Wells Gray Provincial Park, Clearwater, BC

June 22, 2008

Wells Gray Provincial Park is a large wilderness park located in British Columbia’s central Cariboo region and is a "must see" on a trip through BC. The park is known as the waterfall park as there are over 250 waterfalls located in the area.

There's too much in this park to see on a single day, but if one day is all you've got, here I will describe one of the many choices you have in how to spend it.

Start your trip in Wells Gray Park Information-Centre located on Clearwater, a district municipality located about 124 km north of Kamloops.

The information-centre provides maps and lots of extra information such as canoeing, kayaking, fishing and hiking, just to name a few.

Top Right: Jerry the Moose
Bottom: Spahats Creek

After only 10 km of driving, your first stop will be Spahats Falls, common references place the falls at around 60 m (197 ft) tall, but taking into account the second tier, it is closer to 75-80 meters tall.

Spahats Falls owes its foundation to the deposits of volcanic rock in the Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field that were placed down in the valley of the Spahats Creek.

Top: Spahats Falls Viewpoint
Bottom: Spahats Falls

A short 2.9 km hike will take you to Moul Falls, part of this trail cross private property.

Do a short break on the viewing platform before you go left so you can reach a set of stairs. These stairs lead to the base of Moul Falls which plunges 35 metres over a lava cliff and where you will have a much better viewing opportunity. Optionally, you can swim in the plunge pool. 

Moul Falls

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Wells Gray area was a valued hunting ground to both the Shuswap and Chilcotin aboriginal groups

Wells Gray Park was created in 1939 and named for the provincial Minister of Lands, Arthur Wellesley Gray, known familiarly as Wells Gray.

Moul Falls

Keep driving north, you next stop will be Dawson Falls, this is a waterfall on the Murtle River, located northeast of Mahood Lake. They were named in 1914 by Robert Henry Lee after George Herbert Dawson, Vancouver assistant city engineer in 1899-90 and surveyor general for B.C. from 1912-17.

These falls are affectionately know as "Little Niagara Falls". The river Murtle falls only 50 feet (15.2 mtrs) here but the falls are some 300 feet (91.4 mtrs) wide.

Dawson Falls or "Little Niagara Falls"

Then you will arrive to the park's main tourist draw, Helmcken Falls. With a 141 m (463 ft) drop the falls are the fourth highest in Canada.

The falls are named for John Sebastian Helmcken, a physician with the Hudson's Bay Company who helped bring British Columbia into Canadian Confederation, but who never actually saw the falls himself.

Helmcken Falls

As the the other falls, Helmcken Falls owes its foundation to the deposits of volcanic rock in the Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field that were placed down in the wide valley of the Murtle River. Layer upon layer of fresh lava created flat areas, over which enormous floods flowed during the last ice age. These floods shaped the upright cliff in the lava flows over which the river now flows. As a result, if it had not been for the volcanic eruptions, it is not likely that such a large wilderness region would have been made.

Helmcken Falls Viewpoint

If you have time, you can drive a further 28 km of well-maintained gravel road and rent a boat at the south end of Clearwater Lake. Optionally, you can hike on Easter Bluff Trail and reach a viewpoint where you can have a panoramic view of Clearwater Lake.

Top: Boat launch at Clearwater River
Bottom: Clearwater Lake

Clearwater river is popular for fly fishing, whitewater kayaking, and whitewater rafting. It is known for having some of the best commercial whitewater rafting in the area.

A strong word of caution: The outlet of Clearwater Lake is a waterfall that is not readily seen from the lake. Numerous boaters have died when they strayed too near the outlet and were swept over the falls and into the wild Clearwater River canyon.

Top: Clearwater River
Bottom: Boat rental at Clearwater River

On your way back you can stop at the Ray Farm, a long-abandoned homestead built by John Bunyan Ray who first came to the upper Clearwater in 1910 as a trapper. He married in 1932 and lived in the area until his death in 1947.

Prescribed burning has a long history in British Columbia. The First Nations people used fire thousands of years ago to create and maintain wildlife habitat and to stimultate the production of herbs and berries. John Ray and his family used the same approach to maintain the meadow and encourage grasses and wild flowers.

The Ray Farm

From Ray Farm, you can follow Deer Creek Trail to reach Ray Mineral Springs.

These springs are broadly encased in deposits called Travertine. Travertine is a dense, closely compacted form of limestone found mostly in banded layers. If forms when calcium carbonate separates from water through evaporation. Travertine is often used as decorative building stone.

Top: Deer Creek Trail
Bottom Left: John and Alice Ray's tombstone
Bottom Right: Ray Mineral Springs

Travertine occurs in areas where limestone is common and where circulating ground water contains calcium carbonate. If often forms around the mouths of hot springs and in streams as mounds, sheets and sometimes terraced pools. Deposits from the mineralized water over many years have slowly built the mound.

Driving distance from Vancouver: 480 km (298 mi)