This provincial park in central British Columbia is known for its numerous waterfalls (it has 39!) and when we found out the parks roads are maintained in the winter, we just had to check it out! The best part about visiting Wells Gray in the winter is that you have the whole park almost entirely to yourself.
We live in Kamloops and Wells Gray is about a 2 hour drive. Take highway 5 north for an hour and a half. When you enter Clearwater, turn off the roundabout onto Clearwater Valley Road (the exit on the left towards the gas station). This road will take you into Wells Gray.
From Vancouver it is a 5 hour drive. Follow the Trans Canada highway East until you see signs for the BC-5 N (Kamloops). You will be on this highway for most of the journey until you reach Clearwater. From here take Clearwater Valley Road at the towns roundabout. You will reach the park within 10 minutes. If you have extra time, you might want to stop in Kamloops along the way. See our winter guide of things to do in and around the city here.
From Jasper: It will take about 3 and a half hours west. This will take you through the beautiful Mt. Robson Provincial Park. Take BC-16 W highway until you see signs for BC-5 (Valemount/Kamloops/Yellowhead Highway). You will be on this highway for 215 km until you enter the town of Clearwater, where you will turn off the roundabout onto Clearwater Valley Road. This will take you right into Wells Gray.
What We Did:
Our first stop was Spahats Creek Falls. The entrance is on the left side right after you enter the park (it has a brown wooden sign). From the parking lot, it only takes a minute or two before you reach the falls lookout. It is beautiful in the winter (albeit windy!). The most breathtaking part about Spahats Falls for us was the ice pool that had formed at the top of the waterfall. There is a wooden viewing platform that allows you to take in the views of the valley and the waterfall without being blocked by trees.
After we took in the amazing views at Spahats, we hopped back in the car and headed further into the park. The next prominent waterfall you can reach in winter is Moul Falls. It is about 10 km down the road from Spahats. It’s a 3.4 km hike and is relatively flat until the end. It usually takes us about 2 hours to complete the entire hike in the winter. On this occasion, it was snowing heavily and had been for several days so we decided to forgo Moul for another day. Moul Falls is beautiful and well worth checking out if you visit in more favourable conditions! Please be aware that the end of this trail is steep with cliffs and slippery sections. This trail is not maintained in the winter but can be used at your own risk. We have done the Moul Falls hike in the winter before and decided to turn back at the final descent because it was too slippery. Crampons and walking poles are helpful on this hike!
Our next stop was at Dawson Falls. In the winter time buses do not run into Wells Grey park and therefore feel free to stop off in the sectioned bus stop area (do not attempt this if you are visiting in the summer!). We made the mistake of driving another 5 minutes up the road and stopping at Dawson's designated parking area, which was not plowed and meant we had to hike for roughly 25 minutes back on ourselves to see the waterfall. The bus stop however is only 100 meters away from the falls. As well as the waterfall, the viewing area offers beautiful views of the winding frozen river below.
Only a minutes drive further on from Dawson is Mushbowl Falls, which can be found on the right side of a single lane wooden bridge. We parked to the side of the road a few meters past the the bridge and ventured down to take pictures of the falls from on the bridge itself. As the park is substantially quieter in the winter, it was safe for us to take pictures on the bridge, just remain alert for cars coming from either direction!
Finally, we went on to Helmcken Falls, which is the largest waterfall in the park. The waterfall is utterly spectacular and the trees all around the base of the falls were totally frozen solid from the heavy ice cold mist. Once again there is a large wooden viewing platform that hangs into the valley a little, offering amazing panoramic views of the falls as well as the canyon itself. This viewing platform is the best place to get pictures of the waterfall, however we followed the metal fence further away from falls and found multiple beautiful places to view the falls through the frame of deep green conifers. Visibility seemed to change rapidly around helmcken falls, so if you arrive and its very misty, waiting a few minutes can give you a much better view!
It’s worth mentioning that although there are outhouses at many of the scenic viewpoints in Wells Gray Park, in the winter temperatures can be well below freezing and it can be more than a little uncomfortable using them. A more comfortable option would be making use of the facilities at Tim Hortons or the Gas Station/A&W just off of the roundabout at Clearwater.
Check the weather forecast before you head off, we noticed that the temperature in the park was several degrees colder than it was in the town of Clearwater, and as mentioned previously conditions can change quickly.
If it has been snowing or is snowing when you visit, make sure to wear thermals and most importantly bring winter boots, suitable for trekking through snow.
In many areas in Wells Gray Park there is limited cell reception at best, although there isn’t really a work around for this, it's still nice to have a heads up about it.
All of these waterfalls (including Moul Falls) can be seen in one day. If you want to do some more extensive winter hiking or snowshoeing we have heard good things about the budget-friendly Wells Gray Inn in Clearwater.