Experience the B.C. backcountry and waterfalls all an hour away from Sun Peaks
By: Justin Moore
Wells Gray Provincial Park is a wild and immersive place. Known as the waterfall park, this 5250 square kilometre area is home to over 40 named waterfalls created from ancient volcanoes and glacier beds long since melted. It’s a place where wildlife isn’t just rumoured but is expected as you drive the 68 km road to Clearwater Lake, stop to hike through awe-inspiring wildflower meadows or break for lunch along the mighty Clearwater River.
With adventure opportunities, Wells Gray is one of the best destinations in British Columbia for a road trip adventure, whether it’s a day trip with friends or a weekend camping trip. Just an hour north of Heffley Creek, follow Highway 5 as it parallels the North Thompson River, trading farmland views of communities like Louis Creek and Little Fort for your first look at the alpine peaks of the park as you arrive in Clearwater.
Take a quick pit stop at the Visitor Centre. Inside you’ll want to acquaint yourself with the informative visitor guides who will outfit you with your own map, complete with personalized destinations for you to seek out, whether it’s waterfall views, historic hikes through old growth trees or alpine views you’re searching for.
Heads up! Clearwater is also your last opportunity to fuel up and grab snacks and supplies before you enter the park. Sunscreen, bug spray and bear spray should all be part of your day pack.
With the sun in the sky, head into the park and keep your eyes open for bears, deer and other wildlife that call this area home. Remember to slow down, and don’t open your windows or provoke the animals in any way.
For a more scenic and leisurely day, drive to the end of the road to the tip of Clearwater Lake, one of six large lakes in the park that drains into the Clearwater River at Osprey Falls.
At the Chain Meadows trailhead you can access a remarkable lookout of the falls as well as the southern end of the park after a short 1.5 km ascent. Or witness powerful rapids up close on the Bailey’s Chute Trail. The 4 km loop around West Lake brings you a stone’s throw away from three waterfalls as the water spills aggressively over ancient rock beds.
In addition to the many riverside rest stops along the road, check out one of Wells Gray’s oldest standing settlements at Ray Farm.
Carry on towards Canada’s second largest waterfall, the majestic Helmcken Falls, an icon of the park that’s best enjoyed as the sun hits the horizon. The viewing platform, steps away from the roadside parking lot, is where you’re given an unobstructed view of the incredible 141 m cascade. In addition, the 5 km South Rim Trail offers an alternative perspective for the more daring, bringing you steps away from the notorious waterfall responsible for the creation of the park.
Further up Murtle River is the broad formation of Dawson Falls feeding into the Mushbowl, best observed from the single lane bridge that crosses the rapids. Naturally, the spring season is the most opportune time to witness the sheer power of these waterfalls as glacier runoff is in its peak.
For those looking to spend more time on their feet during their visit to Wells Gray, venture down the Moul Falls trail 21 km up the road from the visitor center. Follow the path through the trees and descend to the misty basin of Moul Falls. If you’re brave, continue on the unofficial trail behind the waterfall and explore the mossy caves carved out by ancient lava formations.
Finally, another notable hike is one best tackled near the end of June and into the fall months as the subalpine wildflowers begin to bloom in the Trophy Mountain Meadows. This trail features an elevation climb of about 200 m, making it a moderate hike for some while being one of the more accessible subalpine trails in the region.
Of course, with such an expansive park to explore, no two itineraries are the same. With a close proximity to Sun Peaks, Wells Gray is a place to be returned to season after season for those adventurous enough to seek out new sights in the B.C. backcountry.