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.