Approachable Adventure in Wells Gray

Written by Niki Kennedy, Route 97

Want to see one of the most pristine pieces of natural beauty without committing to intensive hikes or back-country camping? Would you like to absorb the wonder of an untouched environment, yet do it in a relative level of comfort? Embrace one of the best-kept secrets in Canada and see how we recommend you spend a day in Wells Gray.

Looking for a little more adventure? Check out this alternative itinerary for those looking to get the beaten path.

(Dawson Falls, Wells Gray Provincial Park)

Waterfall Drive

The district of Clearwater is a charming, quaint community that serves as the gateway to Wells Gray Provincial Park, and should be your starting point of the day. The entrance to the park is mere minutes from the centre of town, and a scenic drive up Clearwater Valley Road will take you to our first stop: Dawson Falls.
(Clearwater to Dawson Falls – 40.7km, 44-minute drive)

You’ll find the trailhead on the east side of the road, just 5km upstream from Helmcken Falls. Dawson Falls is one of seven waterfalls on the Murtle River, and its horseshoe shape provides a spectacular view of water cascading over lava flows that date back 200,000 years. At 20m (66ft) high and 90m (295ft) wide, this force of nature will take your breath away. The first viewing point is just a short walk from the parking lot, and the trail will allow you to access two viewpoints of the falls; one panoramic, one at the brink, with an option to get up close and personal.
Bring your Camera – Trail Level: Easy

Helmcken Falls is the most famous of the 39 waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park. It’s just a short drive from the parking lot at Dawson Falls, and after continuing on Clearwater Valley Road for a few minutes, you’ll turn left onto Helmcken Falls Road to continue down toward the falls.
(Dawson Falls to Helmcken Falls – 5.3km, 9-minute drive)

When you arrive at the falls, you’ll find there is a large viewing deck just a short walk from where you park. There you’ll be able to absorb the grandeur of this bare, beautiful waterfall as it’s 141m (463ft) stature transcends natural splendour. Fun Fact: Helmcken Falls is the fourth tallest waterfall in Canada, and its protection is the very reason Wells Gray Provincial Park was created in 1939.
Bring your Camera – Want more? Try the Helmcken Rim Trail + 3hours (Trail Level: Moderate)


You’ll need to take the road back out to where it connects with Clearwater Valley Road, and make a left to continue travelling north. Though the drive time on this stretch may seem long, you’ll find yourself surrounded by spectacular scenery, and you’ll witness firsthand the majesty of untouched beauty.
(Helmcken Falls to Clearwater Lake – 26.9km, 30-minute drive)

Clearwater Lake Boat Tour

Photo courtesy of Clearwater Lake Tours

As you approach the base of Clearwater Lake, you’ll continue just a few minutes until you reach Clearwater Lake Tours. Their Electric Duffy Boat Tour is a comfortable 1-1.5 hour trip and is perfect if you’re looking for a quiet, relaxing, and serene excursion. Prepare to see an array of wildlife in their natural surroundings, and enjoy an interpretive overview of the diverse and cultural history of the park. Enjoy a local smoked trout lunch before heading back to shore.
Cost: $60pp (lunch inc.) – Other Options: Rainbow Falls Full Day or Overnight Trip

By this time, you’re most likely to have found your inner zen, have a happy stomach, and be ready to hit the road. Take Clearwater Valley Road south as if you’re heading back to town, and enjoy the views.
(Clearwater Lake to Helmcken Falls Lodge – 31km, 30 minute drive)

Trail Riding

Photo Courtesy of Battle Mountain Equine Enterprises Inc.

Battle Mountain Equine Enterprises Inc. recommends you meet them at Helmcken Falls Lodge 15-30 minutes prior to your booked time. This means you’ll have some time to get acquainted with the horse you’ll be riding. Never been on a horse? Don’t worry! The rides are suitable for beginners, you’ll learn about horse control and safety, and find the horses will only gently walk.

They offer rides at 10 am or 2.30pm and must you must book in advance which you can do online. The guided trip will see the natural magnificence of Wells Gray. You will enter a big loop into the forest with a stop at Wilderness Lake, Smith Lake, and ride by Hemp Canyon and Falls. They’ll include short talks on natural and volcanic history, local pioneer history, plants, and wildlife.
3 hour Ride – Other Options: 2h, 3.5h, Full Day, and 2-night back-country trips

Waterfall Drive

Photo Courtesy of Interior Whitewater Expeditions

Head back toward Clearwater and you’ll see the trailhead for Spahats Falls on the west side of the road. It will be well marked so you won’t miss it!
(Helmcken Falls Lodge to Spahats Falls – 24.8km, 26-minute drive)

The viewing platform is just a 5-minute walk from the parking lot, and almost immediately you’ll be overwhelmed by the pronounced height of this beautiful waterfall. This two-tiered cascade came into existence approximately 600,000 years ago and boasts a substantial canyon formed by the high volume of glacial melt that descended during the last ice-age. Spahats Falls is sure to take your breath away, and it’s definitely a must when visiting Wells Gray.
Bring your Camera – Trail Level: Easy

Craft Beer & BBQ

Spahats Falls is located just 10 minutes inside the park and makes for a convenient exit as you get hungry. Leave the viewing area, and make a right back onto Clearwater Valley Road. Continue heading south toward the highway, and as you approach the intersection, you’ll see Hop “N” Hog Tap & Smokehouse, a great choice for dinner with house smoked meats inspired by Kansas BBQ, cold smoked fish from BC’s coast, live music, and the best of local brews.
(Spahats Falls to Hop ‘N’ Hog Tap & Smokehouse – 10.2km, 9-minute drive)

A Good Night’s Rest

Unless you’re in the mood for camping under the stars (and trust me, there are a LOT of options if that’s what you fancy), here are a couple of suggestions for places to stay in town.

Whether you’re on your way to Jasper, or simply seeking a new adventure, Wells Gray offers rare untapped beauty that will exceed your expectations, make for great photographs, and you don’t need to “rough it” to embrace it.

If you’re more of the adventurous type, make sure you check out our itinerary for those who like to get off the beaten path.