Wells Gray Park
Wells Gray Park: An Overview
LOCATION AND SIZE
Wells Gray Park is located in east-central British Columbia, 410 air km northeast of Vancouver and 137 air km due north of Kamloops. It is British Columbia’s fourth largest provincial park (after Tweedsmuir, Tatshenshini, and Spatsizi) and contains 540,567 hectares or just over 1.3 million acres of virtual wilderness.
The boundaries of Wells Gray Park encompass 60 percent of the drainage basin of the Clearwater River. The northern two-thirds of the Park is extremely rugged with relief ranging from Clearwater Lake at an elevation of 680 m to 2,946 m at Mount Lyons on the north boundary.
These summits are part of the Cariboo Mountains. Individual mountain groups dominate the topography of the northern Park and are separated by deep, glacier-carved valleys. Several large lakes such as Clearwater, Azure, and Hobson are here. The ruggedness of its features has ensured that northern Wells Gray remains little known except to the hardiest of backpackers and mountaineers.
The southern third of Wells Gray Park is accessed by the Clearwater Valley Road, although large areas are accessible only by trails. The dominant topography features volcanic plateaus, lava flows, and deep canyons which are crowned by several high mountains such as Trophy and Battle. Wells Gray Park is nicknamed “Canada’s Waterfalls Park” because there are 41 named waterfalls, the most famous being Helmcken Falls, Canada’s 4th highest at 141 metres.
The Clearwater River was named by the Overlanders expedition of 1862 who rafted past its meeting with the North Thompson and noted its remarkable clarity. During the 1870s, surveyors for the Canadian Pacific Railway visited the area in search of the elusive rail route through the mountains to the Pacific Ocean.
After the C.P.R. chose the Kicking Horse route in 1881, the Clearwater Valley received few visitors until after the turn of the century when settlers such as John Ray, Michael Majerus, Lewis Rupell, and the Ludtke family began carving homesteads from the wilderness. Land surveys were conducted by Robert Lee between 1911 and 1914, highlighted by his discovery of Helmcken Falls in 1913.
Over the next two decades, there were several appeals for a park to protect the falls and one proposal to develop it for hydro-power. Wells Gray Park was created in 1939 and named for the provincial Minister of Lands, Hon. Arthur Wellesley Gray.
Winters in the Clearwater Valley can be severe, with an average of a metre of accumulated snow at lower elevations and more higher up. Snow may linger along the low elevation roads until mid-April and never completely disappears from the north sides of the mountains.
Average annual precipitation at Clearwater is 43 cm and this increases as you travel north into the Park and closer to the mountains. Clearwater Lake receives over 60 cm and Azure Lake about 80 cm. Summer temperatures in the Clearwater Valley are often in the mid-20s Celsius, but may reach 30 degrees, and vary considerably according to altitude. September through mid-October usually features clear warm days, cool nights, and colourful fall foliage.
Wells Gray Park is bordered on every side by different types of terrain and these merge within the boundaries to give the Park its splendid diversity. Wells Gray contains about 1,050 species of trees, shrubs, and flowers; 350 species of mosses and liverworts, over 200 species of mushrooms, 56 species of mammals, and 219 species of birds.
A variety of factors enrich the Park and these include the 1926 forest fire, the proximity of the Fraser Plateau westward, the Cariboo Mountains northeastward, the interior wet belt eastward, and the semi-desert zone to the south. Within the Park, micro-climates, altitude, soil type, and availability of water all have their effects and contribute to the existence of this amazing variety of plant and animal life.