B.C.'s Helmcken Falls viewpoint to close for 2 months

Helmcken Falls, pictured here in the winter, is the tallest waterfall in Wells Gray Provincial Park at 141 metres. The viewing point for the falls will close in May and June this year for upgrades. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC - image credit)
Helmcken Falls, pictured here in the winter, is the tallest waterfall in Wells Gray Provincial Park at 141 metres. The viewing point for the falls will close in May and June this year for upgrades. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC - image credit)

Every year, thousands of tourists flock to Wells Gray Provincial Park in B.C.'s North Thompson Valley to see the dozens of waterfalls in the park, but this spring they won't easily be able to see one of the most famous sites: Helmcken Falls.

B.C. Parks has a planned closure for May and June for a $2-million project replacing the viewing platform for the falls. The project will close part of the road leading to that area of the park.

While tourism operators in the area are supportive of the work being done, some question the timing because of the potential impact on tourism and related industries.

"There are so many guests that come up to Clearwater in the summer specifically for that view," said AJ Bachhal, owner of the Best Western Plus Gateway to the Falls hotel in the nearby town of Clearwater.

He told CBC's Shelley Joyce most tourists book a year or two in advance because they are coming from overseas.

"They'll just get there and be surprised or disappointed."

He said this will likely affect his business in the long-term, as people review his hotel after a visit.

"The hotel staff is going to get berated for something they have no control over. The Clearwater Info Centre is going to get a lot of complaints … even though I might do everything perfectly, their experience in Clearwater was poor, so that'll affect my ratings."

Bachhal would like to see the renovation happen in the fall.

"Anyone who lives in Clearwater knows Clearwater, they understand that the tourist season will literally drop off in the third week of September."

Weather-dependent upgrades

Tourism Wells Gray Executive Director Claire Hanna said the B.C. Parks updates were planned in conjunction with her board, but the main limitation is the weather.

"They can't pull concrete when it gets below zero so we'll be waiting for temperatures to be suitable for the project to begin."

She said B.C. Parks decided to fund the project after the platform was assessed and found to be at the end of its life.

People gather on the aging viewing platform at Helmcken Falls in Wells Gray.
People gather on the aging viewing platform at Helmcken Falls in Wells Gray.

People gather on the aging viewing platform at Helmcken Falls in Wells Gray. (Submitted by Ian Reedman)

She said the new structure will be more accessible and made of fire-smart materials and require less maintenance than the current wooden platform.

In a statement, B.C. Parks told CBC the "project has been carefully assessed and planned in a way to minimize impact to the public, local tourism, and the local community."

It goes on to say "the construction will be expedited as much as possible to reduce disruption to services and avoid an extended closure."

Hanna said while there will be short-term discomfort caused by the closure it will improve access in and around the falls.

"It's going to provide a beautiful, accessible, inclusive area for everyone to enjoy."

B.C. Parks also plans to update the viewing platform for the nearby Spahats Falls in spring 2025, but that they are staggering the updates to ensure visitors can see at least one of the falls in Wells Gray Park.