The park occupies a vast territory in the Caribou Mountains west of the main ridge of the Rocky Mountains, covering 5,250 square kilometres (525,000 hectares; 1,300,000 acres) and make this the fourth largest park in British Columbia. There are glaciers and alpine meadows, but most of the park is accessible only to those who are ready to go on a multi-day hike. For people who come to the park by car, the main road is a 65 km (40 mi) drive from the town of Clearwater, up the Clearwater River valley, to Clearwater Lake which takes about one hour, known as the "Corridor Area". Along the Corridor there are viewpoints from which you can look at three waterfalls, including the most powerful Helmken Waterfall. If you are ready to walk all day, you can see a few more. These waterfalls attract a large number of travelers, and the park is one of the most famous attractions in British Columbia. There are two more entrances to the park, from the Blue River you can get to Myrtle Lake, and from the Thousand Mile to Mahoud Lake. There, however, the roads are worse and there are no waterfalls, and lakes are located almost on the border of the park.
- 1 Wells Gray Park Information Centre, #200 416 Eden Road, Clearwater (near Hwy 5 & Clearwater Valley Rd in Clearwater). Daily 9AM-4PM. The information center is located in Clearwater. Here you can talk with the rangers about what is worth seeing and take a map of the park. In addition, there is a good store with souvenirs and essentials for visiting the park.
The park was founded in 1939 and named after Arthur Wellesley Gray, who was just at that time the Minister of Land of British Columbia and created the system of its provincial parks. In 1996, it was significantly expanded.
The entire park belongs to the Clearwater Basin, which in turn belongs to the Fraser River Basin. The left (eastern) bank of the river is a high cliff, and it is there that waterfalls form at the outlet of the left tributaries of the river. The entire easily accessible part of the park is covered with forest. In the depths of the park, mountains rise above the forest zone, and part of it is completely occupied by glaciers, but they can be reached only on foot and in a few days.
Flora and fauna
Most of the park is covered with coniferous forest. The main trees are Menzies pseudotug (known as Douglas fir, although this is not fir at all), folded thuja (cedar) and western tsuga.
Of the large animals in the park, there are bear (including grizzly), wolf, cougars, lynx, wolverines, elk, caribou, and deer. There are also smaller mammals and 219 species of birds.
Winters in the Clearwater Valley are severe, with an average of 1 m (3.3 ft) of accumulated snow at lower elevations and much more higher up. Snow may linger along the low elevation roads until mid-April and never completely disappears from the north sides of the mountains. Early May and most of June are often rainy and, during the summer, storms occur about once a week. Average annual precipitation at Clearwater is 43 cm (17 in) and this increases as one travels north into the Park and closer to the mountains. Clearwater Lake receives over 60 cm (24 in) and Azure Lake about 80 cm (31 in). Summer temperatures in the Clearwater Valley are often in the mid-20s Celsius, but may reach 30 degrees, and vary considerably according to altitude. September through mid-October usually features clear warm days, cool nights and colourful fall foliage.
There are five roads that provide access to Wells Gray Park, the roads do no connect within the park.
- Clearwater Valley Road (commonly called Wells Gray Park Road). It starts from the Yellowhead Highway (Highway 5) in 1 Clearwater and ends at Clearwater Lake, 68 km (42 mi) north. Almost all visitors to the park use this road. Three of the park's four campgrounds are along this road. The park's best known attractions are reached via Clearwater Valley Road: Spahats Falls, Clearwater Valley Overlook, Trophy Mountain, Moul Falls, Battle Mountain, The Flatiron, Green Mountain, Dawson Falls, The Mushbowl, Helmcken Falls, Ray Farm, Bailey's Chute, and Clearwater Lake. The road is paved for the first 42 km (26 mi)to the Helmcken junction, then it becomes a good gravel road.
- Clearwater River Road. It starts in Clearwater and hugs the west bank of the Clearwater River north for 38 km (24 mi) to the confluence of the Mahood River. Attractions are The Kettle, Sabre Tooth Rapids, White Horse Bluff, and Sylvia and Goodwin Falls on the Mahood River. This road is used for river access by Clearwater's three rafting companies. The road is rough and maintained by its users, and a high-clearance vehicle is recommended.
- Mahood Lake Road. It starts from Highway 24 at 2 Interlakes (between 100 Mile House on Highway 97 and Little Fort on Highway 5). From 100 Mile House, it is 128 km (80 mi) to the end at Deception Point on Mahood Lake. There is a 34-unit campground at Mahood Lake. Attractions are Canim Falls, Mahood Lake beaches and Deception Falls. Most of the road is gravel.
- Murtle Lake Road. It starts at 3 Blue River on the Yellowhead Highway (Highway 5) and climbs for 27 km (17 mi) to the pass. A short trail, designed for portaging canoes or kayaks, goes the rest of the way to Murtle Lake, North America's largest paddle-only lake. The road is rough and high-clearance vehicles are recommended but not essential.
- Flourmill Volcanoes Road. It starts at 4 100 Mile House on Highway 97. There is no signage to help at the many junctions so make sure you have a good map for directions. The road is 97 km (60 mi) long, mostly gravel and dirt. From the end of the road, it is a hike of 3.7 km (2.3 mi) to the lava flow.
Fees and permits
Access to parks in British Columbia is free.
There is no public transport.
- 1 Clearwater Lake (end of the Clearwater Valley Road). Two large campgrounds are located here. Osprey Falls is a low waterfall that the lake empties over to become the Clearwater River. Boat tours, boat rentals and a public boat launching are available here and allow access deeper into Wells Gray Park via Clearwater Lake and Azure Lake.
- 2 Mahood Lake (88 km (55 mi) east of 100 Mile House). The only lake in Wells Gray Provincial Park that is not glacier fed and so can warm up enough for swimming. The lake has a sandy beach, boat launching ramp, and campground.
- 3 Helmcken Falls (46 km (29 mi) north of Clearwater along Clearwater Valley Road). A 141 m (463 ft) waterfall on the Murtle River, Helmcken Falls is the fourth highest waterfall in Canada, measured by total straight drop without a break. Helmcken Falls is one of the reasons for the original creation of Wells Gray Provincial Park.
- 4 Canim Falls. A 25 m (82 ft) waterfall on the Canim River between Canim and Mahood Lakes along Mahood Lake Road.
- 5 Dawson Falls (40 km (25 mi) north of Clearwater along Clearwater Valley Road). A 20 m (66 ft) waterfall on the Murtle River 5 km (3 mi) upstream from Helmcken Falls.
- 6 Mahood Falls. A 20 m (66 ft) waterfall on the Canim River between Canim and Mahood Lakes along Mahood Lake Road.
- 7 Moul Falls (27 km (17 mi) north of Clearwater along Clearwater Valley Road). A 35 m (115 ft) waterfall on Grouse Creek, Moul Falls is one of the park's most popular short hiking trails. It is the only waterfall in the park that one can stand behind and is the third highest waterfall in the park.
- 8 Spahats Creek Falls (11 km (6.8 mi) north of Clearwater along Clearwater Valley Road). A 60 m (200 ft) tall waterfall on Spahats Creek where it drops into the Granite Canyon of the Clearwater River.
The most diverse outdoor activities are possible in the park, including walking, kayaking and canoeing in the lakes and fishing.
Only in Clearwater.
There is a seasonal cafe at Clearwater Lake, but otherwise food will need to be purchased in Clearwater.
Cold water taps are located throughout the park but are not provided in the day-use areas. Taps are shut off during the off-season.
There are several hotels and guest houses in the park. All are located along the main road. There are also several campsites. In Clearwater, which is not part of the park, the choice is much larger and covers all price categories.
There is a number cabins, guest ranches, and lodging in Clearwater as well as along Clearwater Valley Road between Clearwater and the park; however, there is no lodging within the park itself.
- 1 Clearwater Lake (Corridor Area; 68 km (42 mi) from Clearwater). $23 per party/night.
- 2 Falls Creek (Corridor Area; 68 km (42 mi) from Clearwater). $23 per party/night.
- 3 Pyramid Frontcountry Campground (Corridor Area; 45 km (28 mi) from Clearwater). $20 per party/night.
- 4 Mahood Lake (88 km (55 mi) of paved and gravel roads from 100 Mile House, or 65 km (40 mi) of gravel road from the Interlakes). A quiet destination campground for families and for fishing on the western end of Mahood Lake.
Wilderness, backcountry or walk-in camping is allowed. Designated campgrounds has a food cache and pit toilet, each site has fire rings and some have picnic tables. Fees can be deposited at self-registration fee stations or online through Discover Camping’s Backcountry Registration System.
The wildlife in this park can be hazardous, especially if with their young. Do not approach bears, moose or caribou. Many of the trails travel through extreme terrain so utmost care should be taken when hiking alongside cliffs and over wet rocks. It is recommended to boil all water, and it is illegal (and dangerous) to pick and eat mushrooms and berries in this park. When hiking in the backcountry you should always register your itinerary with park staff, and carry adequate supplies including first-aid gear.
Continue north on the Yellowhead Highway to Mount Robson Provincial Park.