British Columbia | Wells Gray Provincial Park

Posted on: February 12th, 2012

Wells Gray and Clearwater

This is one of the most unique areas you will ever visit! Wells Gray Provincial Park is over 5000 km2, hosts 56 species of mammals, 219 species of bird and 700 species of flowering plants!

Add this to the fascinating volcanic history of the area, and the result is a bid for the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Status!

Not only that, but Wells Gray is home to Canada’s most extensive alpine flower meadows, several of BC’s most beautiful waterfalls, including the world famous Helmcken Falls, and the world’s largest non-motorized lakes — Murtle Lake.

All-in-all, Wells Gray is the best combination of wilderness and outdoor activities you will find on your holiday.

Wells Gray and Clearwater is located on Highway #5, south of Jasper and north of Kamloops.

Watch the mouth watering videos we’re presenting you here, let’s call it your next experience!


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Wells Gray history

The human history of Wells Gray Country is often seen as two tales. The first being the tale of the First Nations who lived here for thousands of years. The other being the European settlers who arrived within the past century. The combination of these two influences has shaped much of what is seen here today.

First Nations, Ancient Ways
Wells Gray Country was, for some 10,000 years, home primarily to the Simpcw First Nations of the Secwepemc (or Shuswap) Nation. Their semi-nomadic ways of hunting, fishing and gathering had evolved to match the annual rhythms of nature by moving with the seasons and the timing of caribou and salmon migration.

Like so many ancient cultures, their values and lifestyle recognised their dependency on their natural surroundings, and taught a deep respect for their environment and the ways in which it provided for their people.


Winter settlements were based on the keekwilli, a round pit-house with an earth-covered roof. This made a warm, secure home through the cold weather. Signs of these may be found throughout the area, most particularly in the North Thompson River Provincial Park. During the hot summers, woven reed-mats were used to build cool and airy lodges. Over 50 archaeological sites have been found in the area, including pictographs on the shores of Mahood Lake.

The first European surveyors, trappers, and prospectors arrived in the early 1800s. Many of these were positive meetings, others much less so. The newcomers introduced foreign diseases, and many First Nation people died of smallpox, measles and other illnesses. They also traded goods which were later to be seen as unwelcome, such as firearms and whiskey.

One of the most damaging influences was the way in which foreign values and standards were imposed on an ancient, enduring and entirely sustainable First Nation lifestyle.

Despite these pressures, the Secwepemc people preserve a vibrant and thriving culture, and remain a unique and important presence in the North Thompson.

Overlanders & Pioneers

The first Europeans to arrive in the area were fur-trappers in the early 19th century. They traveled up the North Thompson River from the outpost at Kamloops, interacting with the native Secwepemc as they travelled.

These first European explorers noted the point where a river with very clear water flowed into the sediment-laden North Thompson as Fourche de l’Eau Claire. This tributary subsequently became known as the Clearwater River.

Later, in the mid-1800s, large numbers of prospectors arrived, lured by the promise of riches from the Cariboo Gold-Rush. In 1862 a group known as ‘The Overlanders’ passed through the area on their way to the Cariboo, having journeyed from Ontario by way of Winnipeg and Edmonton. At Tete Jaune Cache, some of the party continued down the Fraser River. The remainder (including pregnant women and young children) made the extraordinarily arduous journey by wooden raft down the wild North Thompson River to “Fort Kamloops”.

The first European settlement was established in the early 1900s, and known initially as Raft River. Birch Island was a busy centre for some time due to the location being the northern most navigable limit for steamers used for the construction of the Canadian Northern Railway. This was an age of trappers, prospectors and homesteaders, signs may still be seen in the form of small log cabins falling slowly into ruin. However, several farms established in this era are still thriving today. An example is the Aveley Ranch in Vavenby, now one of the largest sheep-farms in Canada.

In time, the villages of Clearwater, Vavenby, and Birch Island became well-established, based mainly on income from logging and lumber. In recent years, a more diverse economy has evolved, with tourism now playing an important role.

Volcanoes | Wells Gray Country is home to some internationally significant volcanic features.

Some of the features were formed underneath icecaps during the last ice age, giving them unique geological properties. The incredible amounts of melt-water given off by the receding glaciers at the end of the last ice-age cut deep valleys in the lava beds and formed stunning waterfalls throughout the area. There is a movement afoot to recognize the incredible geology and volcanic landscape of the area as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field began forming approximately 3,500,000 years ago and has grown steadily since then. The tectonic causes of volcanism that have produced the Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field is not yet clear, and are therefore a matter of ongoing research.

Most of the Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field is encompassed within Wells Gray Provincial Park. This 540,000 ha (1,334,369 acre) park was established in 1939 because of the volcanic field’s beauty. A single road enters the park, but from it, a number of the field’s volcanic features can be viewed. Short hikes lead to several volcanic features, however there are some areas accessible only by aircraft.

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