Flowers in the Thompson Okanagan, Photo Allen Jones
The region of Wells Gray to Mount Robson is one of the true gems of BC – amid the mountains, forests, rivers and lakes – home of Wells Gray Provincial Park.
This vast wilderness reserve of big lakes, deep river gorges, glacier-clad peaks, broad alpine meadows and old growth forests, at over 5,000 sq 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 143 m (470 ft) Helmcken Falls, which is the fourth highest waterfall in Canada, and 1.5 times the height of Niagara. The Park also provides excellent wildlife viewing: 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 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 canoeing while the Clearwater and North Thompson are known for world class whitewater rafting and kayaking. Hikers, mountain-bikers and horseback-riders will find endless miles of trails, and several well-kept courses provide challenging golf opportunities. Fishing continues all year for river and lake trout and for salmon during late fall. In winter, the area is a snowy wonderland where you can experience 80 km (50 mi) 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 splendour, visitors need only bring a pair of binoculars and patience.
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 received a prestigious Snoriders Choice Award 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 is bounded by the Monashee and Cariboo Mountains. Mike Wiegele’s Helicopter Skiing draws visitors from all over the world to experience the deep powder skiing. You can take a River Safari to see wildlife or paddle Murtle Lake.
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 and situated on the doorstep of Wells Gray Park and its abundant outdoor recreation. With many remote lakes in the area, visitors can test their angling skills or, for a more thrilling experience, try white-water rafting down the Clearwater River – an adrenaline rush that showcases beautiful scenery.
Heading south from Blue River will bring you to Little Fort, situated where Highway 24, also known as The Fishing Highway, and the Yellowhead Highway 5 meet. This small community and the surrounding area are home to ranchlands and farming, and fishing resorts. Horse-back riding, hiking and mountain-biking plus some of the best fishing can be found here.