The Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Park is 34,947 hectares of virtually undisturbed wilderness that will help maintain the viability and diversity of one of the largest intact ecosystems in southeastern British Columbia.
Purcell Wilderness Provincial Conservancy is in a class of its own. Early in this century, Earl Grey, then Governor-General of Canada, crossed the Purcell Mountains from Invermere in the Columbia Valley to Argenta on Kootenay Lake. His route followed a trail up Toby Creek and down Hamill Creek over a 7,401-foot (2257 m) pass. This route, later named the Earl Grey Pass Trail, had already been well defined by the Shuswap Indians. Despite Grey’s urging to set aside this magnificently scenic area as a park, not much was done until the 1970s, when the area was designated as a ‘roadless tract’ in which the natural environment would remain undisturbed by any development. Consequently, there’s no road access, and all forms of mechanized access are prohibited, including helicopters.
Over 85 miles (137 km) of hiking trails, challenging mountaineering, horse riding, and winter recreation await backpackers in the five biogeoclimactic zones spread throughout this central portion of the Purcell Mountains.
In contrast to the forest-mantled Selkirk Mountains to the west, much of the Purcell Range rode out the last ice age above the glaciers. Thus, fossils are frequently found at elevations above 2,100m. The high, rugged mountains are undisturbed by roads in British Columbia’s only park classed as a ‘wilderness conservancy,’ where all forms of mechanized access (including helicopters) are prohibited. Hikers are rewarded with undisturbed views of some of the finest wildlife habitat in the southeastern region of the province. (Providing complete wilderness experience is the primary objective of the conservancy.)
Five biogeoclimatic zones are found here: interior cedar/hemlock, interior Douglas fir, montane spruce, Engelmann spruce/subalpine fir and alpine tundra. There are grassy meadows at low elevations, which are crucial for moose and a large number of elk. Abundant wildflower and alpine meadows astound backcountry trekkers. Wildlife includes mule and white-tailed deer, moose, elk, black and grizzly bears, mountain caribou and mountain goats. More than 68 species of birds have been recorded. Some streams contain native stock of cutthroat and rainbow trout, Dolly Varden and mountain whitefish.
Wilderness, backcountry or walk-in camping is allowed year round when accessible but no facilities are provided. Persons visiting the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Provincial Park, are reminded that the park is a wilderness area, without supplies, public shelters, improved trails, bridges or equipment of any kind. All arrangements for supplies, rescue and transportation must be made beforehand. Acquiring a backroad mapbook for the area is recommended.
For those in good shape and desiring an extreme backpacking adventure, the Purcell Wilderness Provincial Conservancy can be explored along a 60km stretch of trail that begins just south of the Kootenay Lake town of Argenta. From the Earl Grey Pass trailhead, the hiking or horseback route passes through some of the Purcell Mountains’ most awesome peaks, some of which reach heights of more than 3,600m, on its way to Toby Creek, just west of Invermere. Conditions vary on this rigorous wilderness trail, and it should not be attempted except by experienced and well-equipped hikers. Extreme care must be taken whenever a creek is crossed, whether by bridge, by cable-car, or by fording. An average hiking-time for the trail is five days, but all suggested times are approximate, depending upon weather and individual hikers.
The park is located 20km west and south of Invermere. Access is by good gravel roads along Toby Creek, to Whitetail Lake in Dutch Creek, and within 5km of the park boundary of the area in Findlay Creek.
Nearby Regions & Towns
- Canal Flats
- Fairmont Hot Springs
- Kootenay Lake
- Selkirk Valley