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Kayaking Murtle Lake in Wells Gray Provincial Park, BC

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.

"View down the north arm of Murtle Lake"

View down the north arm of Murtle Lake from our first campsite

"Three canoes paddling on Murtle Lake"

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.

"Echoing mountains"

Echoing mountains

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.

"Portaging our gear in by cart"

It’s a 2.4 kilometer portage with carts to make it easy

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.

"Looking down the north arm"

"Heading into the campsite at the end of the north arm"

Heading into the campsite at the end of the north arm

"Fresh moose tracks"

Fresh moose tracks seen at the far end of the north arm

"Murtle Mountain"

Murtle Mountain

"Log in the shape of a skull"

Log in the shape of a skull

"At least 1000 mosquitoes were in the neighbourhood of our tent"

At least 1000 mosquitoes were in the neighbourhood of our tent

"Blueberry bush covered"

Fresh blueberries anyone?

"The view from campsite 16"

The view from campsite 16

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 view from our last campsite"

The view from campsite 19

"Fellow camper flyfishing from campsite 19"

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?

Leigh McAdam


Join the discussion 30 Comments

  • Krista C. says:

    That sounds like an amazing trip. I love the lack of motorized boats, they are so noisy.
    Onto the mossies, I hate them and they can make outdoor activities miserable, but sometimes you just have to deal with them. I will use bug spray but I don’t like it. I try to use deet-free stuff but resort to chemicals if I have too.

  • Lisa says:

    What incredible natural beauty and I love the thought of a lake where there are no motor boats allowed – how peaceful!!

  • Jenna says:

    I think it’s great that this lake doesn’t allow motor boats. It looks so pristine and relaxing. What a wonderful vacation that must have been!

    • @Jenna And we’re still on vacation – except for a day of catching up with the blog with more lakes and mountains plus some rafting to look forward too over the next 8 or 9 days.

  • Ah – this is EXACTLY what I wanted to look at – with temps in the 100s this week, I needed to see some mountains, some snow, some GREEN, some chill….. Thanks you for the escape even if it is just online!

  • This is a real holiday! So peaceful and surrounded by amazing scenery. What a great idea not allowing motor boats. Shame about the mossies!

    • @Jenny It’s easy to forget about bugs and mosquitoes when you live in a city and have little to do with them. Being out on Murtle Lake was a reminder of what our ancestors put up with so long ago.

  • What a great way to spend some time to enjoy this beautiful scenery and without the noise. Unfortunately, those mosquitoes will bother me a lot too. I love that skull-shaped log. So awesome!

  • This is an incredible collection. That shot of mountains echoing just will haunt me–it looks like an abstract painting. But this entire collection is an award winner. And what a good idea to have carts to take your stuff to your kayak.

  • Kate says:

    What a spectacular setting, and you did such a great job capturing it in your photos. Looks like all that work to get there was worth it! If it meant camping at such an amazing place, I’d be okay dealing with the mosquitoes…maybe there are special nets for camping?

  • Jackie Smith says:

    We celebrated one wedding anniversary a few years ago by pitching a tent in a Methow Valley (Washington State) camp ground. We’d planned to cook steaks and have red wine along with pre-baked potatoes. . .ah, a bit of romance. However, the minute the steaks came out of the wrapper, an entire community of mosquitoes invited themselves to our celebration. We cooked rapidly and raced to the safety of the tent where we hunkered down for the rest of the evening. Mosquitos for being so small can make for large outdoor memories!

    • @Jackie Fortunately it was only one night that was bad. We did eat dinner and breakfast the following day with plate in hand standing knee deep in water. And I resorted to bug dope to make it bearable. It will be an unforgettable night – even more so because our fuel canister leaked and started on fire and my husband had to roll in the sand to stop the fire spreading to him. Only singed hairs on his arm.

  • You are definitely the go-to person for outdoor adventure in BC (& elsewhere, of course)! I can’t say that I’m an avid kayaker, but would love to do a bit of it in such a gorgeous place. Mosquitoes? Well, I’ve survived them while camping before, but I use bug repellent! Love your echoing mountains pic.

  • Sabrina says:

    Beautiful!! I don’t think I could pull of five days in a kayak, but that nature is gorgeous… minus the mosquitos that is.

  • Nancie says:

    What beautiful scenery! I want some of those fresh blueberries. Mosquitoes don’t really bother me and I use bug spray :)

  • Calogero says:

    I like this sport and the blueberries very much…

  • Spencer says:

    I wouldn’t be much good at the Kayaking but the scenery would be amazing!

  • Akila says:

    Me, personally – I would NEVER camp knowing that mosquitoes were such an issue because I always get bit really badly. But, how cool that it’s the largest lake without any motor boats allowed. It must have been so peaceful there.

  • What a beautiful and serene place! I’d have to choose another campsite — wouldn’t want mosquitoes to ruin such a lovely trip.

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