Escape to perfect serenity in this unique British Columbia geological gem beloved by paddlers and hikers alike.
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It’s quiet now. You can hear a fly fisher’s line drop half a kilometre away in the brilliant blue water of Azure Lake in British Columbia’s Wells Gray Provincial Park. Plenty of fly fishers come here in season to try out their skills.
More than three million years ago, this place was a seething mess of angry volcanoes that spewed lava and poured basalt running as fast as 30 km/h (19 mph) over scorched terrain. Over the eons, the volcanoes spat out layer upon layer of rock. Then, 10,000 years ago, glaciers in the Ice Age carved deep, stony scars into these soft rivers of stone. As the glaciers receded, their meltwater gave birth to this vast forest of spruce, pine and old-growth cedar forests, as well as the gently-flowing rivers and lakes that follow the routes of the once-liquid stone.
Today, the park is best known for its quintessentially Canadian backcountry beauty and its range of landscape, from alpine meadows to deep, dark forests and rugged rock formations.
The Wells Gray-Clearwater volcanic field’s prehistoric “ring of fire” has become a paddler’s dream, a geologic gem that offers the perfect escape to complete serenity for explorers who still like a few creature comforts—such as pre-cleared campsites with cunningly concealed outhouses and lakeside picnic tables for al fresco dining. The volcanic field is in the park’s northern quadrant and is perhaps the most astounding of its geological features. Kanata Adventure Specialists runs three-day guided trips for small groups along the area’s signature waterways, Clearwater Lake and Azure Lake—both so skinny that, glancing at a map, you’d think they’re in fact wide rivers.
Wilderness adventurers can find here the soul-soothing isolation of unspoiled and faithfully preserved nature, including almost more than three dozen spectacular waterfalls. Elevated boardwalks offer views of the Helmcken, Spahats and Dawson Falls. You can still see others with Clearwater Lake Tours on a day trip that includes boat cruising a little hiking. You can also rent canoes and gear from the tour company to strike out on your own.
Travellers can also choose to start and end their journeys with a day or two in rustic luxury at the cowboy-style Wells Gray Guest Ranch near the town of Clearwater a few klicks (that’s Canadian for kilometres) south of the park or at Alpine Meadows Resort, a half-hour southeast of Clearwater, nestled into a sweet little valley with its own tiny lake. For those who prefer more civilization during their vacation escapes, there are vehicle-accessible campgrounds as well as walk-in campsites.
Peaceful though it is in this geological era, there have been a few eruptions in this BC region, some as recently as four or five hundred years ago. The long-dormant volcanoes still possess cores of liquid magma that will need venting someday, but hopefully not any time soon.
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