Visit Wells Gray Provincial Park

Visit

Erin Miller, Senior Writer, Canada
13 January 2020
Wells Gray Provincial Park protects a staggering 5,250 square kilometers (2,027 sq miles) of the southern Cariboo Mountain Range in British Columbia. Known as the “Waterfall Park,” thanks to its forty-plus spectacular waterfalls, Wells Gray is also home to wild rivers, serene lakes, extinct volcanoes, and thousands of kilometers of rugged, rarely ever visited back-country terrain. These features make it an outdoor enthusiasts paradise.
If water is your element, Wells Gray Provincial Park has two substantial marine parks, as well as numerous wild and rugged rivers. Murtle Lake Marine Park, the world’s largest “paddle-only” lake, boasts over a hundred kilometers of shoreline, white sand beaches, trailheads, and 69 canoe-in campsites spread out across 20 campgrounds. Or, if you’d prefer to get even deeper into the park, you can canoe up the 22-kilometer long Clearwater Lake, portage a half kilometer to Azure Lake, and paddle another 22 kilometers to the end of that lake. (And you’ll still only have seen the bottom 1/3 of this massive park!) The Clearwater/Azure Marine Park has 16 boat-in campsites and accesses multiple trailheads and waterfalls. Fishing opportunities abound. If “choose your own adventure” isn’t your thing, guiding businesses also offer canoeing and kayaking trips, fishing excursions, and river-rafting adventures.

Prefer to keep your feet dry? Wells Gray Provincial Park contains over 200 kilometers of trails, ranging from short, leisurely strolls to multi-day routes deep in the backcountry where map and compass skills are a must.

Not super outdoorsy, but still want to visit this amazing park? While the vast majority of the park is only accessible via canoe, or vigorous hiking, the Wells Gray Corridor is accessed via a well-maintained 37-kilometer road beginning in the town of Clearwater on the southern boundary of the park, and ending at Clearwater Lake. This road provides easy access to Wells Gray’s most famous waterfalls, numerous day hiking opportunities, wildflower meadows, four front-country campgrounds, the rugged and wild Clearwater and Murtle Rivers, Clearwater Lake. History buffs will also appreciate the short hikes and accompanying informational signs paying homage to the handful of homesteaders, trappers, and prospectors that settled within this remote area.

Helmcken Falls
Photo by Erin Miller

highlights

Helmcken Falls: At 141 meters (463 feet), Helmcken Falls is the fourth tallest waterfall in Canada and is formed when the Murtle River plunges off the western escarpment of the Murtle Plateau. During the winter, the upwelling spray forms an ice cone that can be 40 feet tall. 

Dawson Falls: A short walk from the parking area, Dawson Falls is equally stunning, but for different reasons. Dawson Falls may only be 20 meters (66 feet) high, but what it lacks in height, it makes up for in width. This fall spans the entire 90 m (295 ft) of the Murtle River!

Trophy Mountain: The Trophy Mountain area is relatively easy to access and includes on of the most spectacular wildflower meadows in all of British Columbia, the nine peaks of 2,575 meter (8,443 feet) Trophy Mountain, numerous alpine and sub-alpine lakes, glaciers, and waterfalls. 

Clearwater & Azure Lake Marine Park: Canoe, kayak, paddleboard, or take a motorized boat trip 22 kilometers up the pristine Clearwater Lake, portage half a kilometer, and then paddle another 22 kilometers up Azure Lake. Many trails, waterfalls, and boat-in only campgrounds can be accessed via these lakes.  

Murtle Lake Marine Park: If you’re looking for solitude in a stunning backcountry setting, Murtle Lake is the largest “paddle-only” lake in the world. With over a hundred kilometers of shoreline, 20 paddle-in only campgrounds, and access to multiple backcountry trails and routes, this is an authentic wilderness experience. 

 

“Wells Gray is home to wild rivers, serene lakes, extinct volcanoes, and thousands of kilometers of rugged, rarely ever visited back-country terrain. These features make it an outdoor enthusiasts paradise.”

trails

With 200 kilometers of trails, it would be impossible to list them all, so here is a small selection of our favorites, located in the Wells Gray Corridor.

Trophy Meadows/ Sheila Lake: A 1.5-kilometer hike leads to the stunning Trophy Meadows and an old herder’s cabin, while an additional 1.5-kilometer hike takes visitors to Sheila Lake. Hikers seeking panoramic views can continue to Trophy Peak (12 km round trip from the parking lot). Six tent pads, a pit toilet, and bear locker are available at Sheila Lake.

Bailey’s Chute: This easy 2-kilometer (1.2 miles) round-trip trail leads through old-growth forest to a viewing platform at Bailey’s Chute, where you can watch the entire Clearwater River bubble and foam as races over a series of low cataracts. In late August/ early September, watch massive Chinook salmon catapult themselves over the Chute.

Ray Farm/ Mineral Springs Trail:This trail can be turned into a 5 km loop, or hiked as a 3 km in-and-out. When hiked as a loop, the trail passes Alice Lake, an interesting mineral spring, and the remnants of Ray Farm— Wells Gray’s only family homestead where children were raised. A number of the buildings still stand, and both John and Alice Ray are buried here.

Chain Meadows Lake Loop: This moderate 15 kms (9.5 miles) round-trip trail leaves from the parking lot at Clearwater Lake and travels along the lakeshore for approx. 5 kms. It then climbs to a viewpoint of the lake and mountains, before returning through a lush temperate forest. Near the end of the trail, there is a lookout to view Osprey Falls before a steep descent back to the parking lot.

camping

Backcountry Camping: There are 20 canoe-in campgrounds with a total of 69 sites on Murtle Lake. 16 canoe-in/boat-in campgrounds are located along the Clearwater/Azure Lake Marine Area. Three backcountry campgrounds are located along Mahood Lake. There is one backcountry campground at Sheila Lake, in the Trophy Mountain Area.

Front Country/ Car Camping: There are three front-country/ car camping campgrounds available in the Wells Gray Corridor- Pyramid, Falls Creek, and Clearwater Lake. There is also a campground at Mahood Lake.

**Distances & elevations may vary from those given. Always check for updated trail information and weather conditions before going. Backcountry camping fees may apply. Pack it in, pack it out!**

Trophy Mountain.
Photograph by Erin Miller

other activities

Cycling: The Wells Gray Corridor, as well as specific trails within the Wells gray Corridor are open to mountain bikers; for up to date information, ask at the Wells Gray Information Center.

Fishing/Hunting: Fishing, with license, for rainbow trout, lake trout, Kokanee, whitefish, and Burbot is available in various lakes and rivers throughout the park. Hunting, with license, is permitted within the park.

Horseback Riding: Horseback riding is permitted within the park.

Swimming: There are swimming opportunities in the lakes and streams throughout the park, however there are no lifeguards on duty.

Wildlife Viewing: This area is home to moose, deer, wolves, beaver, and a robust population of black and grizzly bears. Salmon spawn in late summer/ early fall. 250 species of bird are known to live in the park.

Winter Recreation: Backcountry skiing and snowshoeing opportunities are available in various areas of the park, including groomed cross-country ski trails in the area of Majerus Farm.

 

getting there

Wells Gray Corridor and the Clearwater/Azure Lake Marine Park: From Kamloops, take Highway 5 northeast 123 kilometers to the small town of Clearwater. At the traffic circle, take the 3rd exit onto Clearwater Valley Road. The Visitors Information Center is located to the right, just off the highway (a stop is highly recommended on your way into the park.) Clearwater Valley Road runs 68 kilometers into the park, passing many attractions and front-country campgrounds before ending at Clearwater Lake.

Murtle Lake Marine Park: From Kamloops, take Highway 5 northeast 230 kilometers (143 miles) to the small town of Blue River. In Blue River, take a left on the Murtle Lake Road/ Blue River FS Road and follow this narrow, winding dirt road for 27 kilometers to where it ends at the Parkplatz Phyllis Lake Trailhead. From there, a 2.5 km level, canoe-cart accessible trail leads to the canoe launch.

Mahood Lake: From Kamloops, head northwest on Highway 1 for 83 kilometers (52 miles) to Cache Creek. At Cache Creek, turn right onto Highway 97. Take Highway 97 North 112 kilometers ( 70 miles) to 100 Mile House. At 100 Mile House, turn right onto Canim-Hendrix Lake Road. From here, it is 88 kilometers (55 miles) of paved and gravel roads along the south shore of Canim Lake to Mahood Lake. Alternately, Mahood Lake can be accessed from Clearwater on a series of logging roads. GPS or Google maps are recommended.

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