I believe trees resemble J.R.R Tolkien’s Ents; soulful, sentient beings which he immortalized in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. So, when I found myself surrounded by old-growth, West Coast redcedars in Wells Gray Provincial Park, I felt embraced by their ancient wisdom.
What had they seen in their several-hundred-year-old lives? What stories could they tell me?
Perhaps they’d whisper about the large woodland caribou herds which once roamed Clearwater Lake. Today’s Caribou Beach recalls those now very rare creatures’ memory—apparently, there are only 30 left from vast herds once roaming here.
Possibly they’d spin tales of First Nations fishing groups or their summer camping grounds.
I bet those who explore British Columbia’s backcountry share similar thoughts. However, here at Wells Gray Provincial Park, 135 kilometres north of Kamloops, I was astonished to discover the existence of a temperate rainforest in British Columbia’s interior. After all, most of us associate these with coastal conditions. In fact, our Clearwater Lake Tours guide Ray Jones said the grove is part of the largest inland temperate rainforest in the world.
These ancient cedars were simply one of the fascinations Wells Gray held. Although I’ve hiked, paddled and ridden horses throughout BC, I’d never ventured here, so discovering this park that’s famous for waterfalls during winter was a treat.
Although a “snow-cat taxi” can whisk adventurers along a groomed trail, why not choose to cross-country ski or snowshoe the 22 kilometres into the cabins at Clearwater Lake Lodge? That way, serenity reigns. But regardless of which conveyance you choose, with snow transforming spruce to gnome-like shapes, Tolkien’s Middle Earth atmosphere was complete.
Ever-watchful for moose, our group of five saw tons of tracks which appeared tantalizingly fresh—even to Ray and his father, Gord Jones. In two places, we agreed it looked as if a resting creature had just sprung up, hearing our approach…
No wonder. The snow—thigh-deep on me—would be laborious to wade through compared to the trail, even for long-legged moose. Although the creatures proved elusive, the sweeping vistas of the open water of the Clearwater River were spectacular. At intervals, the road gave way to a high embankment, then a broad sweep of rocky beach, then the open water. Glorious wilderness; splendid solitude.
Arriving at the lodge, I was intrigued at the open water greeting us. The southern reach of frozen and snow-clad Clearwater Lake narrows, tumbles over Osprey Falls, then descends to Kamloops via the Clearwater River. Perfect spot for a simple cedar lodge and a few cabins, I’d say.
Eager to explore, my husband Eric and I dumped our gear at our cabin—a plain but comfy room with an outhouse adjacent—grabbed a bite of Ray’s delicious lunch, then scooted out on our snowshoes again. Destination, Osprey Falls and beyond.
With no one else having been along the trail which passes through Clearwater Lake Campground, the magical feeling persisted. Metre-and-a-half blankets of snow transformed park picnic benches, outhouse roofs and other structures into fantastical structures. And always, the chatter of the river accompanied us, echoed by red squirrels’ warning calls.
Taking binoculars is crucial if, like me, you’re a birdwatcher and I was rewarded. Among the trees, raspberry-coloured white-winged crossbills flitted about: they’re a finch species with a peculiar bill which literally crosses over itself—all the better to extract then crack seeds from evergreen trees’ cones.
After photographing the falls, we ’shoed back to the lodge, only to find the rest of our party out in canoes. What a treat to paddle open water in February! Even more so with Ray, who was eager to show me another bird, the American dipper—Canada’s only aquatic songbird—which also overwinters here. It darted about along the shore but what’s really cool about this critter is that it catches its food underwater and walks along the bottom of streams.
Our keen appetites for exploration proved well matched to our food cravings and Ray is an awesome chef. Generous helpings of steak and potatoes, fabulous desserts pre-prepared by Doris Jones, astonishing breakfasts and hearty lunches emerged seemingly effortlessly. (No one minded doing the dishes and cleanup.)
But back to exploring. We set off on our second day to snowshoe Clearwater Lake. At first the going was squishy: water lurked just beneath the snow surface and slush stuck to our snowshoes. We persevered nonetheless, at first sticking close to the craggy rocks and cliffs describing the shoreline.
Then, as conditions improved, we ventured across the lake. “The Woodland caribou were common here, there used to be lots,” said Ray. “Then there was a forest fire and when the regrowth started, in came the moose, then wolves. The habitat change, plus introduction of predators spelled the end of the large herds. I’ve only seen three, in all my time here.”
A mine of information, we learned about the Secwepemc (Shuswap) Nation, too. “They were semi-nomadic, surviving by following nature’s rhythms such as the migration of caribou in the mountains, and the migration of salmon in the river,” Ray explained.
He also noted that during winter, First Nations lived in keekwilli—round pit (semi-underground) houses with earth-covered rooves. As I snowshoed, I wondered where these settlements were, where each dwelling might house 12 to 15 family members.
Ray made us all want to return to explore. Because of my keen interest in First Nations culture, I was particularly interested when he mentioned pictographs exist on the other side of Clearwater River, near the Mahood River.
Obviously, there is tons to explore here in Wells Gray. For us, this was a two-night exploration—and we long to return to this southeasternmost reach of the Cariboo Mountain range. Explore on snowshoes in winter as we did—or, plan to paddle and horseback ride come autumn.
Sun Peaks Resort
Forty-five minutes north of Kamloops, en route to Wells Gray, find Sun Peaks, Canada’s second-largest ski area—home to downhill and Nordic skiing, plus dogsledding, snowshoeing, ice fishing, fat-biking and more.
Rob Lemire and Aidan Murray of ACT Adventures picked us up at Hotel 540 in Kamloops and guided us on a moonlit snowshoe along the base of Mount Lolo, 30 kilometres northeast of the city. What a fabulous way to lose jet lag! Mother Nature gave us a glorious view of constellations such as Orion and the Great Bear, plus the pathway of the Milky Way coursing through the night sky.
On a sunny February day, we strolled through Riverside Park on the city’s Rivers Trail, which takes walkers, snowshoers, cross-country skiers, birdwatchers, bicyclists or joggers alongside the confluence of the North and South Thompson rivers.
If You Go
- Fly to Kamloops Airport (YKA), then drive north 135 kilometres to Wells Gray Provincial Park. Coordinate with Clearwater Lakes Tours to arrange access to their cabins.
- Where to Stay In Kamloops
- Kamloops: Hotel 540.
- Sun Peaks: Coast Sundance Lodge.