Wells Gray Provincial Park road trip in Winter

In January of this year, Tanja and I went on a road trip to beautiful Wells Gray Provincial Park, home to a couple of Canada’s highest waterfalls. Our vacation consisted of snowshoe hikes in stunning Winter landscapes and cozy cabin life. Winter vacation at its best.

Traveling in Winter

As wedding photographers, we lead a very seasonal lifestyle. In our peak season, April through October, we live at ‘full speed’. On weekends we photograph weddings and engagement shoots around the clock, on weekdays we catch up on the back-end work (photo editing, emails and meetings). Once the weather turns grey and moody, things slow down and we get to take a vacation.

At first, traveling during the months of cold and rain seemed a serious challenge, especially in BC. Just take a look at our past trips. Through experience, we found our ways. Better backpacks, better shoes, better outfits (merino wool, seriously, get it) and winter tires for our car have widened our opportunities for travel in the off-season.

I also learned to appreciate the perks of traveling in the off-season. Less traffic on the road, cheaper accommodations and best of all: hardly any other visitors. The places that are consistently crowded with tourists in Summer, are completely deserted in Winter. Not to mention, the landscapes look entirely different, covered in snow and ice. Like this year, when we visited Wells Gray Provincial Park in the midst of Winter.

Wells Gray Provincial Park

Wells Gray Provincial Park had been at the top of Tanja’s wish list for a long time. Before going there, I hadn’t even heard of it (all I knew was that “there are a lot of waterfalls”). Like most of Tanja’s suggestions, the location was a gem in disguise. Hidden away in the interior of BC, the park is bordered by the Rocky Mountains to the East, and the Cariboo Mountains to the North. The park is accessed from the nearby village of Clearwater, BC.

Most of the Wells Gray Park can only be visited in the Summer months because of heavy snowfall. That said, plenty of locations remain available year-around. The park staff impressed me with their continuous plowing of important roads and parking lots.

Spahat Falls

For our first day in Wells Gray Park, we preferred to keep things easy. After a quick glance at the park map we decided to follow the main road to get a lay of the land, and stop at a few of the easiest hikes. The first stop on our route, was Spahat Falls.

The viewing platform for Spahat Falls was located withing a few hundred meters from the parking lot. It offered a view over the enormous crater and canyon that the Clearwater River has carved out of the lava rocks over time. All I could think of, was how enormous the falls must become during the Spring melt, as opposed to its then ‘modest’ size.

Majerus Farm

After our pit stop at Spahat Falls, we continued our drive through Wells Gray Park. At a certain point, we noticed a cleared space along the road that offered a beautiful view on Murtle River and Pyramid Mountain. It turned out to be the Majerus Farm parking lot for snowshoe hikers and cross country skiers. At the time we limited ourselves to a quick peek at the view.

We did come back to this location on our last day. The freshly groomed trails were a pleasure to use with snowshoes. We picked a 6 km hike that took us to Majerus’ Farm (a homestead that’s now in total decay) and then onwards in the forest.

Helmcken Falls

Our final stop for the day was the most famous highlight of Wells Gray Park: Helmcken Falls. I knew this not only because of the internet, but also because of the enormous parking lot. Just imagining the throngs of tourists that must visit the location in Summer, made me grateful to be there in Winter. The lookout deck and hiking trail were deserted.

Once I saw the Helmcken Falls, I did understand what the craze was about. They were stunning. The sheer size of the falls is humbling, and that was even before melting season had started.

Tanja had shown me a video of a brave ice climber who scaled the ice wall that surrounds the falls. The video seemed crazy enough, but seeing the actual scene was mind blowing. Climbing a wall of ice in freezing temperatures while getting soaked by the waterfall, no thanks. Kudos to the ones doing it, but I’ll happily pass.

The hiking trail along the canyon of Helmcken Falls is worth the hike too. It’s not too long, and gives you beautiful views of the surrounding mountain range and Clearwater River.

Dawson Falls

A few days into our trip, we felt ready for some serious snowshoe hiking. Friends had visited Wells Gray Park a few months earlier and tipped us about Dawson Falls in the Murtle River. There were view points for the falls on both North and South banks of Murtle River. We visited both of them, starting with the North side.

We parked our car along the road to Pyramid Campground. Months before, our friends had been able to drive all the way to the camping, and follow the trail along the banks of Murtle River. But for us, that was no longer an option. The road was only plowed for a few 100 meters. Mentally prepared for the additional distance, we trudged through the deep snow. Until halfway to the campground, we found a shortcut trail that led us straight to the river. It saved us a good chunk of time, and within no time, we looked out over the falls.

Before calling it a day, we did a quick pit stop at the South side of Dawson Falls, which offered a totally different view of the same waterfalls. The trail was considerably easier, but I did prefer the North viewpoint.

Moul Falls

The next ‘famous’ Wells Gray Park location on our list was Moul Falls (I still wonder if the ‘ou’ in Moul is pronounced like in yule, or like in mouth :)). Unlike the other waterfalls we visited, we could actually hike down from the top to the bottom of the falls.

After a long, but easy, hike through the forest, we arrived at the top of Moul Falls. The trail continued towards the descent, but signs warned us it’s slippery during Winter. Tanja and I felt brave, and decided to carefully venture forward and turn back if things would get too gnarly. They didn’t. Sure, it was slippery at times, but nothing our cleats couldn’t handle (Costco cleats for the win!). And the sight was totally worth the effort.

We celebrated our courageous attitude by taking a few self-portraits, assisted by the (way too heavy) tripod Tanja had lugged down for the occasion.

Cabin life

Besides gazing at a ton of waterfalls and hike through the snow, we had planned our vacation to contain a good portion of R&R. With that in mind, Tanja had found us a beautiful cozy, private, cabin on Airbnb. It was perfect.

Few things beat finishing a day of hiking and playing in the snow, with recovering in a toasty log cabin. Except for a sauna, and a camp fire with homemade deer smokies roasted on a stick :).

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