Travels in Central B.C. Part 1 – The Interior Temperate Rainforest

Helmcken Falls is the best known of the major waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park. The landscape was formed by volcanic rock, which was much later eroded by glaciation in the ice age. If the light and your angle are right, you can see a rainbow in the mist of the falls. It is the fourth highest waterfall in Canada and the drop is 141m from top to the canyon bottom. (Richard McGuire Photo)

When you mention temperate rainforests in B.C., most people think of the Pacific coast and forests such as the Great Bear Rainforest, which reach from the B.C. – Alaska border down to Prince Rupert and beyond.

But B.C. is also home to the Interior Temperate Rainforest, the only such rainforest in the world. It occupies the eastern portion of the province where mountain ranges like the Columbia and the Cariboo press up against the western slopes of the Rockies. The higher elevations cause moist air to precipitate and fall as rain, encouraging lush forests, lakes and tumbling waterfalls.

Much of the area has been stripped bare over the years with clear-cutting, but a few areas still contain giant cedar trees up to 15 feet in diameter, hundreds or even thousands of years old.

In late June, I took a trip with my little travel trailer to Wells Gray Provincial Park, Mount Robson, the headwaters of the Fraser River, the Rocky Mountain Trench and down through the gold mining routes of the Cariboo. Featured here are photos from the first part of my trip through Wells Gray and other parts of the Interior Temperate Rainforest.

This was my first visit to Wells Gray Provincial Park. When I read about it, I was struck by the fact that the major attractions are virtually all waterfalls. Best known is Helmcken Falls, on the Murtle River, tumbling 141 metres from an opening in the lava rock into a deep bowl formed by glaciation and worn down by millennia of tumbling water. It’s Canada’s fourth highest waterfall when you measure the distance of free-falling water.

But some of the other falls — Dawson, Spahats, Moul — can be just as dramatic and, in the case of Moul, involve interesting hikes to reach. In June, the rivers were still engorged, and the waterfalls treacherous, but spectacular.

Something of Wells Gray’s more recent past is visible at the remains of the old Ray Farm homestead where John and Alice Ray and children farmed from 1932 to 1946 at a time when there were no highways and only vast wilderness.

I had planned to spend a couple of days in the area of Mount Robson, the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies. But, as can be expected in this rainy region, it was cold, raining and completely socked in by clouds. I’ve been to Robson several time over the decades and you rarely see the top, but this was the wettest I’d seen it. So after one night camping there, I headed northwest up the Rocky Mountain Trench, beyond McBride, on the road to Prince George.

The pouring rain let up just as I came to the Ancient Cedar Forest, about halfway between McBride and Prince George. It’s a popular tourist spot, but it’s still easy to feel alone in nature among the towering ancient cedar trees. When I returned to my vehicle, a big black bear was strolling past the parking lot, munching on vegetation.

From there, I continued on to Prince George and Quesnel, ready to start the second stage of my trip in the gold rush country of the Cariboo.

Richard McGuire

Click on thumbnails to view as gallery with larger images:

Helmcken Falls is the best known of the major waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park. The landscape was formed by volcanic rock, which was much later eroded by glaciation in the ice age. If the light and your angle are right, you can see a rainbow in the mist of the falls. It is the fourth highest waterfall in Canada and the drop is 141m from top to the canyon bottom. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Just up the Murtle River from Helmken Falls is Dawson Falls. It’s not as high as its neighbour, but Dawson Falls is impressive nonetheless. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Just up the Murtle River from Helmken Falls is Dawson Falls. It’s not as high as its neighbour, but Dawson Falls is impressive nonetheless. (Richard McGuire Photo)

The water of Spahts Falls tumbles through a slot in the volcanic rocks. Found just inside the Wells Gray Provincial Park gate, it’s a short walk. (Richard McGuire Photo)

The water of Spahts Falls tumbles through a slot in the volcanic rocks. Found just inside the Wells Gray Provincial Park gate, it’s a short walk. (Richard McGuire Photo)

The Clearwater Valley forms the backbone of the most heavily used part of Wells Gray Provincial Park. This lookout is just north of Spahats Falls and is looking north, up the Clearwater River. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Moui Falls on Grouse Creek is a bit of a hike, especially the steep descent to the bottom of the falls. But it’s worth the journey. Some people climb behind and underneath the falls, but there was too much water volume when I was there to make that safe. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Moui Falls on Grouse Creek is a bit of a hike, especially the steep descent to the bottom of the falls. But it’s worth the journey. Some people climb behind and underneath the falls, but there was too much water volume when I was there to make that safe. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Moui Falls on Grouse Creek is a bit of a hike, especially the steep descent to the bottom of the falls. But it’s worth the journey. Some people climb behind and underneath the falls, but there was too much water volume when I was there to make that safe. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Part of the steep descent to the bottom of Moul Falls has a stairway. Only the last part of the hike to the falls is steep. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Much of the hike to Moul Falls in Wells Grey Provincial Park was on fairly level ground like this. Only the part closest to the falls was a steep climb. (Richard McGuire Photo)

John and Alice Ray and their children farmed this land from 1932 to 1946. Today nature is reclaiming the land and the remnants of buildings are decaying. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Mount Robson, in B.C. to the west of Jasper, is the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. Because the Rockies catch so much moist air, the peak of Mount Robson is seldom visible and is often socked in clouds. I’ve been before in better conditions, so I cut this portion of my trip short when forecasts predicted no improvement. (Richard McGuire Photo)

The land between the Cariboo Mountains and the Rockies is home to B.C.’s Interior Rain Forest. It’s the only temperate rainforest in the world not on a coast. The Ancient Cedar Forest northwest of McBride is a small portion of this forest that has been preserved and you can walk among cedars many centuries old. (Richard McGuire Photo)

The land between the Cariboo Mountains and the Rockies is home to B.C.’s Interior Rain Forest. It’s the only temperate rainforest in the world not on a coast. The Ancient Cedar Forest northwest of McBride is a small portion of this forest that has been preserved and you can walk among cedars many centuries old. (Richard McGuire Photo)

The land between the Cariboo Mountains and the Rockies is home to B.C.’s Interior Rain Forest. It’s the only temperate rainforest in the world not on a coast. The Ancient Cedar Forest northwest of McBride is a small portion of this forest that has been preserved and you can walk among cedars many centuries old. (Richard McGuire Photo)

The land between the Cariboo Mountains and the Rockies is home to B.C.’s Interior Rain Forest. It’s the only temperate rainforest in the world not on a coast. The Ancient Cedar Forest northwest of McBride is a small portion of this forest that has been preserved and you can walk among cedars many centuries old. (Richard McGuire Photo)

The land between the Cariboo Mountains and the Rockies is home to B.C.’s Interior Rain Forest. It’s the only temperate rainforest in the world not on a coast. The Ancient Cedar Forest northwest of McBride is a small portion of this forest that has been preserved and you can walk among cedars many centuries old. (Richard McGuire Photo)

The land between the Cariboo Mountains and the Rockies is home to B.C.’s Interior Rain Forest. It’s the only temperate rainforest in the world not on a coast. The Ancient Cedar Forest northwest of McBride is a small portion of this forest that has been preserved and you can walk among cedars many centuries old. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Parts of the Ancient Cedar Forest northwest of McBride, B.C., were once harvested before being protected. Some of the trees still have paint on them indicating where they should be cut, and there are stumps like this. (Richard McGuire Photo)

A black bear strolls next to the parking area at the trailhead at the Ancient Cedar Forest about 94 km west of McBride, B.C. on Highway 16. (Richard McGuire Photo)

 

About Richard McGuire

Richard McGuire is a photographer and photojournalist based in Osoyoos in the South Okanagan region of British Columbia, Canada.

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