Summer has arrived in the Interior of BC and there’s no time like the present to dust off your kayak, canoe, or paddleboard and get busy planning your next water adventure. Clearwater and Wells Gray Park are home to countless waterways guaranteed to satisfy your white-water or flat-water desires. Whatever your level of adventure-seeking, there is something for you out on our waters.
Main photo: Kayaking in Wells Gray Park – photo by Holly Louwerse
Flatwater – Canoeing, Kayaking, and SUPs
Whether you’re looking for a casual float to soak in some of the afternoon sun or venturing into the backcountry for a multi-day trip, Clearwater and Wells Gray Park offer stunning landscapes, and unforgettable memories. For those looking for a casual afternoon on the water, head over to Dutch Lake, rent a canoe, and cast off for a gentle paddle through the water lilies.
“Go find the painted turtles by paddleboard or canoe. It’s a connection to nature that is truly unique.”– Maveric Northcott, Wells Gray Outfitters
If you have a few more hours, or are looking for a multi-day excursion, journey along the Clearwater Valley corridor to Clearwater and Azure Lakes. Just over an hour north of town you’ll find Clearwater Lake Tours, where you can rent canoes and kayaks for a single-day trip. If you’re looking to overnight, make sure to stop in at Wells Gray Outfitters prior to heading into the park, where you can rent inflatable stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) for multi-day adventures. If you plan to come up in the shoulder seasons, check in with the local Visitor’s Centre ahead of time on road conditions in Wells Gray Park.
Once at Clearwater Lake, a beginner paddler can venture to Caribou – the first beach from the parking lot and about a 30-minute paddle – to enjoy the sandy beach and a stunning view of Garnet Peak. If an overnight trip is your goal, head a little further to Diver’s Bluff – about a 6km paddle to this second site. If you have more pep in your step after your paddle, find a trail called “Eagle View” for an evening hike (3km round trip). This is a more advanced hike but offers a view of Clearwater Lake that is unparalleled. As Maveric points out, “You can really appreciate the scale of the lake from up there.”
If you are an advanced paddler looking for a backcountry experience, consider heading over to Murtle Lake, the largest paddle-only lake in North America, accessible from the town of Blue River, North of Clearwater. With almost 70 campsites available, you’re certain to find a spot to soak in the wilderness for the weekend. Just be sure to stick to the right terrain for your level of experience, and you’re guaranteed to leave with memories to last a lifetime.
“Murtle Lake and the Clearwater Azure route is some of the best paddling in all of Canada. The views, the mountain backdrop of Garnet Peak over Clearwater Lake, you see so much: the waterfalls are different, the scale is different, the terrain is different.”– Maveric Northcott, Wells Gray Outfitters
Whitewater – Rafting and Kayaking
If adrenaline-seeking is your kind of vacation activity, then white-water rafting or kayaking might be more up your alley. For beginners, aim for later in the summer from July to September when the waters are calmer. Kenneth McKay of IWE impresses, “As the lakes in the park drain the Clearwater River eases and opens up multiple sections for all skill levels. making it one of the best rivers in the world to learn the basics of kayaking (and rafting).”
Looking for more of a challenge? Aim for late-June to mid-July for intermediate and expert-level rapids.
“The most common put-in is the metal boat ramp below the class 5/6 rapid “The Kettle”. **Be sure to put in below the Kettle** and not above at the wood ramp. This section will offer a pushy class III/IV section with lots of glassy-green surf waves, boils, and whirlpools.”– Kenneth McKay, IWE
For more information on water levels, sections, and put-in’s/take-outs, contacting one of the 3 rafting companies in town is the best option: Interior Whitewater Rafting, Liquid Lifestyles, and Riverside Adventures.
Another resource is the Whitewater.guide APP available for mobile devices:
Kenneth impresses that for those that lack experience and knowledge of the river it is best to wait until later in the summer and make sure you go with someone who is familiar with each section on the river. June is quite dangerous is any skill level, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the river.
Clearwater Kayak Festival
Exploring water sports in Clearwater and Wells Gray Park wouldn’t be complete without a mention of The Clearwater Kayak Festival. Now in its 16th year, it is the longest-running white-water event in Western Canada. The organizer, Mat Kasunich, describes in vivid detail, what you can look forward to when getting your kayak out on the Clearwater River.
“The Clearwater is famous for its amazing white-water and spectacular scenery. To truly appreciate the river in all its glory a river trip is needed to soak it all in. The water is warmer than many rivers found in BC because it is fed from 6 stunning lakes: Mahood, Canim, Murtle, Azure, Clearwater, and Hobson.
“The Clearwater River has it all. Big features through solid lava bedrock, warm water, and fun surf waves everywhere. Put in right below the epic Kettle rapid to begin your trip. This is also the start of the Clearwater Kayak Fest’s Adrian Kiernan Boatercross. Watch from the lookout to see 60-70 kayakers race at once through 1+ kms of class 3-4 rapids in the lower canyon.
“Beginner paddlers can put in where the race ends at Hole in the Wall eddy to miss the most difficult section of the canyon. This can be accessed from 6.7km up the river road where an easygoing trail leads you down to a gorgeous pool. From this eddy the rest of the river is a fun class 2/3 ride. This is the start for the Festivals Downriver SUP and beginner kayak race. Around every corner you will find surf waves to play on and pristine scenery. Once you see a 90m cliff of beautiful pink rock you know that you can pull over on the left and walk to Candle Creek Falls. A chance to jump into the pool and swim under a waterfall is a unique experience that should not be missed!
“Just downstream is the biggest and most popular surf wave on the river named Pink Mountain for its stunning pink cliffs. An amazing wave forms at different levels here on the left and this is the where the festival holds the freestyle competition. Kayakers can surf the wave and perform different tricks depending on the levels. As you float down the river there are a few fun rapids and then you come to a 10m cliff jump at lower levels called Bubbly Rock. This marks the beginning of the end as you float into the town of Clearwater. When you see the bridge you can hop out on the right side and reflect on your amazing ride. There is no doubt why this is one of the best rivers to kayak in British Columbia. If you don’t paddle you can join in on a rafting trip with one of the local companies to experience the Mighty Clearwater River with an experienced guide.”
Mat recently shared the story of this legacy event, as well as what you can expect when you come participate in this weekend-long celebration of white-water kayaking, with Paddling Magazine. See their conversation here.
This year’s event runs from Aug 4th – 6th in Clearwater. For more info and to register, visit their Facebook page.
Tourism Wells Gray thanks the following contributors for their insight and expertise into the making of this article.