BC Day Hikes Travel

Chasing Waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park

Moul Falls, one of the many gorgeous waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park near Kamloops, BC

At the end of September I went on an OMG-summer-is-ending-must-go-camping-before-it’s-too-late trip to Wells Gray Provincial Park near Kamloops, BC. Somehow, I had never been there before. It has a reputation as being a huuuuuge provincial park with tons of ginormous lakes for canoeing but I didn’t know much else about it. It’s not nearly as famous as the national parks in the Rockies or Garibaldi Provincial Park near Vancouver. And now that I’ve been there, I have no idea why. I mean… this place is awesome! Many people head to Wells Gray for the lakes, but there are also over 40 named waterfalls in the park. Many of them are in remote corners of the park, but 8 of them are easy to reach from the Clearwater Valley Road! Whoa! I spent 3 days chasing waterfalls in Wells Gray and I was blown away. Ready to see some photos of awesome waterfalls? I’ve got loads!

 

Getting to Wells Gray Provincial Park

As I said, the park is Huuuuge (with a capital “H”). There are a few different areas to visit with different access points, but the one I’ll focus on here is the Clearwater Valley, also known as the Wells Gray Corridor. Everything in the corridor, including the 8 waterfalls I visited is accessed off the Clearwater Valley Road near Clearwater, BC an hour north of Kamloops.

It’s a 5 hour drive to Clearwater from Vancouver. You start out on highway 1, take the Coquihalla (aka highway 5) to Kamloops, then continue through Kamloops and go north to Clearwater. Here’s Google Maps directions if you want them. Once you get to Clearwater, go left through the roundabout to get onto Clearwater Valley Road. This road runs north 70km through Wells Gray Provincial Park to it’s end at Clearwater Lake. The first 37km is surrounded by a lot of private land so you will pass numerous cabins, ranches, lodges and even a golf course. The road is paved for the first 43km, but then it turns to gravel. (The gravel part is excellent as gravel roads go and is fine for regular cars, even after it rains.)

Before you start up Clearwater Valley Road towards Wells Gray, be sure to stop at the visitor center at the roundabout. They have knowledgeable staff, free park maps and a gift shop. In this post, I’ve listed the waterfalls in Wells Gray’s corridor region in the order you’ll encounter them along your drive. Reset your odometer at the visitor center and refer to the kilometer markers in the text below to find each waterfall. (For the more popular waterfalls, there will also be giant road signs to show the way.)

Moul Falls, one of the many gorgeous waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park near Kamloops, BC

Moul Falls

 

How Did the Waterfalls Form?

So you might be wondering: Why are there so many waterfalls all in the same small area? How did they form? It turns out the waterfalls in Wells Gray use the same secret formula as my other favourite waterfall destination, Iceland: volcanoes + glaciers = waterfall magic. (Caution: #geologynerd talk ahead. You’ve been warned!)

The whole Wells Gray area is part of a massive volcanic complex that dumped lava over the landscape, which hardened into lava rock called basalt . During the last ice age, glaciers covered the basalt. When the volcanoes erupted underneath the glaciers, the ice melted, causing huge floods that carved deep river canyons. Now, the volcanoes are dormant and the glaciers are gone, but the river canyons remain. The waterfalls in Wells Gray continue to erode the river canyons, pushing the canyons further and further upstream. Compared to granite, basalt is relatively weak and erodes quickly, which is why it is so common to find waterfalls in volcanic areas.

 

Spahats Falls

Spahats Falls, one of the many gorgeous waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park near Kamloops, BC

The first of the park’s spectacular waterfalls is 75m high Spahats Falls. Spahats means “bear” in the local First Nations language. (Although it is humorous to imagine what a “spa hat” would look like. Maybe a towel worn turban style?) To get to the falls, turn left off the main road 10.2km from the visitor center. From the large parking area it is a short 250m walk to the canyon rim. The falls cascade down from a notch in the cliff. The best view is from the wooden viewing platform, but be sure to walk along the fence towards the falls to see it from other angles.

Pro tip: Be sure to buy some chocolate and a fresh-made-while-you-wait Belgian sugar waffle from the Helmcken Chocolates stand in the parking lot. It’s run by Belgian expats living in Clearwater and the waffles are insanely good since they are made in the proper Liege style using a yeasty dough (not a batter!) and pearl sugar.  Om nom nom.

 

Moul Falls

Moul Falls, one of the many gorgeous waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park near Kamloops, BC

While several of Wells Gray’s most popular waterfalls can be viewed from practically next to your car, you’ll have to hike to reach Moul Falls. Thankfully this easy hike is mostly flat and only 3km each way. Give yourself about 2 hours plus time at the falls. At 35m high Moul Falls is not the tallest waterfall in Wells Gray Park, but it is one of the most spectacular since you can walk right behind it.

Standing behind Moul Falls, one of the many gorgeous waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park near Kamloops, BC

Standing next to a curtain of water behind Moul Falls.

 

To find the trailhead turn left into the small parking lot 20.7km from the visitor center. The trail follows an old road for the first 1.7km before turning left onto a trail marked with an arrow and a “Moul Falls” sign. The trail heads downhill towards a creek and reaches the top of the waterfall. There’s a fenced viewing area here, but it’s hard to see much of anything. Continue on the trail as it goes left along the top of the cliff then steeply descends via switchbacks and stairs to the base of the falls. Bring a rain jacket if you choose to take the path behind the falls because you’ll definitely get wet. (So worth it though!) There’s also a cave on the left of the falls that is cool to check out. When you’re done, retrace your steps back to your car. Note that there are no toilets at the trailhead or on the trail so please follow Leave No Trace principles.

Moul Falls, one of the many gorgeous waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park near Kamloops, BC

Moul Falls from the bottom of the staircase that descends to the base.

 

Dawson Falls

Dawson Falls, one of the many gorgeous waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park near Kamloops, BC

Dawson Falls has earned the nickname “Little Niagara Falls” since apparently it has the same proportions as its famous namesake. It’s 20m high and 90m across…pretty spectacular. (The real thing is 99m high and 790m wide). To visit this waterfall in Wells Gray, turn right into the parking lot 40.9km from the visitor center. A trail leads along the top of the cliff and then parallels the main road. After about 450m you’ll arrive at the first viewpoint on a bluff. From here you can see the whole falls and I think it’s actually the better view. If you want an up-close view, continue on the trail for another 250m to the second viewpoint. This one is directly over the top of the falls and gives you a great perspective on their height. Allow 10 minutes each way for the walk.

 

Helmcken Falls

Helmcken Falls, one of the many gorgeous waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park near Kamloops, BC

Just a little ways up the road from Dawson Falls you’ll find Helmcken Falls, the crown jewel of Wells Gray. This spectacular waterfall drops 141m, making it the 4th highest waterfall in Canada. In Wells Gray terms, it’s almost twice as high as Spahats Falls! To get to the Helmcken Falls, turn left off the main road 42.5km from the visitor center onto a side road and follow it until its end at the parking area. It’s a short walk to the cliff edge and viewing platform. Be sure to walk the full length of the fence to see Helmcken Falls and its plunge pool from a few different angles. It’s hard to get an idea of the immense scale of Helmcken Falls from photos: you just have to see it yourself. (But maybe the below aerial photo will help?)

Helmcken Falls, one of the many gorgeous waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park near Kamloops, BC

Helmcken Falls and Murtle River from above. Photo credit werner22brigitte on Pixabay. CC0 Creative Commons use.

 

If you want a completely different perspective with no guard rails and waaay less people, you can hike to the other side the canyon rim. The trail flat trail is 4km each way. The trailhead is at a parking lot 42.4km from the visitor center, just before the road crosses a bridge.

I’ve also seen spectacular photos of Helmcken Falls in the winter when the spray from the falls creates a huge cone of ice that can be up to 50m tall. I’d love to go back in the winter time to see it.

Helmcken Falls, one of the many gorgeous waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park near Kamloops, BC

Helmcken Falls and its winter ice cone. Photo credit werner22brigitte on Pixabay. CC0 Creative Commons use.

 

Bailey’s Chute, Marcus Falls and Myanth Falls

If you want to get a bit off the beaten path, check out the West Lake Loop trail. It starts at Bailey’s Chute, then passes by Marcus Falls and Myanth Falls before returning to the start via teeny, tiny West Lake. In any other park these waterfalls would be a key attraction, but after the grandeur of Helmcken, Spahats and Dawson Falls, they can feel a little… inadequate. But if you are up for a short hike, these diminutive waterfalls are worth your time. It will take you about 2 hours to hike the whole 6.5km loop.

Bailey's Chute, one of the many gorgeous waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park near Kamloops, BC

Exploring the waterworn rocks at Bailey’s Chute

 

To get to the trailhead turn right off Clearwater Valley Road 59.3km from the visitor center into a parking lot. From the parking lot, cross the road to the picnic area next to the river where trail starts on the right hand side. Follow the trail downhill for about 800m to Bailey’s Chute. Bailey’s Chute oh-so-badly wants to be a waterfall but really it’s more of a steep rapid. It is 10m high though. This is the farthest that salmon can travel up the Clearwater River so be sure to look for them jumping during the fall spawning season. There’s a small viewing platform and when the water is lower you can scramble right onto onto the waterworn rocks for a closer look.

Marcus Falls, one of the many gorgeous waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park near Kamloops, BC

Marcus Falls

 

Continue following the trail along the river to reach Marcus Falls at the 1.6km mark. Marcus Falls is only 5m high, but it’s quite wide (about 100m). There’s a small viewing area behind a fence. The next waterfall is Myanth Falls at the 3.4km point. It is 3m high and nearly as wide as Marcus Falls. Just before Myanth falls there is a large rocky beach that makes a great place for a lunch break. After Myanth Falls the trail climbs up away from the river and begins to head back south towards the start. The trail winds through forest and past tiny West Lake before rejoining the main trail near Bailey’s Chute.

Myanth Falls, one of the many gorgeous waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park near Kamloops, BC

Myanth Falls

 

Osprey Falls

Osprey Falls, one of the many gorgeous waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park near Kamloops, BC

The final waterfall on the Clearwater Valley Road is Osprey Falls at the south end of Clearwater Lake. The falls are the outlet of the lake. A couple dozen unfortunate boaters have been swept over the falls (and most didn’t survive). Osprey Falls is not tall at only 3m, but it is half a kilometer wide! The falls stretches across the end of the lake in a long “L” shape and is broken up by a few small islands, which makes it hard to see the whole thing at once.

If you want to get close to part of the falls, there is a small viewing platform that you can access from the Clearwater Lake campground. If you aren’t staying in the campground, park in the small pull out at the information board 65.6km from the visitor center. Walk towards the river on the grassy path across the road from the sign. Once you get to the wooden cooking shelter, turn right and walk down the campground road. Find the short trail to the viewpoint between sites 19 and 21.

 

Where to stay:

There are three campgrounds in the main park corridor: Clearwater Lake, Falls Creek and Pyramid. The Clearwater Lake and Falls Creek campgrounds are located right next to each other at the outlet of Clearwater Lake at the far end of the corridor. Many campsites have views of the lake or the Clearwater River. These two campgrounds are a bit of a drive from the main waterfalls, but they are the nicest places to camp inside the park. They both cost $23/night. Falls Creek is 100% reservable. Clearwater Lake is 50% reservable, 50% first come, first served. Falls Creek has 41 sites and Clearwater Lake has 39. You can make reservations online via the BC Parks website.

Halfway down the corridor near Dawson Falls and the Helmcken Falls turnoff you will find Pyramid campground. I haven’t stayed there, but the campground has a reputation for being very buggy. There are 50 sites and they are all first come, first served. It’s only $20 to camp at Pyramid.

If you can’t get a site inside Wells Gray Park, you can also camp just outside the park near Clearwater. North Thompson River Provincial Park is just a 10 minute drive outside of town on (you guessed it!) the North Thompson River. It has 60 sites at $23 each, 88% of which are reservable. There are also several RV parks in and near Clearwater and lots of cabins and lodges just outside the main park entrance.

 

More Info:

Be sure to stop in at the visitor center in Clearwater before you head into the park. Find it at the roundabout where Clearwater Valley Road leaves Highway 5. The local tourism organization also has a great website with lots of info. Check out wellsgray.ca.

The absolute best book on the area is Exploring Wells Gray Park by Roland Neave. First published in 1974, the 6th edition is now available. It’s an amazing resource for everything you ever wanted to know about Wells Gray from history to hiking. You can buy it at the park visitor center in Clearwater or online at MEC.

 

So there you go, 8 waterfalls on 70km of beautiful park road. As I said earlier: volcanoes + glaciers = waterfall magic, right? I can’t wait to go back and explore more in this park. Do you have questions about visiting waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park? Where’s your favourite waterfall? Tell me in the comments.

 

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Find 8 amazing waterfalls in one small British Columbia park. Check out Helmcken Falls and 7 other waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park near Kamloops, BC Moul Falls in British Columbia is just one of 8 waterfalls you can visit in Wells Gray Provincial Park. Beautiful waterfalls a few hours from Vancouver, Canada.

 

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18 Comments

  • Reply
    Josy A
    November 3, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    This post is awesome!
    I had not heard of Wells Gray Provincial Park yet, so that you! We have mostly been exploring close to Vancouver so far. I will add this to my list of places to hike once we’ve bought a car!

    • Reply
      Taryn Eyton
      November 3, 2017 at 4:40 pm

      There are sooo many places to explore close to Vancouver too, which I guess is why I hadn’t made it out to Wells Gray. I think people looking for outdoor activities in BC often assume that the good stuff is on the coast or in the Rockies. But it turns out there is some awesome stuff in between. AND it’s waaay less crowded.

  • Reply
    Unta
    November 4, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    Loooove this. Stunning photos. 🙂

  • Reply
    Nicole
    November 4, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    Beautiful photos!!! I am drooling this place looks absolutely amazing. It is now on our bucket list for the next time we head back to BC which is hope is very soon!! Thanks so much for the detailed post – I really enjoyed it and am hooked on your blog! Cant wait to see where you go next!

    • Reply
      Taryn Eyton
      November 5, 2017 at 3:10 pm

      Thanks Nicole! I can’t believe this place isn’t better known. The scenery is some of the best in BC.

  • Reply
    Lieselot De Brauwer
    November 4, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    Wow! Over 40 waterfalls in one NP, and they are so impressive! I’d love to check them out in winter, looks unreal with the ice and snow!

    • Reply
      Taryn Eyton
      November 5, 2017 at 3:11 pm

      The snow does look super cool doesn’t it? I’d also like to go in winter to see it in the snow. But I also want to go back in the summer to spend some time going to some of the more remote waterfalls. Choices, choices 🙂

  • Reply
    Ruth
    November 4, 2017 at 6:02 pm

    I can’t believe I haven’t heard about this place before. It is waterfall heaven! I even showed it to my husband since we want to visit Canada (once again) soon (well, maybe not in winter).

    • Reply
      Taryn Eyton
      November 5, 2017 at 3:09 pm

      Thanks Ruth. Waterfall heaven is definitely the right phrase 🙂

  • Reply
    Jamie
    November 4, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    Love this! We love finding and photographing waterfalls. BC is definitely on our list, thanks!

    • Reply
      Taryn Eyton
      November 5, 2017 at 3:08 pm

      Thanks Jamie. I love the photos on your site so I’m sure you guys would take some great shots in this park.

  • Reply
    Kathi
    November 5, 2017 at 3:16 am

    And people think they need to travel as far as Iceland to see waterfalls like this… BC and Alberta was my first ever backpacking trip, but somehow this provincial park was not on my radar – hope I get to rectify that one day! I bet the campsites in the park is awesome too!

    • Reply
      Taryn Eyton
      November 5, 2017 at 3:06 pm

      Somehow this park is not on many people’s radar – but it is super popular with German tourists. I guess it must be in German guidebooks? On the late September weekend we were there I’d say about half the people we met were German! If you come back to Canada definitely put this place on your list.

  • Reply
    Eva
    November 5, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    Impressive! And I actually enjoyed the nerd talk. Brought me back memories of Iceland and its waterfalls. I am a European chicken and I’d be pretty afraid of hiking there, though, for fear of a bear encounter. The only hiking I did in North America was Algonquin in Ontario, on very easy and marked paths, yet I was still a little afraid. Is that something that can actually happen or not really?

    • Reply
      Taryn Eyton
      November 5, 2017 at 3:13 pm

      Hi Eva, You don’t have to worry too much about bears if you are visiting any of the waterfalls I mentioned in this post or camping in the park. It’s a well populated area and the paths are easy and well marked (probably similar to what you hiked in Algonquin.) It is possible to see a bear, but it’s not very likely. If you are interested in bear safety, I have a great post about it you can read: https://happiestoutdoors.ca/bear-safety/

  • Reply
    RJ
    November 5, 2017 at 10:24 pm

    This post is right up my alley for the love of waterfall chasing! Thanks for sharing I am so inspired by all these beautiful pictures that there is one more reason to visit BC now 🙂

  • Reply
    Agness of a Tuk Tuk
    November 13, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    The Wells Gray Provincial Park seems like a very picturesque and stunning place, Taryn! I would love to go hiking there. Do I need a guided tour for there?

    • Reply
      Taryn Eyton
      November 14, 2017 at 4:24 pm

      You absolutely do not need a guide to hike to any of the waterfalls that I mentioned in this post. Just stop by the visitor center on your way into the park to pick up a map and head out – it’s really easy. Guided hiking is available in the park to some more remote destinations, but I haven’t done that (yet!) so I don’t have any specific recommendations.

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