I’ve just come off a four night/five day kayaking trip on Murtle Lake in Wells Gray Provincial Park in central British Columbia. It’s not a place many have heard of but it’s certainly worth putting on your radar if you like paddling. It’s a pristine lake ringed by mountains – with the ones at the end of the north arm being especially beautiful. It’s heavily forested around the lake but there are loads of white sandy beaches that make perfect camping sites.
Murtle Lake is the largest lake in North America, perhaps even the world that doesn’t allow motor boats – with one exception, the ranger’s boat. You can paddle over 100 kilometres of shoreline and hike on six marked trails ranging in length from three kilometres to 15 kilometres round trip. You can swim too though it takes some time for the water to warm up. And if you’re into fishing you’ll want to bring a rod and try your luck. The lake is famous for its rainbow trout and Kokanee, also known as freshwater salmon.
Getting to Murtle Lake is no small feat.
First you have to get to the town of Blue River, probably best known for being the base of Mike Wiegle Helicopter Skiing. Blue River sits on the Yellowhead Highway, about three hours west of Jasper or three hours north of Kamloops depending on where you’re coming from. From there it’s a 24 kilometre drive on a rough but passable gravel road that winds its way up thousands of feet to a parking lot.
But you’re still not there.
It’s a 2.4 kilometre portage on a wide trail from the parking lot to the put-in at the Murtle Lagoon. We elected to rent kayaks from Murtle Canoes for this trip. It simplified the portage since they’re waiting for you at the other end. Plus we don’t have to worry about unlocked kayaks on top of our car for the next 10 days of our holiday.
However you do still have to portage the rest of your gear in. Fortunately Murtle Canoes made it easy by providing large carts for anyone that rents a canoe or kayak. They’re just sitting there in the parking lot.
The Park Ranger showed up with our kayaks about 10 minutes after we got to the lake. If you are renting a boat you have a narrow window to show up – between 11am and 12 noon. Sign the waivers, load up your boats and then make the decision on where to paddle. And don’t forget to pay – $5 per person per night in cash at the put-in.
We chose to explore the north arm only. Murtle Lake is big and unless you have a week or more it’s probably best to focus on either the north arm or the west arm. We chose to paddle to the end of the north arm – mostly because fewer people paddle here. Also it can be less windy. Plus Daryl the ranger said that some of the best campsites were in the north arm.
The last few nights were spent at campsite 19. It’s a big campsite that can accommodate multiple groups. We had to share the space both nights but it was worth it. It’s that beautiful! Plus it’s just a five minute paddle to the Wavy Range Trailhead.
The best campsites in the north arm are as follows: 13 (shady but no bugs), 14 , 15, 16 and 19. I have no regrets staying down at campsite 16 but I can’t remember when I last saw so many mosquitoes at once. My husband won’t use bug repellent so each ankle along had about 50 bites. Fortunately the mosquitoes were much less of an issue at all other campsites.
Would you camp if mosquitoes were an issue?