Hello mikeschmeee blog followers!… if there are any. I don’t update the blog often and there’s a reason for it. I’ve been travelling lately! So it’s a bit hard to type a little blurb but I make notes during my trips and compile everything together once ready. This past long weekend, British Columbia Day, I spent a little time in Wells Gray Provincial Park or Wells Gray for short. I was unaware of this hidden gem until stumbling upon it as I was making my way towards the province of Alberta, which will be covered in a separate blog post.
Wells Gray is a fairly large provincial park right above the town of Clearwater. If you ever get the chance to visit the park or just passing through Clearwater, be sure to stop at a restaurant called Hop N Hog Tap & Smokehouse, which has great BBQ; chicken, ribs, pulled pork, sausages, corn beard, beans, the list goes on!
Before heading into the park, I HIGHLY recommend picking up this book from the Clearwater information center:
I know some might think its pricey but the book will really help with getting around the park in certain areas. It has a lot of useful information, which in my opinion should be posted all over the park but I get the feeling this place is either supposed to be left untouched to give you a wild like feeling, or the province of BC just doesn’t want to use some of their tax dollars on some much needed upgrades.
Among other items on the list that you’ll want to bring with you to Wells Gray, is bug spray. Some people don’t care for this but believe me, you WILL want bug spray. I use Ben’s 30 wilderness insect repellent eco-spray. The mosquitoes at Wells Gray are massive and they swarm towards you as if its their last meal but with a layer of bug spray on your exposed skin, the mosquitoes don’t even bother approaching. Some are brave and try but the deet keeps them off and you are bug bite free.
Lasty, you’ll need a vehicle to get around as this place is not really designed for starting at the beginning of the park and venturing off by foot. Although, I’m sure you can do that but check with park officials first.
The park has a lot to offer with the heart of the park starting at the end of Clearwater Valley road, which gets a bit rough after the Helmcken Falls view point. Hiking, backpacking, camping, canoeing, kayaking and even guided adventure tours are available. But from my experience the park seems like it needs some sprucing up. The roads leading to certain spots like Bailey’s Chute or Trophy Mountain Flower Meadows, could be in much better shape. I’m not saying you’ll require an AWD vehicle but something lifted with meaty tires would definitely make things easier when travelling on certain roads of the park. Despite all this, a lot of people like to stop at Clearwater and check out Wells Gray on their way towards Jasper and/or Banff.
I think the biggest attraction is the fourth highest waterfall in Canada, Helmcken Falls. This spectacular waterfall is 141 meters (463 ft) on the Murtle River, the waterfall is three times taller than Niagara Falls! Surprising, isn’t it? Most people think Niagara is huge but I think that’s due to its size in width. But the strange part is, photographs do not give Helmcken Falls justice. You really don’t get the sense of scale unless you can spot a person on the south side of the falls, along the Helmcken Falls Rim Trail. But even so, it still doesn’t feel that big, however, the sight is breathtaking. Getting there is easy and definitely worth a stop even if you’re just passing through the town below.
Helmcken Falls Rim Trail:
South from the Helmcken Falls viewing platform is the Helmcken Falls Rim Trail. Some call it the South Helmcken Falls Rim Trail, either or, it’s the only trail along the edge of the Murtle River which leads to a small opening along the tree line of the canyon right beside the waterfall. This trail is an easy walk with little gain as its mostly flat but don’t forget your bug spray. These suckers are everywhere! A bug net should add an extra layer of protection, that is if you are one that hates mosquitoes buzzing around your ears and eyes, looking for a spot to have a snack on your body.
The trail is fairly well groomed by the use of many hikers so the path is easy to navigate. The trail is soft with all the fallen needles from the surrounding coniferous trees but there are a few muddy patches early on so a good pair of hiking boots or shoes would be ideal. However, anyone in any kind of attire can make the three hour return journey. While I was on the trail, I’ve seen people in full on hiking gear while others in a simple tank top and flip flops.
To the right of the trail is the Murtle River which is fairly wide at this point and seems to flow at a moderate speed but once you start to pass the second warning sign, the speed picks up and you start to see a large body of mist rising up towards the sky. At this point you know you’re close to a major view point.
Although I did not see any bears on this trip, I still brought both of my bear bells and a can of bear spray was on my side at the ready. I don’t mess around when it comes to safety so I take as much precaution as possible, especially when it comes to playing in the wild. While on the topic of safety, there have been fatal accidents on the South Helmcken Falls Rim Trail. The ground is eroding at the end of the trail where you get to view a close up of Helmcken Falls. The edge of this view point has a bit of an over hang and people tend to want a great photograph that shows the falls scale and beauty so they get too close and start to lean over the edge. Be warned though, this is no time to joke around. I’ve seen people taking borderline dangerous selfies and with one wrong step, they could have easily fallen to their death. So for the person who may be reading this and decides to go on this trail, please be careful! Keep your dogs on leash and don’t let anyone in your group go unsupervised.
For those who want a photograph to display Helmcken Falls size and scale, you’ll need a super wide angle lens. I snapped a few photographs with my 24-70mm and tried stitching the images together but I was unsuccessful. But like Arnold said, “I’ll be back!.”
Trophy Mountain Flower Meadows:
This place is unbelievable. The road to the parking lot of this beautiful hike is in my opinion, horrendous! There should be a detailed sign at the beginning of the road stating that this is a narrow rough gravel road with large rocks and deep potholes, with a steep incline and tight corners. However, if you’re brave and willing to stick it out, the reward is magnificent. Once you reach the end of this terrible old logging road, the parking lot at the top is adequate and is able to accommodate about 30-40 cars, if all parked correctly. There is a small outhouse and there were supposed to be two information boards. The boards were there but there was no information posted. This is where the hike begins, to the left of the information boards. Getting to the meadows from the parking lot is about 45 minutes to an hour easy hike, all up hill. You’ll pass a few small creeks running down the mountain, crossing over them on wooden board walks. The trail then cuts through the forest and opens up into a beautiful meadow of yellow glacial lilies in early-mid July and by late July to August there is a second bloom of arctic lupine, indian paint brush and mountain daisies. Any time is worth going but in my opinion the best time to see this meadow is during the second bloom. It’s an explosion of beautiful colours. The further you go up towards the end, the more open it is and you have a wonderful vantage point of Raft Mountain with lovely flowers at your feet. This is one of the most easily accessible sub-alpine meadows in B.C. and it doesn’t take a lot of work to enjoy this spectacular scene in nature.
Next up is Bailey’s Chute which is a small but very fast flowing waterfall. This waterfall has Salmon jumping through from late August to mid September. A few thousand Chinook Salmon return to Clearwater River each year, along with some Sockeye and Coho Salmon, with the spawning grounds extending as far as the gravel bars of The Horseshoe but some fish attempt to go further up the river and past Bailey’s Chute. Although I didn’t see any fish, the rapid waterfall was still a neat sight to see. It’s a fairly short walk from the parking lot to the viewing platform of Bailey’s Chute, about 20 minutes or so. Driving to the Baileys Chute parking lot is relatively easy but the road after the Helmcken Falls view point is a bit rough, mostly light gravel with some pot holes along the way. So it takes some time, about 45 minutes to an hour due to the slow speed that’s recommended. Once again, if one has a 4×4 with excellent tires, you can get there much faster.
If you continue along the trail from Bailey’s Chute, the West Lake Loop Trail begins which continues on up the river and leads to Marcus and Myanth Falls, loops through the forest to West Lake and rejoins the Bailey’s Chute Trail.
This amazing waterfall is very easy to get to, it’s along the way to Helmcken Falls but about a kilometre before. This portion of the road is still paved and allows access to large vehicles such as motor homes and tour buses. The short trail from the parking lot leads to two spectacular viewpoints. One at the top of a bluff and another at the brink. The left side of Dawson Falls has a vertical drop of 20 metres and the water cascades on the right. The convergence of the water at the base of the falls generates a cloud of misty spray and on a sunny day, you’ll easily see a rainbow, possibly two! Whoa! Full on double rainbow all the way!
Next to the Trophy Mountain Flower Meadows, my favourite part of this provincial park is Moul Falls. It’s actually a very popular and easy hike that many frequent. It’s so popular that you can see vehicles parked on the side of the road next to the parking lot before the trail head.
The beginning part of the trail is very boring as it was once an old road to a private property but once you get to a sign which requires you to turn left heading towards Moul Falls, the real trail starts. It’s only about 30 minutes from there.
Once you reach the top of the waterfall, you start to head down to the base along the side of this small canyon. There are some aluminum stairs which were installed not too long ago with a little bench made out of a log right in front of the stairs. An interesting sign is posted on a pole near this cute wooden bench. The sign reads “Construction of the trail to Moul Falls was undertaken for BC Parks by: Anne and Roland Neave, Interior White Water Adventures & The Friends of Wells Gray Park.”
It seems as if this park is not really managed by any provincial body, by that I mean, the province doesn’t want to spend a single dollar on maintaining the park to show off the beauty that it has, and boy does it ever.
However, I’m sure one of the main goals of BC Parks is to protect the bear population and habitat while providing a safe and high quality experience for park visitors. Although I didn’t see any, Grizzly and Black bears are common in Wells Gray and are an important part of the parks ecosystem. So I guess there is a reason why the park doesn’t feel as well maintained as others. However, I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have the entire Clearwater Valley road paved, along with the old logging road up Trophy Mountain.
Moul Falls is worth the trip to Wells Gray by itself, you can even walk behind this waterfall but be sure to bring some waterproof clothing or at least a heavy duty rain slicker, otherwise you’ll get absolutely soaked. Even though you are a good distance away from the waterfall when try to pass behind, you’re getting sprayed as if you are in your own bathroom shower. Due to the speed of the waterfall and the small shallow pool at the base, the overspray from the waterfall hitting the small pond at the bottom, bounces back up and hits you hard all over. For those who work up a sweat during the hike down to the base of Moul Falls, you can actually take a little dip in the small shallow pool, which is totally worth it during those hot Summer days.
As always, there’s never enough time to explore everything so I’ll definitely be returning to Wells Gray Provincial Park. Most likely the same time next year. There were a few trails that I didn’t get to hike and I’d love to get deeper into the park, especially up to Clearwater Lake and Azure Lake. Perhaps a canoeing and camping trip is in order?
There are some fun cross country skiing and snow shoeing areas as well and Helmcken Falls completely freezes over and attracts ice climbers from all over, so it’s definitely worth checking out during the colder and icier seasons too.