If you follow the Yellowhead Highway (Hwy 5) along the North Thompson Valley for just 1.5 hours north from Kamloops, or 3.5 hours south from Jasper, you will find yourself amid the mountains, forests, rivers and lakes of one of the true gems of BC - Wells Gray Country, home of Wells Gray Provincial Park. This vast wilderness preserve of big lakes, deep river gorges, glacier-clad peaks, broad alpine meadows and old growth forests, at over 5,000sq km (1,931 sq mi), is very nearly the same size as Banff National Park and offers an equally memorable experience.
Wells Gray is often known as the Waterfall Park for the many spectacular falls and rapids formed by the rushing waters of the Clearwater, Murtle and Mahood Rivers. Amongst these is the 143m (470ft) Helmchen Falls, which is the fourth highest waterfall in Canada, and 1.5 times the height of Niagara. The Park also provides excellent wildlife watching: black bear are seen from spring through fall, moose are particularly numerous in winter, and in quieter corners, it's possible to glimpse grizzly bear, lynx, wolves, cougars and caribou. Amazing blooms of wildflowers await hikers in the alpine meadows that skirt the Trophy Mountains during the mid-summer months. Early fall marks the beginning of major runs of sockeye and Chinook salmon - watch these huge fish leaping the rapids at The Kettle or Bailey's Chute on the Clearwater River, or see them begin their journey up the Raft River from the new purpose-built platform just north of town.
Outdoor enthusiasts are sure to find their ideal arena here in Wells Grey, whether you're seeking an adrenalin-rush or sheer serenity. The Park's big lakes - Clearwater, Azure, Mahood and Murtle (the largest paddle-only lake in North America) - offer wonderful opportunities for canoe-camping while the Clearwater and North Thompson offer world class whitewater rafting and kayaking. Hikers, mountain-bikers and horseback-riders will find endless miles of trails, and several well-kept courses offer challenging golf opportunities. Fishing continues all year for the river and lake trout and for salmon during late fall. In winter, the area is a snowy wonderland where you can experience 80km (50mi) of groomed cross-country ski trails, excellent back-country skiing, snow-showing, authentic dog-sledding and challenging snowmobiling.
Mount Robson Park is the other major attraction in the northern part of the Thompson Okanagan. It is the second oldest park in British Columbia's park system, and is home to the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, for which the park is named. Mount Robson staggers over the landscape at 3,954 m (12,972 ft) as it guards the western entrance to the park. Travelers are in awe of the mountain's magnificence and commonly find access to the park from Tete Jaune Cache, which is located on the Yellowhead Route at Highways 5 and 16.
The amazingly varied terrain of Mt. Robson Park allows for many species of animals to inhabit the area. Mountain goats, moose, deer, elk, caribou and grizzly bear help to balance the park's serene, yet fragile ecosystem. Wildlife viewing opportunities are abundant as the landscape varies from shear rock cliffs to fog blown marshes and dense woodland. To capture a glimpse of the park's natural splendor, visitors need only bring a pair of binoculars and patience.
Experienced hikers should commit to trekking the most popular trail in the park, the trail to Berg Lake. A worthwhile journey, this two-day, 44 km (27 mi) hike to Kinney Lake and the base of Mount Robson, skirts Berg Lake before entering a valley heavily dotted with spectacular waterfalls. Icebergs sprinkle the lake as pieces of glacier periodically fall in and deposit their rich mineral content scraped from the sides of adjacent mountains.
The major towns in this area are Valemount, Blue River, Clearwater, and Little Fort. All four towns are accessible by the Yellowhead Highway 5.
The northern-most point of the Thompson Okanagan, Valemount, is on the steps of magnificent Mount Robson Provincial Park. This is an ideal place to start exploring this exciting region - the community is dedicated to providing its visitors with high-quality service and some of the most exciting adventures in BC. There are many opportunities to explore nature in Valemount. Popular activities include wilderness hiking, canoeing, horseback riding and ATVing. Visitors can see the world's longest salmon run at George Hicks Regional Park or visit the R.W. Starratt Wildlife sanctuary - home to over 150 species of birds for some of Canada's best bird watching. A popular spot for snowmobiling, Valemount has repeatedly won prestigious Riders Choice Awards for its world-class runs suitable for every level of rider. While in Valemount, expect heart-warming hospitality and all the visitors' services needed to make it a memorable stay.
Blue River is a small community 94 km (56 mi) to the south of Valemount. Located in the North Thompson River Valley, the small community of 260 residents is bounded by the Monashee Mountains to the east and the Cariboo Mountains to the west. Mike Wiegele's Helicopter Skiing is the town's foremost attraction and draws visitors from all over the world. The five-star resort offers some of the world's best heli-skiing and heli-hiking. Throughout the community, there exists an ambiance of hometown values and tradition; visitors will feel welcomed and relaxed in this cozy community.
Clearwater, located 124 km (77 mi) north of Kamloops and 106 km (66 mi) south of Blue River, is the largest community in the North Thompson Valley. With many remote lakes in the area, visitors can test their angling skills in this small town. For a more thrilling experience, try white-water rafting down the Clearwater River - an adrenaline rush that lets you see beautiful scenery surrounding the river.
Heading south from Blue River will bring visitors to Little Fort - also known as the "Hub of the North Thompson" because it is situated where Highway 24 and the Yellowhead Highway 5 meet. With a population of 350, this quiet town relies primarily on traditional businesses such as farming, forestry, accommodations and fishing resorts. For a small town, there's a lot to do; the town offers great fishing and even game hunting. Travelers find Little Fort's remoteness comforting as it provides a perfect place to sit back, relax, and get away from the city noise.
Need a place to stay or camp while exploring the Wells Gray to Mount Robson area?
Explore the Communities of the Wells Gray to Mount Robson area
Discover the Thompson Okanagan Sub Regions
Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia