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Wells Gray: camping, hiking & canoeing with Grandma

Our last camping trip of this summer was a week in Wells Gray Provincial Park with my mom and her dog. We planned this trip a little last minute, as both her schedule and mine were somewhat uncertain for the end of August. When we realized we’d have time to do our annual camping trip, I immediately hopped onto the computer and began looking at campgrounds. We choose to return to Wells Gray for our third year because there were plenty of spots available there.

Wells Gray Provincial Park: camp, hike and canoe.

Falls Creek Campground

We both spent Sunday driving to Wells Gray Provincial Park. This year, we camped in the Falls Creek Campground, and we had it mostly to ourselves for the entire week. Our site was located right on the river (with a chain link fence, thankfully, between us and the river). We fell asleep to the sound of rushing water and the wind in the trees, and the kids had fun running up and down the trail by the fence.

Osprey Falls on the Clearwater River at sunset.

Falls Creek Campground is the smaller campground beside Clearwater Campground (which is closer to the lake). The trail runs the entire length of the campground, then over a bridge to Clearwater Campground. I think Falls Creek is kinda considered the “overflow” campground but it had some lovely sites. Each site is large, surrounded by trees, and spaced nicely apart so you can’t see or hear much of your neighbors (not that we had many for the week we were there!).

Monday: trails and paddles

We spent Monday morning hiking Bailey’s Chute and the West Lake Loop, an easy 5 km hike that the kids enjoyed.

Back at our campground for noon, we ate lunch and then relaxed for about an hour. The kids swung in the hammock, kicked balls around the campsite, or read their books. My mom and I washed the dishes and read our own books. We also took turns reading about the history, geography and other features of the park in Exploring Wells Gray Park: The Complete Roads and Trails Guide to Canada’s Waterfalls Park.

Then we packed up the canoes, life jackets, and some snacks and drove over to the Clearwater Lake boat launch. My mom had once again brought both her canoes (a single and a tandem). The kids helped carry gear from the truck down to the water’s edge.

Five kids in life jackets beside two canoes, ready to paddle on Clearwater Lake.

The kids had their lifejackets on and their paddles ready long before Mom and I had gotten the rest of the gear stowed in the canoes. The younger three sat on the edge of the dock and practiced paddling in the water. We found a stick which Joey could drag in the water, to keep him busy while we were boating. Then we launched the canoes. Mom had two kids and a dog with her and I had three kids with me.

We fought a strong wind (again) across the lake. I’d forgotten all the strokes Mom showed me last year when we were canoeing at Herald Provincial Park. Sunshine and Lily did help paddle quite a bit, so we got to the campground on the other side of the lake ahead of my mom. She had to shift where the younger girls were sitting in her canoe, to help balance their weight properly.

We found the campground empty and had the beach to ourselves. Mom, Sunshine and Lily went swimming. The water was beautifully clear and not as cold as I expected, but the wind made it chilly. Due to the wind and the clouds overhead, we didn’t stay at the beach as long as we planned. We soon loaded the kids back into the canoes (switching who rode where) and headed back across the lake.

Bonnie Way canoeing on Clearwater Lake.

At one point, Joey said something to me that I didn’t quite catch as I concentrated on the strokes Mom had shown me again at the campground. Then he said, “It’s floating away…” and I realized he’d dropped the stick we’d given him to play with. Despite that, he sat quietly in front of me in the canoe, watching his sisters in the other canoe or the ducks we saw diving near the shore. It was a huge contrast to his first time in the canoe, on our second trip to Wells Gray Provincial Park in 2018 when he was only nine months old and hated wearing his life jacket.

We returned to the campground and relaxed there for the evening.

Relaxing at the Falls Creek Campground.

Tuesday: waterfalls and viewpoints

Tuesday was our first rainy day of camping all summer. Yes, we’ve had a pretty sunny, warm summer or exceptionally good luck camping this season. I set up our blue picnic shelter in anticipation of the rain and it definitely came in handy this trip. Mom and I also set up a second tarp, between the picnic shelter and the trees, to create more space for the kids to sit and read or play. Then we discussed activities for the day. We decided to do some driving and see some of the shorter hikes near town that we usually miss because we’re camped at the end of the road.

We piled into my truck and headed back down the Clearwater Valley Road. Our first stop was Helmcken Falls, which we’ve hiked before, but it’s still a stunning waterfall that’s worth the visit. Due to the poor weather, we had the trail and the viewing platforms mostly to ourselves. Lily and I had fun attempting to read the German portions of the sign but we also learned more about the unique geography of Wells Gray Park.

Helmcken Falls

From Helmcken Falls, we drove through Clearwater (the town) and found the Clearwater River Road. I’d found a chapter about this road in Exploring Wells Gray and it sounded interesting to explore. It’s an old, unused logging road that now provides access to some trails and viewpoints along the river. We hiked the Kettle Trail, played at a sandy beach, and found the end of the road (now located at km 10, thanks to a landslide).

Then we started the drive back to our campground, with a quick stop to hike Spahats Falls. I was surprised to find that it’s just as accessible and scenic as Helmcken Falls. A five minute hike brings you out to the top of the cliffs, with a view down the canyon to the Clearwater River and, on the other side, the Clearwater River Road where we’d just been driving! We could see the landslide where we’d had to turn around, which was pretty fun.

Spahats Falls Canyon, with views of the Clearwater River far below.

The trail runs along the right side of the canyon. Once again, there are fences and viewing platforms to keep people safe. And once again, the geography around the falls is just as spectacular as the water itself. It’s mind-boggling to imagine how water carved this entire canyon.

Spahats Falls

After Spahats Falls, we took the left to see the viewpoint. The kids were tired and just ready to head back to camp, but Mom and I were feeling adventuresome and wanted to know what the viewpoint was. The road loops out to look over the Clearwater River Valley. It was starting to rain again so we didn’t get the greatest view of the valley due to the clouds. There’s no hiking involved here, but there were picnic tables so if it was a sunny day, that would be a great place to plan a lunch break.

Clearwater Valley viewpoint.

Finally, we got back to camp in time to make supper. It had rained for most of our drive, turning the end of the road rather muddy. My white truck became a brown truck by the time we parked.

Wednesday: bluffs and books

Wednesday dawned clear and sunny after raining for most of the night. The tents were already starting to dry. Mom and I immediately decided we’d hike the Easter Bluffs, which we’d been looking at doing since Monday. We packed our lunch and ate it at the viewpoint, far above Clearwater Lake. By the time we got back to the campground at 3 pm, Mom and I were both too tired to consider getting out the canoes. The kids were disappointed that we wouldn’t go for another paddle.

Instead, we sat around the campground reading and playing. Sunshine tried to teach Jade how to play backgammon with a magnetic board game set I bought back in the spring, when the weather for our Chilliwack Lake trip also threatened to be rainy. Mom’s dog hid in her truck. Joey collected rocks, splashed in puddles, and carefully wiped most of the mud and dirt off the truck.

An 8-year-old and 5-year-old read their books in the tent.

In the evening, after the younger kids were asleep, Mom and I stayed up to have a glass of wine together and watch the stars come out. Living in Vancouver, I forget how amazing it is to see the stars above us. We should have spread a blanket on the ground, as we kept getting a crick in our neck trying to look up. The clear night also meant it was cold, so I was glad I’d brought my Mozy along. I wore it for most of the evening and then spread it over my sleeping bag when I went to bed.

Thursday: goodbye

On Thursday morning we packed up our tents and gear and said goodbye to Falls Creek Campground. We rolled out just before 11 am, as I hadn’t rushed to get everything packed. Mom followed us down the road and we stopped in Clearwater to have lunch together at the Wild Flour Cafe Bakery (located right on the corner of the highway, across from the Visitor Centre). Then we said goodbyes again and headed south down the highway to home.

Panini and coffee at the Wild Flour Cafe in Clearwater, BC.

For more information about visiting Wells Gray, drop by the BC Parks website. I highly recommend grabbing a copy of Exploring Wells Gray Park: The Complete Roads and Trails Guide to Canada’s Waterfalls Park. The book is not only a comprehensive guide to every road, mountain and trail in the park, but also a valuable source of information about the history and the geography of the park. There are stories about the early settlers, notable events, and more to read while you’re visiting.

Drop by my YouTube channel to come along with us on our hikes and tour our campground!

What’s your favourite hike or activity in Wells Gray Provincial Park?

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