Most Wells Gray Park visitors drive along the north side of the Murtle River to the designated parking area and walk out to the Helmcken Falls viewpoint. This is a “must-do” and we have returned many times to enjoy that view. Another alternative though, is to hike for 4 km down the south side of Murtle River, right to the brink of the falls. The trail starts at a signed parking lot above the Mushbowl. The trail enters the cedar-hemlock forest and soon comes to the river’s edge then continues west right to the falls.
There is no fence at the top of the rim so finding a safe viewing spot is the first order of business. We find it best to continue along the trail for a couple of minutes. The temptation is to get right to the edge, but it is a 500′ vertical drop from an unstable edge so continue to a spot where photos can be taken safely.
If the trail is hiked in early spring, some snow will still be seen around the edges of the plunge pool. The snow cone builds up around the falls in the winter. By late spring, the volume of water is at its greatest and there will be more mist in the canyon. Many years ago, I hiked the long route around the rim toward the river and back up the canyon to take photos of the falls plunging into the pool. Continual mists made the photo difficult. The canyon trail is now in poor condition (thanks to Roland Neave for this report) and not recommended by Parks. With the volumes of water in spring, the sun shines through the mists to create in-canyon rainbows.
This is an easy 8.0 km return hike. In summer wildflowers can be spotted along the route and in the fall, the mists from the river and falls support a variety of fungi (article – Along the Helmcken Falls Rim Trail). After you have finished the hike, check out the Mushbowl, Dawson Falls, and the north rim of Helmcken Falls.