Kamloops: 345km (214 miles) NE of Vancouver; 218km (135 miles) W of Revelstoke

From its juncture with the Fraser River at Lytton, the Thompson River cuts north, then east through an arid countryside grazed by cattle. Kamloops, a major trade center for this agricultural region, is increasingly a retirement center for refugees from the mists of the Pacific coast. In the South Thompson River valley, the Shuswap Lakes are popular with houseboaters. It's easy to rent a houseboat in Salmon Arm and navigate the 1,000km (621 miles) of waterways, landing at campsites and beaches along the way.

Rising up from the dry terrain of Kamloops, heading north along Hwy. 5, the road enters the cool forests of the High Country. High above the town of Clearwater is the pristine wilderness of Wells Gray Provincial Park.

The Upper Thompson River Valley -- From Kamloops, the North Thompson River flows north into increasingly rugged terrain. The little town of Clearwater is the gateway to Wells Gray Provincial Park, the mountain wilderness park of choice for purist hikers and outdoor adventurers as the nearby Canadian Rockies become increasingly crowded and commercialized.

Although Greyhound offers bus service daily between Vancouver and Clearwater, you'll need a car to explore the best areas of the High Country. Clearwater is 103km (64 miles) north of Kamloops on Hwy. 5.

The Clearwater-Wells Gray Info Centre, 425 E. Yellowhead Hwy. 5 (tel. 250/674-2646; www.clearwaterbcchamber.com), is at Hwy. 5 and Wells Gray Park Road. From October 16 to April 14, it's open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm; April 15 to June 30 and September 1 to October 15, daily from 9am to 6pm; July 1 to August 31, daily from 8am to 8pm.