massive project, but there’s no doubt that we need a long-term, proactive strategy on wildfires.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It was a lot of vitamin D! 😀

        I hope that comprehensive plan will indeed materialize, and future wildfires won’t get even worse. It certainly needs a concerted effort to deal with an issue at this magnitude.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. This sounds incredible! I share your frustration over the smoky skies; it’s frustrating to be far in the backcountry and unable to escape the suffocating haze. On the other hand, nothing beats views and lakes and solitude. I especially love the sunset photo from night 1 and the many alpine lakes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m thankful that we got as much clear sky as we did on that trip; it could have been far worse. But seeing all the plumes of smoke in the distance and breathing in the foul air while in that beautiful backcountry was also a big wake-up call about the effects of climate change.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I wish more people saw it that way; I have a feeling smoky skies all summer has become our new normal (though I really hope I’m wrong)

        Liked by 1 person

  18. Fifty miles-worth of beautiful lands and waters. Being with a small group of people that you like must have made the experience even better. Hi, Caroline. I enjoyed reading about your latest adventures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Neil. Sharing the trip with a close group of friends made it extra special. Only problem was that we chatted so much along the trails that we never saw any wildlife 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  19. A very enjoyable read and the photos are great! I loved the green surrounding those lake and the Ptarmigan Ridge view is stunning! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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