Wells Gray Provincial Park feature photo

Wells Gray Provincial Park | Canada

After my week in Whistler, our next big destination was the Canadian Rockies. But getting there from the West Coast of BC either means flying to Calgary or breaking up the drive. We opted for the latter to enjoy the spectacular scenery of BC along the way. We had considered Kelowna and the Okanagan wine region while planning, but chose to go north in the end, passing by Kamloops and stopping for a couple of nights near Clearwater and Wells Gray Provincial Park. I did have to work all the days we were there, but still squeezed a few activities in!

Getting There – Sightseeing En-Route

Nairn Falls

It’s a 6-hour drive from Whistler to Clearwater, so we broke up the journey with a few stops. First up, just half an hour or so north of Whistler was Nairn Falls. Get ready, this is the first of many waterfalls to come in this post and future ones! To reach the falls, you have to follow a forest trail alongside the river for about half an hour. It is quite close to a drop down to the water, with no rails, so watch your footing! It’s a big wide river, meandering through a thick, evergreen forest, very typical of BC.

Nairn Falls is a rushing torrent, hurtling down over a couple of rock formations to make a few cascades. It twists along the way too, so it’s not just a straight sort of drop. The water has worn out potholes and a bridge underneath them to allow itself to keep moving. It’s a unique formation, and you stand on a slippery rock face close enough to feel the spray.

Lilloet & the Sea to Sky

We continued our journey north on the Sea to Sky Highway. Whereas the section of it closest to Vancouver features stunning coastal views, this part is inland and deep in the mountains. The road began to twist and turn up and down them, with steep drops to the valleys below. We followed lakes and rivers further into the Canadian wilderness, gawping at the vast, towering mountains.

Our next stop was Lilloet, named after the First Nations tribe of the area. It’s a decently big town and definitely had a more residential feel than a tourist one. This was our lunch stop though, and we soon found a cafe on the main street to dine in. The next stretch of the drive crossed the wide Fraser River and then, as we left the Sea to Sky and travelled further east, opened up into a wide, green valley filled with farmland. Quite the contrast to the mountain roads!

Kamloops & Privato Winery

We ploughed on for several hours until we reached Kamloops, one of the larger cities in the BC Interior. Many people use this as their stopover, but we passed around it, noting that it seemed very industry-driven. It’s also a popular location with winter tourists heading to Sun Peaks ski hill nearby. Our destination though, had a different activity in mind. Since we weren’t going to the Okanagan region, I had happened to notice there were wineries this far north, near Kamloops. Just a short detour from our route, we found Privato Winery.

It’s a small, family-run winery whose vineyards are right outside their own house. You basically park at the bottom of their garden, where there is outdoor seating for winery visitors and a small tasting room. We lucked out and arrived just as the guide was starting a tasting with one other couple, who were happy to let us join. She had had a quiet day too, and was happy to have guests for the last hour before closing, so she let us try a few more wines than she would normally include! We had about half a dozen in total, including white, red, rose and sparkling, and bought a bottle of our favourite red.

The couple were also doing a cider tasting afterwards, so we stuck around. The couple who own the winery have three sons, who started their own cider company, and make a range of different flavours. So, we also got a pack of the Wolfberry, our favourite of that too! From there, it was about an hour further, including a tiny car ferry river crossing and a bumpy dirt road, to our final destination.

Wells Gray Provincial Park

Helmcken Falls

We only had a couple of nights in the area, while I was also working, and the first night we just went for a walk around the property our wood cabin was on. The second night though, we took a drive up into Wells Gray Provincial Park so I could see a few of its many waterfalls. We started by going all the way up the tar road, through the forest-clad mountains, to our furthest point, Helmcken Falls. This is the 4th highest waterfall in Canada, and is as impressive as that sounds!

It sits at the end of a vast canyon carved by glaciers millions of years ago. The water is slowly eroding the end of it too, moving backwards up the river. The sheer volume of water dropping over the edge is incredible, and it’s created a huge, deep plunge pool. In the winter, the spray freezes into an ice cone that the falls drop into. It was definitely a jaw-dropping one!

The Mushbowl

Just back along the main road sits a slightly tamer option – the Mushbowl. It’s more like a jumble of rapids than a full-size waterfall, going over a much smaller drop. It’s right beside a bridge on the main road and there’s no proper parking so you just have to pull over. Fortunately, in the early evening, the road is very quiet so we were able to walk back and forth over the bridge with no traffic around. The Mushbowl has another small drop on the other side of the bridge, though that’s harder to see. I did catch a rainbow in its spray though!

Dawson Falls

What Dawson Falls lacks in height, it makes up for in width. Just around the hairpin bend from the Mushbowl, the parking for Dawson Falls is off the side of the road. It’s then a short walk through the woods – look out for bears! – to the first viewpoint looking upriver at the falls. This is a wide stretch of river and the falls span the full width of it, though the drop isn’t the largest. They’re still impressive in the volume of water rushing over though! We followed the path further and emerged by the river again right next to the top of the falls. More than close enough to feel the spray hit your face!

Spahats Creek Falls

Driving back through Wells Gray Provincial Park towards the entrance again, Spahats Falls was our final stop of the evening. It’s only about 10 minutes inside the park, and the waterfall is a very short walk from its car park too. While not quite as high as Helmcken, it sits in a similar set up, tumbling from on high into a deep, glacial gorge. The unique thing about Spahats is that the river has also burrowed down its bed, so it sits in its own canyon and the waterfall starts partway down the gorge face. That explanation probably makes more sense in the pictures! The gorge itself is also fascinating, with so many trees clinging to the rock face. How some of them haven’t fallen yet is amazing!

Wells Gray Provincial Park second feature photo

Clearwater & Onwards to Alberta

We stopped in Clearwater for dinner that evening, and made a quick detour to Dutch Lake. Mum & Dad saw the water lilies all in bloom there earlier in the day, but they were closed by evening. It’s a small town, mostly a gateway for visitors to Wells Gray Provincial Park. It’s definitely a great choice for a stop en-route from BC to Alberta though, with lots of beautiful scenery. And, on the way back to our accommodation, we also saw a black bear crossing the road – my first bear sighting in my entire time in Canada!