Uncrowded, unpolluted, unspoiled. That’s Clearwater, the Gateway to Wells Gray Provincial Park, located north of Kamloops on the Yellowhead Highway. As its name suggests, Clearwater is a place of pure, clear water, but that only hints at the untouched beauty that makes up the area around Clearwater.
The Thompson Valley was inhabited by First Nations people when the first explorers ventured south through the mountains in the 1860s in their search for gold in the Fraser Valley and Cariboo. The major First Nations band in the valley was the Okelhs, which together with the Canim band were defeated in 1870 by the fierce Chilcotins. Place names such as Fight Lake, Fight Creek and Battle Mountain all date back to that time.
The Valley was settled shortly after the turn of the century. Clearwater was originally called Raft River by prospector John Smith, the apparent real founder of the settlement.
By 1916 the Canadian Pacific Railway was constructed through the valley, to become the main mode of transportation, replacing the steamboats that had previously travelled as far north as Vavenby, 30 kilometres east of Clearwater.
Today, Clearwater is a vacation paradise, with the majestic mountains of the world famous Wells Gray Provincial Park serving as a picturesque backdrop. The remote wilderness, the virgin forest, and the rivers, lakes and streams all combine to make Clearwater all that it claims to be.
Clearwater has three centres; the old village beside the Thompson River, the new townsite on the far side of the Clearwater Bridge, and beside the highway are a few hotels, restaurants, gas stations, services and the Visitor Centre.
Location: Clearwater is located on the Yellowhead Highway 5, at the southern end of Wells Grey Provincial Park, 75 miles (120 km) north of Kamloops. To the south of Clearwater are the communities of Little Fort and Barriere.
Area History: The Clearwater Visitor Centre displays exhibits on local and area history, the Overlanders, and Simpcw Native history and culture.
The Clearwater Trout Hatchery offers free tours by appointment. The hatchery raised trout through the winter for release in the spring, so winter is a good time to visit the hatchery. The hatchery is located in Clearwater at 40 East Old North Thompson Highway.
Wells Gray Provincial Park is one of British Columbia’s largest (515,785 hectares) and most spectacular parks. Its area encompasses the greater part of the Clearwater River watershed. There are five major lakes here, as well as two large river systems, numerous small lakes, streams, and waterways, and a multitude of waterfalls, rapids, and cataracts. Although boating and paddling are major attractions for campers, the area has something for everyone. In winter, there are just as many opportunities for recreation as in summer, with the advantage of no bugs! This park is as ideal as any you will find in the province, with a climate and terrain varied enough to suit the most demanding backpacker or mountaineer.
Waterfalls: Considered by many to be among the most impressive falls in Canada, the 137-metre high Helmcken Falls on the Murtle River are the centrepiece of Wells Gray Provincial Park. Dawson Falls an hour’s drive north of Clearwater in Wells Gray Provincial Park are one of the few major waterfalls that can be experienced from within, or behind! Under certain water conditions it is possible to walk behind the thundering wall of the cascading Murtle River.
North Thompson River Provincial Park: On the banks of the North Thompson River is the North Thompson River Provincial Park, which includes a quiet campground with vehicle/tent sites. A riverside picnic area, a playground, and trails complement the campsites in a forested area near the confluence of the Clearwater and North Thompson Rivers. Canoeing and kayaking are superb, as is the hiking. Smooth depressions in the ground are evidence of former Native Canadian habitation in the park; check out the two archeological sites as well.
Visit Spahats Creek Provincial Park as much for the scenery as for a good night’s rest. This small park has a viewpoint from which you can see the 400-foot-deep (122-m) canyon carved by the creek as it cuts through the layers of lava that form the walls of the canyon. Nearby is a waterfall that spills from Spahats Creek into the Clearwater River. The park is popular with visitors on their way to Wells Gray Provincial Park, and in fall is bedecked with glorious colour. From Clearwater, take Hwy 5 north about 11 km, and turn west on the paved road towards Wells Gray Provincial Park.
Golf: There are two golf courses in Clearwater: Wells Gray Golf Resort on Clearwater Valley Road offers a challenging 9-hole golf course, the ideal location for golf tournaments and family reunions in an incredible wilderness setting. Lacarya Golf Course in Blackpool, just South of Clearwater, is a 9-hole, Par-70 course surrounded by mountain peaks and wilderness; a pleasure for beginners and a challenge to advanced players. Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
Winter Activities: Clearwater, in its snowy mantle, is the ultimate winter playground. Cross-country ski on freshly groomed trails, or snowmobile the high mountain peaks and see spectacular panoramic views of endless snow-covered mountain ranges. Go telemark skiing down untracked mountain slopes, ice skate, go curling, or ice fish for wild rainbow trout. Clearwater has it all. In winter, the world-famous Helmcken Falls in Wells Gray Provincial Park forms a magnificent ice cone, a view of which is a reward for backcountry skiers willing to make a short trek. Another marvel here is the frozen crescent of Dawson Falls. Groomed and track-set trails lead cross-country skiers through the park past the Majerus homestead, King Meadow, and the always welcome sight of a warming hut. More challenging routes include the Corkscrew and the Roller Coaster. Hut-to-hut backcountry skiing provides an extended multiday winter adventure.
Whitewater Rafting: One of the most exhilarating outdoor activities has got to be whitewater rafting, and you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to indulge in it while you’re in this chock-full-of-rivers region. For easygoing paddling, the North Thompson River is perfect, using North Thompson River Provincial Park as your base. The current gently pulls paddlers downstream all the way to Kamloops, although you’ll need several days to cover the entire distance. River Rafters can ride the swift currents through the canyons of the Clearwater River, and savour the highlight of the trip, a run through the Grade 5 Saber Tooth rapid.
Skiing: Downhill Skiing is available on the five runs at the Clearwater Ski Hill, which offers a T-bar, and night skiing. More recreation in the Thompson Okanagan area.
It’s best to visit Trophy Mountain’s self-guided trail, To the Treeline and Beyond(easy 2 km return) between the end of June and mid-August to see the wildflowers that carpet the subalpine meadows here. A lengthier hiking trail leads from the meadows to views of the Shuswap Highlands from Skyline Ridge (moderate; 12 km return). Sudden changes in the weather occur even in summer, however, so wear layered clothing and bring waterproof gear (and sunscreen, just in case). This trail is documented in a charming brochure. Pick up a copy from the BC Parks office in Clearwater before heading out. The trailhead in Trophy Mountain Recreation Area begins just east of Spahats Creek Provincial Park off Clearwater Valley Road.
Farm Guide: Travellers looking for a down-to-earth experience can find a list of resources and activities featured in the Kamloops Farm Fresh Guide. The guide showcases the diversity of life in the Thompson Nicola region, which ranges from wine tasting to guided family horseback rides on a working cattle ranch. Visitors can use the guide (available from Tourism Kamloops) to locate area farmer’s markets and fall fairs, discover fresh-picked fruit and vegetables, farm-raised meat and eggs, and value-added products like honey and jellies.
North of Clearwater on Yellowhead Highway 5 is Blue River, a winter sports paradise lying in one of the world’s most productive snow belts for high-quality, reliable powder snow.
South of Clearwater is the small community of Little Fort, located at the junction of Fishing Highway 24 and the Yellowhead Highway, and known as the Hub of the North Thompson.
Circle Tours: See the best of the area on Okanagan and Kootenay Rockies Circle Tour. Travel the sunny interior of British Columbia, north through the Okanagan to Sicamous, following Highway 1 into the mountains of the BC Rockies. From Golden, head south through the Columbia Valley to Creston, and west through the Southern Okanagan, starting and ending your sun-drenched voyage in Osoyoos, the place where two lakes come together. Circle Tours in British Columbia.