Helmcken Falls

Wells Gray Provincial Park / Thompson Nicola Regional District, British Columbia, Canada

Rating: 3.5     Difficulty: 1
Helmcken Falls
Helmcken Falls was probably the most famous of the waterfalls that we saw in the Wells Gray Provincial Park. It seemed like tour buses would routinely stop here and offload their busloads of people thereby crowding the viewing deck and picnic area. I guess the reason for its popularity was that it had a 141m cumulative drop over two distinct tiers. I had read somewhere that this was said to be the 4th tallest waterfall in Canada.

Since the waterfall was on the Murtle River, it would also flow year-round with a volume that we wouldn't often see in waterfalls this tall. Because it would have the same volume as Dawson Falls as they shared the same river, we could imagine that waterfall squeezed into a chute before ejecting itself over the long drop. Thus, we could appreciate its volume punctuated by its height.

During our visit in September 2010, we had to contend with bad weather. At least the heavy rains were sort of off-and-on at the time so we could linger at the viewing deck without getting drenched.

However, the thing that really tested our patience was the relentless fog that stubbornly stayed around the gorge between the viewing deck and the falls itself. In fact, the first time we saw it at mid-morning, it was totally foggy. We actually left to visit Dawson Falls before coming back. So after an hour or so later, the falls started showing itself albeit grudgingly (as evidenced by the photo you see at the top of this page).

The walk to the falls was practically negligible as it was perhaps less than five minutes from the official car park. Sometimes, tour buses would drop off their folks at a pullout that was even closer to the picnic area and viewing deck.

To my knowledge, there was no official way to get closer and to the bottom of Helmcken Falls. However, we did notice a signpost on the drive to the overlook indicating a Helmcken Rim Trail. Since we didn't do it, we can't really say where it would go and whether it would provide a different yet worthwhile viewing experience altogether.

Directions: From Clearwater, drive about 43km north on the Clearwater Valley Road towards the Helmcken Falls Road. The signposted turnoff is on the left side of the road after crossing the single-car bridge before Mus' Bowl. Once on the turnoff, follow the road just under 4km to its end where there's a large car park.

To give you an idea of where Clearwater is, it's about 320km west-southwest of Jasper. It took us roughly four hours (each way) to do this drive. We headed west on Hwy 16 into British Columbia (you do have to move the clock back by an hour since BC is on Pacific Standard Time and not on Mountain Time like Alberta), then head south on Hwy 5 which ultimately reaches Clearwater.

If you're not coming from Jasper but Lake Louise instead, it's a pretty arduous 568km drive between Clearwater and Lake Louise (if you're choosing to take Hwy 1 before deviating from it and heading north on the Hwy 5).

Indeed, it's a non-trivial drive, but in a way, this break from the touristy part of the Canadian Rockies kind of helped us avoid the difficulties of a snow storm that struck Banff and Jasper during our trip. We knew that it tended to be warmer in this part of BC since it was lower elevation, and we also knew Wells Gray Provincial Park was much quieter than Jasper and Banff so we ended up with a chilled out experience (despite the tour buses that would come here).

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Focused look at Helmcken Falls when the fog wasn't totally covering the falls
I wonder if those folks were happy with their viewing experienceI wonder if those folks were happy with their viewing experience.

Picnic area at Helmcken FallsPicnic area at the falls

After visiting Dawson Falls, we came back to Helmcken Falls and we were relieved to see the fog starting to clear somewhatAfter visiting Dawson Falls, we came back to Helmcken Falls and we were relieved to see the fog starting to clear somewhat

A couple capitalizing on the lifting fog to photograph Helmcken FallsA couple capitalizing on the lifting fog to photograph Helmcken Falls

Looking towards the deep gorge just to give you an idea of where the viewing deck wasLooking towards the deep gorge just to give you an idea of where the viewing deck was

Focused on the main plunge of Helmcken FallsFocused on the main plunge. Notice how it appeared that the fog was already starting to come back!

This was the state Helmcken Falls was in when we finally decided to leaveThis was the state the falls was in when we finally decided to leave

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Full right to left sweep starting at the gorge and ending at the fog-obscured waterfall

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For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.

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