Recently, we went chasing waterfalls at Wells Gray Provincial Park, a large wilderness park in central British Columbia. Wells Gray protects numerous waterfalls and much of the Cariboo Mountains.
Chasing Waterfalls At Wells Gray
On a recent long weekend, we explored a new (for us) British Columbia highway and provincial park. Wells Gray sits just shy of 300km north of Kelowna, or roughly a 3.5 hour drive. We headed up Okanagan Highway 97 to Kamloops, where we stopped for a pit stop at the Riverside Park (a fantastic place for kids to run their beans out on a hot day), and then up the Southern Yellowhead Highway 5 to Clearwater.
The road follows the North Thompson River, hemmed in by green rolling mountains on each side, and is packed full of holidaymakers, transport trucks and RVs. It was busier than I expected, but with a better look at the map, it became clear that it is the main thoroughfare from south-central and Western British Columbia to Mount Robson and Jasper. It is, in fact, a very well-trod trail.
We drove through Barrière, sharing a chuckle at the “Station House Family Diner & Great Barrière Reef”. Humour along fine country roads is always welcome. Construction snagged our style for a bit, but soon enough, we were through the mess and nearing Clearwater. For three nights, we stayed in camping cabins at Watauga Village, which provided a bit of protection from the fierce mosquito population in this part of the province.
The moment it opened on Saturday morning, we hit up the Wells Gray Visitor Centre to find out which walking trails and hikes would best suit our group of four adults and five kids ranging in age from 9 months to 7 years. Staff suggested Helmcken Falls, the 4th tallest waterfall in Canada (measured by total straight drop without a break), a short drive away and a 5-minute walk from the falls’ parking area.
Though you can’t get up close and personal to Helmcken Falls, you don’t walk away without a feeling of wonder. There is a particular magic when standing before a column of water cascading nearly 150 metres high over volcanic rock. The magnitude is mesmerizing.
But we wanted a closer waterfall experience too, so we explored where we might hike with our kids to see a Wells Gray waterfall up close and personal. We stopped by the Canyon Rim trailhead, only to be deterred by its length — at 8km (at least 3-hours) round-trip, which we assumed that hike would only end in epic failure with two 3-year olds, a 5 and 7-year old and a baby.
We settled on Moul Falls, which the staff at the visitor centre recommended, on the road back towards Clearwater. The Moul Falls trail is a popular one, and we found ourselves parking on the side of the road because the parking lot was full. After a quick picnic lunch in the parking lot, we were off on our way down the dirt track heading towards the falls.
Our kids managed the mostly flat first section of the hike like champs. We even foraged for the odd huckleberry and thimbleberry right beside the path. As we neared the falls, the thundering sound of water rose. From the top of Moul Falls, you can see down, far down below, to the people who have managed to trek down to the base of the canyon. Off we went, following the narrow pathway that clings to the hillside, sheer cliff drop on the right. The final descent to the base of the falls is on stairways over a small creek.
Finally, at the bottom, Moul Falls is picture-perfect, the mist casting rainbows. With the rushing water, the force of nature that is the falls, and the sheer beauty of it all, makes one feel awfully small.
On our second morning, we stopped at Spahat Falls, one of the first waterfalls as you enter Wells Gray from Clearwater. The viewpoint is only a few minutes’ walk from the parking area, easily accessible, and awfully spectacular.
Whenever we do head to Wells Gray next, we hope to explore more backcountry options. What are your favourite Wells Gray waterfalls?