Built in the 1930’s as a company town for the Cariboo Gold-Quartz Mine, the quaint and historic town of Wells was a small but prosperous town for a time, and still retains the flavour of the era in its unique heritage buildings.
Wells is named after Fred Wells, who prospected in the area for 10 years before discovering the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mine in 1932. His mine introduced a new era of gold mining in the Cariboo, since there had been very little lode mining prior to his discovery.
The town of Wells, which did not exist prior to 1932, had a population of 3,000 by 1940, increasing to 4,500. In its heyday, Wells was the largest town and cultural centre of the Cariboo and Northern BC.
The mine was closed in 1967, and today Wells is a cozy little town with a charm all of its own, as friendly now as it was in its heyday in the 1930s. At 1,200 metres elevation, the mountain air is clean, crisp and invigorating.
Known as a place of culture and natural splendour, this picturesque spot is both a world-class recreation area, and a retreat for artists, hosting an art school every summer. One thing that a village like Wells has, is an abundance of character, and it retains the ongoing gold-fever vitality that once invigorated nearby Barkerville.
Location: Wells is located on Highway 26 in the Interior of British Columbia, 51 miles (81 km) east of Quesnel and 5 miles (8 km) northwest of Barkerville. Access from Vancouver (741 km) is via Highway 97 to Quesnel.
Step back in time … Wells Museum will take you back to the glory days, when the mines ran three shifts and the stores were open 24 hours a day. The museum is housed in the 1930s Island Mountain Mine office, and of particular interest are the displays on local mining history.
Help with the farm chores, or sample fresh farm produce and baking, at the historic Cottonwood House, east of Quesnel on Highway 26. This original 1860s Cariboo Road House provides a great introduction to the Gold Rush era of the Cariboo.
Gold Panning: Pan for gold in the heart of the Cariboo! Travel the Gold Rush Trail West of Wells to participate in a real gold mining adventure on historic Fontaine Creek. Camp in the quiet and serene wilderness setting of the Cariboo Mountains, near the natural canyon cut into the bedrock by Fontaine creek. Gold panning equipment is provided.
The ashes of Fred Marshall Wells, developer of the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mine and founder of Wells, are buried inside the Wells’ Cairn on Pooley Street. Born in Whitefield, New Hampshire USA on 4 August 1861, Wells died in Vancouver on 1 September 1956.
Ghost Town: Explore the remains of the ghost town of Stanley and its historic cemetery dating back to the 19th century, located alongside Lightning Creek on Stanley Road, approximately 8 miles (13 km) west of Wells. The few remaining buildings at Stanley are from the 1930s, with the exception of the two-storey Lightning Hotel, which is believed to predate 1900. Stanley trail leads from the town 2 kilometres up Lightning Creek to the ghost town of Van Winkle, and on to Barkerville.
Within site of the community is the Williams Creek Nature Trail, which winds through a fascinating wetland – the home of a variety of birds.
When most people think of Barkerville, they think of the frantic Cariboo gold rush, not of beautiful parks. Barkerville Provincial Park is adjacent to the restored town of Barkerville, a very popular destination for tourists, and camping at the park’s vehicle/tent sites may be a good alternative to seeking private accommodation. If this campsite is full, you can try the nearby parks between Wells and Barkerville: Forest Grove, Lowhee and Government Hill.
The large, backcountry Bowron Lake Provincial Park offers a wide variety of recreational opportunities: camping, canoeing, boating, kayaking, hiking, swimming, fishing and winter recreation. Particularly notable is the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit, which offers miles of spectacular scenery and great opportunities for viewing wildlife while paddling the challenging circuit. The entire park is a wildlife sanctuary, including prime habitat for grizzly bears, so be on your best backcountry camping behaviour. The Bowron Lakes are also a major stopover on the bird migration route, so bring your binoculars.
Paddling: For adventurous canoe enthusiasts desiring a challenge, the Bowron Lakes Canoe Route certainly delivers. Its extended 116-km canoe and kayak route through a chain of lakes, rivers and creeks linked by portages is legendary, drawing visitors from around the globe to the mountain wilderness paradise of Bowron Lake Provincial Park. The seven- to ten-day trip requires serious planning, physical fitness and proper equipment and food, and extra caution must be taken because of bears. Experienced and licenced guiding companies are located in Wells, a close rest stop or departure point for Bowron Lakes Provincial Park, 32km to the east.
Outdoor Adventure: Summer or winter, there is an abundance of terrific recreational pursuits to be found in and around Wells. Hiking, cycling, canoeing, downhill and cross-country skiing and snowmobiling, all in beautiful surroundings and a friendly, relaxing atmosphere – truly what holiday memories are made of.
Hiking: The Wells/Barkerville area is home to several exhilarating trails, including a hike up the famous Yank’s Peak. Three hikes are suitable for an afternoon ramble. The trail to Mount Agnes goes from Barkerville to Richfield, following the route of the original Cariboo Wagon Trail to Summit Rock.
Outdoor enthusiasts with an historical bent can tackle one of Canada’s ultimate hikes, the Alexander Mackenzie Trail. Hike into history, retracing all or part of the steps of the famous explorer on the trail that extends 420 kilometres from the mouth of the West Road (Blackwater) River, north of Quesnel, through Tweedsmuir Park to Dean Channel west of Bella Coola.
Offroading: For the hardy souls with four-wheel-drive vehicles, a jaunt over the top of Yank’s Peak is well worth the time and trouble. Breathtaking scenery, old mines, wildlife and rolling alpine are encountered on the route to Likely. Yank’s Peak was named after Bill Luce, a well-known American miner. Enjoy the winter wonderland snowmobiling Yank’s Peak between November and May.
Cattle Ranch: Satisfy the cowboy in you by vacationing on a working Cariboo Cattle Ranch. Work as hard, or as little, as you wish, splitting wood, mending fences, feeding and caring for livestock, and participating in the seasonal cattle drive. Leave enough energy for fishing, horseriding and eating!
Troll Mountain Ski Resort, midway between Quesnel and Wells on Highway 26, offers excellent downhill skiing, with 14 runs from beginner to advanced. Five hundred vertical metres of skiing are provided, serviced by T-bars.
Cross-country Skiing: The pistes de resistance in Wells run through a beautiful, steep-sided valley where moose graze year-round in the open meadows and the tracks of ptarmigans and ravens, coyotes and rabbits, beaver and muskrat can all be seen as clearly as ski tracks in the snow. Most skiers can easily cover the 8-km route between Wells and Barkerville, or other trails that loop around Wells. More advanced cross-country skiers head from Barkerville Historic Park past the ghost town of Richfield and up Mount Agnes, where 23 km of trails lead through the heavily forested countryside around Groundhog Lake.
Winter: Six metres of annual snowfall produces superb conditions for winter recreation in the region. Other winter activities include renting a snowmobile, and going dogsledding or ice-fishing. The terrain around Wells provides great snowmobiling on the Yanks Peak Road, Proserpine Trail on Prospine Mountain, Groundhog Lake on Mount Agnes, and Dragon Mountain. Big Valley is a good beginners run northwest of Wells.
Snowmobiling: Snowmobilers looking for the most challenging hill climb in the province should plan to be in the Wells/Barkerville area around the third weekend in March. The Great Canadian Hill Climb attracts over 1,000 snowmobilers to its annual event, which is held on Mount Agnes at Groundhog Lake. Spectators can view the entire race from start to finish, and all access to the site is by snowmobile only.
Don’t miss the annual Wells Winter Carnival, which takes place in January, and includes the annual running of the Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Mail Run (55 miles/90 km).
Continue farther west on the famed Cariboo Wagon Road to the historic Gold Rush town of Barkerville, settled in the winter of 1862-1863. Regarded as one of the finest heritage attractions in Canada, Barkerville boasts over 120 restored or reconstructed buildings, and a general store full of 5-cent jawbreakers. Be entertained on the streets, as staff dress in the costumes of historical characters, or ride the stagecoach and meet Judge Begbie at the courthouse. Open during the summer only – June to September.
Circle Tour: See the best of BC when you embark upon one of the many circle tours that take in Vancouver Island, the Discovery Coast, the Sunshine Coast, the interior winelands or the remote Northern British Columbia. The coastal tours involve exciting rail, road and ferry trips, which is half the fun of travelling in British Columbia. Scenic highways flank the coast, taking you through charming beachside communities, rolling farmlands and majestic mountain ranges. Start your journey here and now, by selecting from one of the Circle Tours, designed to assist you in planning your journey by road through beautiful British Columbia.