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Travel Story

Nature’s spectacular wonders at Helmcken Falls Lodge

Photos by Brent Cassie

After funnelling through a narrow gorge, the raging froth plummets one 140 metres (450 feet), from its steep precipice to a white water pool. The impressive impact creates a muffled roar that echoes in our ears, and from the promontory lookout, we are kissed by its feather-light mist.

While forging onward, the Murtle River snakes turbulently along the volcanic canyon floor far below, and we silently watch this spectacular wonder, mesmerized by its magnificence.

Ranked fourth tallest waterfall in the Canada, Helmcken Falls measures three times higher than Niagara, and is the crowning jewel of Wells Gray Provincial Park.

From remote sites like this, to soft adventures like canoeing, flightseeing, whitewater rafting, and horseback riding, the activity choices are abundant at nearby Helmcken Falls Lodge.

"We purposely keep the tour groups small so that our guests can enjoy nature at its best," informs our gracious host, Joyce Harrington. Since taking ownership in 1990, Joyce, and her knowledgeable staff, have created special year-round wilderness experiences for people to enjoy. And when the snow flies, in addition to hosting conferences and innovative theme weekends, the lodge’s surrounding terrain lends itself to excellent cross-country skiing, dogsledding and snowshoeing.

Steeped with as much history as the falls have height, we feel as if stepping over the threshold at Helmcken Falls Lodge transports us back in time.

When a devastating 1926 fire razed the surrounding homesteads and old growth forests, the McDougall cabin on the property was fortunately spared. It became home-base for brothers John and Henry Hogue for their trapping expeditions. Then, 22 years later, they constructed Helmcken Falls Lodge out of the stands of charred cedar. Because electricity was unavailable until the late 1960s, the logs were hand-hewn and the two-storey structure was built entirely with hand tools. It was designed with the intent of wooing a couple of wives, and although history reveals that only one brother was successful on that front, the intriguing tale lives on today. So does the lodge’s rustic charm.

Accommodations include 21 rooms (from the McDougall cabin to modern log chalets) and 17 RV sites, and although no accommodations are housed in the lodge itself, its quaint upper floor became our favourite haunt three times each day. Devoted entirely for dining, we enjoy panoramic vistas and exceptional cuisine such as succulent salmon doused in a delicate herbal sauce, and traditional rib eye steak. And while some guests head off after breakfast with a full picnic fare, others, like us, feast on lunchtime menu favourites served on the wrap-around deck, while the whir of hummingbird wings flit all around. The views are spectacular.

The fairways of neighbouring Wells Gray Golf Course give way to a blanket of evergreens that cloak the hillsides. The snow dappled peaks of Trophy Mountain revel in glory and flower-clad meadows host summertime hikers and horses. It’s hard to believe that the bustling city of Kamloops is just a two-hour drive away.

"I came to help out for the summer 11 years ago," Karin, our wrangler, shares with us later while guiding riders on a trail ride, "And I’m still here!"

We can see why. She obviously loves the lifestyle as do her fellow wranglers, Glen and Jay, who share a deep admiration for the appropriately named horses specifically chosen for us. Brent, as always, is in the lead, partly to capture the photo moments, but more so because his riding expertise warrants the coupling with Catch Me. Snoozing at the back of the pack, and perfectly suited to my trembling thighs, is stable and steady Dorky.

As well as a great ride, Karin provides us with a natural history lesson. She knows the origin of every plant, tree, berry and animal scat that crosses our path. And there are lots!

Mike, the lodge’s resident naturalist later adds to our education. The park is home to about 40 grizzlies and 400 black bear, three of which make an appearance during our visit. We also see mule deer, marmots, coyotes and although we aren’t privy to any moose, evidence along the trails certainly indicates their presence.

Later, paddling through a tunnel of towering reeds that look like they’re right out of Africa, we emerge onto the still waters of Shadow Lake. Tadpoles and dragonflies skit across the surface which mirrors images of the surrounding serenity until a ripple shatters its glassy surface. A furry head of a beaver emerges from beneath and suddenly, it slaps its large, flat tail against the water. It’s another spectacular wonder that we witness during our two-day stay and once again we watch, mesmerized by the area’s magnificence.

How To Get There

• From Kamloops travel north on Highway 5 to Clearwater

• Turn left on Clearwater Valley Road at the Petro Can gas station

• Drive 36 km – just 2 km before the park entrance

Helmcken Falls Lodge

Box 239, Clearwater BC V0E 1N0

Phone: 250-674-3657

Fax: 250-674-2971


Web Site:

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