Wells Gray Provincial Park is a huge wilderness area in British Columbia, Canada, featuring as many as 39 spectacular waterfalls as well as pristine glacier-fed lakes, snow capped mountains and more.
For the most part, Wells Gray is an untamed natural wonderland. Three entrances allow visitors access to the southern section of the park, with established hiking trails, rustic campgrounds and viewpoints. The experience still remains on the wilder side, however, with nature always taking centre stage.
Located just over half way between Vancouver, BC, and Jasper, Alberta, Wells Gray makes for an excellent destination trip or part of a longer Canadian Rockies adventure.
This post will tell you everything you need to know to plan a visit, focusing particularly on the scenic Clearwater Valley Road drive through the park and the waterfalls that make Wells Gray so unique.
Please note – this post written late May 2020. Wells Gray reopened for day use on 14th May, though some facilities and services may not yet be operational. Campgrounds will open in June. Staying local is still recommended in BC at this time with social distancing restrictions in place.
Undiscovered Wells Gray
While I was aware of Wells Gray’s waterfall prestige, the real allure for me was Murtle Lake. With only paddle boats (no motors) allowed on the lake, I was intrigued to find out how serene the canoe camping experience would be. Spoiler – serene is an understatement.
Before we headed to Murtle Lake, we took some extra time to visit rive the 68km long Clearwater Valley Road. Also known as the Wells Gray Corridor, this drive takes in many of the park’s top natural attractions.
And WOW, was I impressed! The Wells Gray Corridor makes for beautiful day long road trip, regularly punctuated with viewpoints, picnic areas and hiking trails. You can do as much or as little as you like and still get to experience the unspoiled wilderness of Wells Gray.
Help keep nature wild and beautiful for wildlife and future visitors by following No Trace Principles during your visit. Wells Gray Provincial Park is located on the traditional territory of First Nations including Ktunaxa, Lheidli T’enneh and Secwepemc Nation.
How to get to Wells Gray
Wells Gray Provincial Park is a large wilderness area in British Columbia’s interior. An incredible 541,516 hectares in size, the park is located north of Clearwater, west of Valemount and east of Williams Lake.
Further wilderness lies to the north, with the world famous Bowron Lakes and Cariboo Mountains Provincial Park offering more outdoor recreation opportunities.
- The main park access is via the Wells Gray Corridor, a 68km route taking in waterfalls, campgrounds, hiking trails and lakes. The Corridor starts just north of Clearwater, a small community of 2,500 people
- The second entrance is at Mahood Lake – 76km east of 100 Mile House
- The third main access leads to Murtle Lake – 27km west of Blue River
Important – The Murtle Lake area of Wells Gray offers backcountry opportunities only with no vehicle accessible attractions. I am being careful to point this out because we met a dozen or so people who had driven the (somewhat rough) dirt road to the Murtle Lake parking lot only to be disappointed not to find extensive hiking trails and day canoe rentals. Blue River Campground rents canoes at the lake, but they must be prebooked and there is a two day rental minimum.
What to see in Wells Gray Provincial Park
Some of Wells Gray Provincial Park’s highlights include:
- 39 spectacular waterfalls, with one as high as 141m
- 68km scenic driving route through core section of park
- Pristine lakes, including the world’s largest paddle only lake with over 100km of shoreline
- Dozens of hiking trails ranging from less than 1km to multi day backpacking adventures
- Beautiful wildflowers and alpine meadows in summer
- Wildlife watching opportunities including black bears, eagles, deer and more
- Interesting heritage sites, such as Ray’s Cabin – a 1929 era building that was once part of a working farm in the wilderness
- Action packed whitewater rafting opportunities
- Four rustic vehicle accessible campgrounds with plenty of well spaced, private sites
Another fantastic aspect to visiting Wells Gray Provincial Park is that entry is completely free. There are camping fees for overnight stays. Keep in mind, however, that the Wells Gray experience is a little more wild than that in Banff or Jasper National Park. There are no flush toilets, hotels or gas stations within the park boundaries.
Wells Gray is usually (pandemics aside) open year round although facilities and road access are limited from October to April. July and August are the busiest months but keep in mind Wells Gray isn’t the kind of place that attracts huge crowds.
The park is, however, quite popular with visitors from Germany. Most signs are translated into German and indeed, almost everyone we came across along the Wells Gray Corridor were German! Being that they are some of most travelled people in the world, I can only confirm that they are onto a good thing.
Waterfalls in Wells Gray
Undoubtedly, it is the waterfalls that make Wells Gray the destination that it is. The park is actually part of a volcanic field that started forming approximately 3.5 million years ago.
Since then, volcanic eruptions and glacial activity have carved the mountains and river canyons to reveal beautiful waterfalls. Volcanoes still remain in the park today, with some being officially classed as ‘potentially active.’ Pyramid Mountain last erupted 12,000 years ago.
Nine of Well Gray’s waterfalls are easily accessible from the Wells Gray Corridor. Here are my favourites:
Magnificent Helmckcen Falls plunges 141m into a rugged canyon and is the most well known of Well Gray’s waterfalls. The view can be enjoyed from two different perspectives.
The first is the viewing platform, accessed from a turnoff on the Wells Gray Corridor at kilometre 42. It’s a short walk from the large parking lot to reach the elevated platforms looking out towards the punchbowl waterfall.
The second perspective can be found at the end of the Helmcken Falls Rim Trail and is visited by a lot less people. The 4km (8km return, approx 1 hour each way) long trail is almost completely flat and follows the Murtle River.
The reward is an up close and personal side view, often accompanied by plenty of mist! Be careful, there is no fence here.
Reminiscent of a small scale Niagara Falls, this waterfall stretches wide across the river. Consisting of multiple cascades with a total height of 20m, Dawson Falls is pretty majestic in its own right.
To see Dawson Falls, turn into the parking lot at kilometre 40.9. From here, it is an easy 450m walk to the first viewpoint. Though further away, this was my favourite as it showcases the entire falls.
There is another viewpoint another 250m or so further on, which is a good place to stop and take in the power of the far flowing water.
Spahats Creek Falls
Helmckcen Falls may be the most walked about of the waterfalls in Wells Gray but I was actually most impressed by Spahats Creek Falls. I had never heard of it and was completely awe-struck when we spotted it.
Rushing though a narrow rock gap, the dramatic Spahats Creek Falls pours 75m straight into a yawning ravine. It’s absolutely spectacular and there are numerous viewing platforms from which to admire it.
Reaching Spahats Creek Falls is easy – it’s actually the most accessible of all the waterfalls in Wells Gray, with access at kilometre 10.4 on the Corridor road. The canyon rim is a very short 250m (less than 5 minute) walk from the parking lot.
Other waterfalls in Wells Gray
- The Mushbowl is a fast, frothy and rocky waterfall, right next to the road at kilometre 41.4. There’s space to pull off the road right after the bridge over the Murtle River
- At Mouls Falls, adventurous hikers can admire the 35m cascade, explore a cave and even go behind the veil of the waterfall itself. The hike is 6km return.
- Bailey’s Chute combines both waterfall and rapids and is easily accessed on a 1.6km return trail. Further on, you can also visit Marcus and Myanth Falls (6.5km return)
- Immensely wide Osprey Falls can be found at the bottom of Clearwater Lake, with a viewpoint platform only a short walk from the vehicle accessible campground.
Driving the Wells Gray Corridor
The Wells Gray Corridor features breathtaking waterfalls, heritage sites, calming river views, picnic areas, lake access as well as multiple hiking trailheads. The road finishes at 68.3km with no exit so visitors return the same way they came (twice the fun!)
The following kilometre readings are from the Wells Gray Visitor Centre, situated at the very start of Clearwater Valley Road. Be sure to fill up on gas and food before leaving Clearwater.
To drive from the Visitor Centre to the Clearwater Lake boat launch without stopping would take about 75 minutes. But I definitely don’t recommend doing that! Take your time to stop hike, picnic and take in the beautiful scenery.
I have italicized the most popular stops along the route to give you an idea of the busiest areas. For a quieter visit, try to visit these places early (before 11am) or late (after 4pm). Wells Gray is however, a lot quieter overall than other Canadian destinations such as Banff.
The Wells Gray Corridor (Clearwater Valley Road) is paved for the first 42km to the Helmcken Falls turnoff. After this, it is gravel. The road surface is usually good, being regularly graded during the summer.
Kilometre road markers
10.4 – Spahats Falls turnoff
20.8 – Mouls Falls Trailhead (6km return hike)
30.6 – Flat Iron Trailhead (Trout Creek, Hoodoo Rim, West Rim, Clearwater River and White Horse Bluffs)
37.2 – Park entrance sign and information board
37.7 – Green Mountain Road turnoff (Placid Lake Trailhead, West Rim/White Horse Bluff Trailhead, Green Mountain Viewing Tower, Foot Lake Trail)
40.9 – Dawson Falls (1.4km return hike)
41 – Helmcken Falls Rim Trail (8km return hike)
41.4 – Mushbowl pull-out
42.1 – Pyramid Campground Pyramid Mountain Trailhead turnoff
42.4 – Helmcken Falls turnoff
48.7 – Redspring Picnic Area
51.9 – Deer Creek Picnic Area
54.5 – Ray Farm/Mineral Spring (3km return hike)
56.8 – Bailey’s Chute Picnic Area, Trail (1.6km return hike) and West Lake Loop trail (6.5km return hike)
64.9 – Falls Creek Campground
65.4 – Clearwater Lake Campground and Day Use Parking (Osprey Falls, Chain Meadows trail)
68.3 – Clearwater Lake Boat Launch and end of road
Staying overnight in Wells Gray Provincial Park
While it is true that many of Well Gray’s attractions can be enjoyed during one long day trip, staying overnight offers the chance to see and experience more. Camping, in particular, really helps to capture the quiet and calming nature of the park.
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Vehicle accessible campgrounds
There are three vehicle accessible campgrounds in this area of Wells Gray Provincial Park.
In my opinion, Pyramid is the more centrally located for waterfalls and hiking while Falls Creek and Clearwater Lake are better for water-oriented visitors. It is important to also keep in mind that Pyramid is accessed via a paved road while Clearwater and Falls Creek are not.
Set into a forest, Pyramid Campground is situated very close to Helmcken Falls. There are 50 well spaced campsites. The Pyramid Mountain trailhead starts right in the campground.
The camping fee for Pyramid is $20/night per group. Each site has a picnic table and fire plug. There are outhouses and cold water taps around the campground but no RV hook-ups.
Falls Creek Campground
Falls Creek Campground is located at the 64.9km marker on the Wells Gray Corridor. It is connected to the Clearwater Lake Campground by a short trail (200m) and bridge. The campground is narrow, with all 40 reservable campsites being therefore close to the river.
The camping fee for Falls Creek is $23/night per group. Each site has a picnic table and fire ring plus access to outhouses and cold water taps (no RV hook-ups). Being so close to Clearwater Lake Campground, Falls Creek shares some of the same facilities (see below).
Clearwater Lake Campground
Clearwater Lake is the last vehicle accessible campground and also has 40 reservable campsites. Some are by the river but most are set a little further back into the forest. Trails lead from the campground to the eastern shore of Clearwater Lake and a viewpoint platform for Osprey Falls.
The camping fee for Clearwater Lake is $23/night per group. Each campsite has a picnic table and fire ring. There are outhouses, cold water taps and coin operated showers ($2) but no RV hook-ups. The campground also has a small store, cafe, canoe rentals and boat tours.
Backcountry camping options
The Wells Gray Corridor is surrounded by expansive backcountry areas with numerous camping opportunities accessed by water or hiking trail.
Clearwater Lake, at the end of the road, has 12 camping areas with a total of 33 tent sites along its 22km length. Each camping area has an outhouse, food cache an fire rings. Some also have picnic tables.
A 0.5km portage at the end of Clearwater Lake leads to Azure Lake. This lake, also 22km long, hosts 4 camping areas with a total of 21 tent sites, of a similar standard to those on Clearwater Lake.
Battle Mountain, Pyramid Mountain, Trophy Mountain and the Green Mountain Canyonlands offer backcountry camping areas for hikers. More info available on the BC Parks website here.
Other backcountry camping options
Beyond the Wells Gray Corridor area, there are marine campsites on Mahood Lake (3 sites) and Murtle Lake (69 sites), accessible from the water only. Murtle Lake is a canoe/kayak only lake with no motors allowed.
Backcountry camping permits in Wells Gray are $5 per night, per person. Fees can be paid into self registration vaults or via the online BC Parks Backcountry Registration system. All backcountry campsites are offered on a first come, first serve basis only.
Campgrounds outside of Wells Gray Corridor area
With the Wells Gray Corridor being so relatively compact, it is still perfectly possible to visit as a day trip only. Here are some options for camping nearby.
North Thompson River Provincial Park
Compact North Thompson River Provincial Park is just a five minute drive south of Clearwater, making it an excellent base camping spot for exploring the Wells Gray Corridor. There are 69 vehicle accessible campsites located close to the river, with access to four short hiking trails.
53 of 69 total campsites can be reserved via the Discover Camping website. The remaining 16 are available on a first come, first serve basis. The camping fee is $23/night per group. This campground has outhouses and cold water taps only – no showers or hook-ups for RVs.
The only lake in Wells Gray Provincial Park that isn’t glacier-fed, Mahood Lake is great for swimming.
Despite being geographically close to the Wells Gray Corridor area, however, the frontcountry campground at Mahood Lake is not accessible via the main park entrance. The campground is a 80 minute (76km) drive east of 100 Mile House.
All 35 campsites in the Mahood Lake vehicle accessible campground can be reserved in advance on the Discover Camping website. This campground has outhouses and cold water taps only – no showers or hook-ups for RVs. The camping fee is $23/night per group.
Though there may not be any non-camping accommodation in Wells Gray Provincial Park itself, there are a number of lodges, inns and B&Bs located along the Wells Gray Corridor.
The closest accommodation to all the action is Helmcken Falls Lodge (11km from actual Helmcken Falls). As well a rustic rooms, there is also an on-site restaurant.
A little further away is Across the Creek Cabins, featuring fully equipped individual cabins set into a forest. Closer to Clearwater, there’s an even bigger choice of B&Bs, inns and motels. One of them, Grizzly Paw B&B, even has a waterfall in walking distance.
Wildlife in Wells Gray Provincial Park
Wells Gray Provincial Park is home to black and grizzly bear, moose, caribou, cougar, lynx, wolf, wolverine, bobcat, deer, mountain goat, caribou and smaller mammals like mink, weasel, squirrels and martens. Over 200 species of birds have been seen in the park.
Driving the Wells Gray Corridor offers the chance to see some of these amazing creatures. But park visitors MUST be careful to keep themselves and the wildlife safe.
Seeing a bear is exciting (and I still say that after living in Canada for 8 years+) but the welfare of the animal is way more important than any photo you could ever take of it.
To stay safe, follow these guidelines:
- Keep to the posted speed limits when driving
- Stay on marked trails and remain alert
- Pack out all of your trash with you
- Talk loudly or make noise when hiking to avoid startling wildlife
- Do not approach, follow, scare or feed animals – respect their space and give an escape route
- Never get out of your vehicle to get closer to an animal
- Watch wildlife only for a limited time to preserve natural behaviour
- Know what to do if you encounter a bear on a trail
- In backcountry areas, carry bear spray (in an easily accessible place) and know how to use it
The others creature you MUST be aware of in Wells Gray is the mosquito. They can be a real nuisance in the warmer months. Bring your repellent of choice and consider wearing long sleeves (and even pants) on forested hikes.