Wells Gray Provincial Park is a huge wilderness area in British Columbia, Canada, featuring as many as 41 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 center 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.
Here’s what to expect:
- Introducing Wells Gray Provincial Park
- How to get to Wells Gray
- Wells Gray highlights
- Where to stay
Wells Gray Provincial Park is located on the traditional territory of First Nations including Ktunaxa, Lheidli T’enneh and Secwepemc Nation.
Published 2020, updated April 2022.
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An introduction to Wells Gray Provincial Park
Wells Gray Provincial Park is a large wilderness area in British Columbia’s interior.
An incredible 541,516 hectares in size, 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. The park also features mineral springs, glaciers and lava beds.
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 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.
How to get to Wells Gray
Wells Gray Provincial 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 even 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 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 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.
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 or Jasper.
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
11.4 – Spahats Creek Forest Service Road turnoff (Trophy Meadows hike)
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
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.
The dramatic drop of Moul Falls is impressive to witness, especially in early summer. A little more effort is required to reach this waterfall as it is only accessible via a 6km return hike.
The first half of the trail is flat, wide and very easy. The second half is narrower and rockier, with the final approach to the waterfall featuring some short, steep slopes and a couple of staircases. If visiting with kids or dogs, keep them close.
An elevated view of the falls is offered partway down. The official trail ends right in front of Moul Falls, which sits in a dramatic rock bowl. A thin path continues underneath the (potentially unstable) cliffs to the back of the waterfall.
Please note – Going behind Moul Falls is entirely at your own risk. BC Parks does not promote or recommend it. In early summer, the force of the waterfall is actually too strong to even think about approaching the cascade.
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.
A third viewpoint is accessible via a short walk from Pyramid Campground.
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
- 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.
Hiking in Wells Gray Provincial Park
Hiking is a great way to go beyond the roadside sights of the Wells Gray Corridor. The following trails are my favourite day hiking trails in Wells Gray Provincial Park. Most are rated easy.
Trail closures and conditions are listed under the ‘Attention Visitors’ section at the very top of the BC Parks’ Wells Gray Provincial Park page. Detailed trail information can be found in this dedicated section.
Keep in the following in mind when hiking in Wells Gray:
- Please note that paths can be muddy after rain, even the morning after
- Make noise to alert animals of your presence
- Be sure to provide plenty of space as well as an escape route
- Tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back
- Keep in mind that there is very little phone signal in the park
Dawson Falls – 1.4km return
More of a walk than a hike, this easy riverside stroll features two beautiful viewpoints of this wide, horseshoe shaped waterfall.
Unlike some of the other waterfalls in the park, Dawson Falls is better viewed (in my opinion) in autumn when the cascading water is more defined.
If you’d like to see Dawson Falls from a different vantage point, hike the alternative trail from Pyramid Campground. The 2.4km loop provides access to the ‘other’ side of Dawson Falls. Personally, I think the view is better from here.
Bailey’s Chute – 2km return
This relaxing riverside path features a series of rapids and a soundtrack of rushing water. Some hikers choose to approach the rock bed and witness the power of the water (keep pets and children close).
In late summer, chinook salmon can be seen migrating upstream. This trail also offers the chance to see two additional waterfalls further upstream – Marcus and Myanth Falls.
Moul Falls – 6km return
If you only have time to hike to one waterfall in Wells Gray, I’d recommend the trail to Moul Falls. And don’t be put off by the distance – half of the route is very flat and quick to hike.
A short and steep descent leads directly to the base of Moul Falls, where the water plunges 35m into a rock bowl. The cascading water is exceptionally powerful in spring, creating plenty of mist.
Ray Farm/Mineral Springs Trail – 3km return
See a different side to Wells Gray on the Ray Farm trail, which showcases the park’s homesteading history. An old farmhouse looks out over a gorgeously lush meadow area, which also features two mineral springs.
An easy walk through the forest leads to more mineral springs, this time bubbling out of a volcano-shaped cone. Wildlife is particularly prevalent in this area.
This trail can also be hiked as a 4km loop, either from the main Ray Farm parking area or the Alice Creek parking lot.
Helmcken Falls Rim Trail – 8km return
The Rim Trail offers an alternative perspective on the famed Helmcken Falls, but it’s definitely not for those afraid of heights!
The mostly flat path leads hikers right to the edge of the canyon where the huge waterfall plunges into the bowl below. It’s a spectacular sight.
The Rim Trail is usually pretty quiet so you’ll likely be alone at the end viewpoint. Be sure not to get too close to the edge as there is no barrier.
Trophy Mountains Meadows – 2 to 12km return
From late July to early August, the southern sub-alpine slopes of the Trophy Mountains are covered in a carpet of vibrant wildflowers.
Even if you don’t get the timing quite right (we were about two weeks too late), this is an absolutely beautiful place to hike.
The meadows are accessed via a steady but short climb from the parking lot (1km with 200m elevation gain).
Adventurous hikers can continue 5km to the Skyline Ridge above Sheila Lake, which provides panoramic views across the entire park.
Please note that the Trophy Mountain trailhead is located at the end of an unpaved dirt road. Expect loose rocks and washboard surface.
Read More: Trophy Meadows Hiking Guide
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 10+ 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 other creatures 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.
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, café, 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.
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.
Lodges, inns and B&Bs
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.
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada