Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park
Located on the southwestern section of Vancouver Island, Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park is perhaps the most remarkable and wildest big tree forest in Vancouver Island and perhaps all of Canada. The park protects extensive tracts of luxuriant Pacific temperate rainforest, and is famous for its ancient old-growth. Two valleys are of particular interest: the Carmanah Valley and the Walbran Valley, both of which contain trees of gigantic proportions.
Carmanah Valley is home to a wonderful boardwalk trail that travels west of the Carmanah River. The south end leads to both the Randy Stoltmann Commemorative Grove (picture one) and the interestingly-shaped “Heaven Tree” (picture two). The Soltmann Grove commemorates one of the most important conservationists in Vancouver Island’s history, whose relentless advocacy saved this and other valleys from destruction. The memorial is appropriate, as the concentration of titanic Sitka spruces here are unparalleled.
To the north, the trail takes travelers away from the ocean and through grove after grove of incredible spruces. Several overnight backcountry camps can be found in the valley, removing hikers further and further away from civilization the farther one travels. Indeed, the upper reaches of the Caramanah Valley trail offer big tree hunters solitude and true unspoiled wilderness.
Known both as the “Walbran Solidarity Trail” or the “West Walbran Trail,” the rough path into the Walbran Valley contains one of the best diversity of giant trees left on Vancouver Island. The trail begins near the Harriet Nahanee Memorial Trail and the Castle Grove Trail (featured below), initially penetrating a forest of primarily western red cedar. Some of these giants are over 500 years old and have grown into incredible sizes and shapes with age. However, the best portion of the Valley is the Sitka spruce groves that follow, including the ancient trees located near Giggling Spruce Camp (picture three) and Fetus Lake.
The transition from western red cedar to Sitka spruce is quite remarkable and unique among the various trails in and around the Walbran Valley. One of the absolute largest of these spruces is “Maxine’s Tree” (picture four) with a girth of over 12 feet in diameter that tapers very slowly up its 260 foot-height. Further on, near Anderson Lake, the trail becomes a bit harder to follow but worth the effort as huge trees grow ubiquitously in this astonishing valley.
Harriet Nahanee Memorial Trail
Opened in 2016, the Harrient Nahanee Memorial Trail commemorates the life and conservation efforts of a heroic First Nations woman who was instrumental in preserving both the Carmanah and Walbran rainforest valleys of southwestern Vancouver Island.
Starting by the shores of the Walbran River, the trail initially passes by several huge western red cedars including the “Tolkien Giant” before climbing steeply. Its north side journeys through some equally gigantic, yet nameless, cedars that amazingly cling resiliently to the vertical slopes of this elevated hike.
Like other hikes in the Walbran Valley, the trail passes through cutblocks proposed by logging companies. By offering the public an opportunity to explore this ancient forest, the hike helps raise awareness of the danger these pristine giants face to short-sided industry practices.
Emerald Loop Trail
The Emerald Loop Trail is the most accessible and family-friendly hike in the Walbran Valley. Situated parallel to the entry road into the valley, the trail is very short, fairly flat, and takes about 20 minutes to complete. Yet despite its brevity, the well-maintained boardwalk path takes hikers around an excellent old-growth environment where giant trees grow next to the Walbran River.
The trail was first forged in the early 1990s by protesters who dedicated considerable effort to bringing tourism into the area, thereby preventing further logging of the valley trees. As tourists began to arrive, conservationists built the boardwalk to offset the erosive damage heavy foot traffic would cause the forest.
Castle Grove & Witness Trail
No other trail in Vancouver Island contains a higher concentration of monumental western red cedars than the magical Castle Grove. Located across the West Walbran Creek from the main Walbran Valley entrance, the Grove is situated on a rich alluvial flood plain - a perfect environment for the development of giant trees. The Grove’s largest specimen is the appropriately named “Castle Giant” (picture one) that has grown to approximately 16 feet in diameter over hundreds of years.
On the eastern slopes above the Grove, conservationists have constructed a newer side path called the Witness Trail. Trees as large and tall as ones in Castle Grove are found here as well. Forming a loop up a hill, the path is a definitely thigh burner with an early near vertical ascent no matter which direction you approach it. Like the Harriet Nahanee Memorial Trail, the route was strategically located to take hikers across proposed cutblocks by timber companies, helping draw attention to potentially devastating losses and encourage tourism over logging as the Walbran Valley’s main economic driver.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
Cheewhat Lake Cedar Trail
Tucked in the southern portion of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, the Cheewhat Lake Cedar Trail weaves around for a short 1.2-miles through exceptionally large trees and terminates at the world’s largest know western redcedar, the Cheewhat Lake Cedar (picture one). The girth of the Cheewhat Lake Cedar is measured at an astounding 18.34 meters (60 feet), it reaches a height of 55.50 meters (180 feet), and contains 450 cubic meters of timber volume.
The rough trail is takes a bit of concentration to follow but can be navigated fairly easily. The giant isn’t the only big tree along this trail. Several enormous western cedars, both standing and fallen, can be seen in the area. In addition to the trees east of Cheetwhat Lake, there are incredibly large trees north of the lake, which require a bit of bushwhacking to reach.
The recently discovered Avatar Grove just north of Port Renfrew consists of two designated trails (north and south) passing through giant western red cedars and rare Douglas firs. Some of the oldest trees here have contorted themselves into bizarre shapes and developed interesting patterns, including “Canada’s Gnarliest Tree” — an ancient cedar with twisted wood (picture one). The trails were built (and its name was chosen) in an attempt to bring tourist attention to the area and prevent further logging.
The small, sleepy town of Port Renfrew, British Columbia has become the unofficial “big tree capital” of Vancouver Island (and all of Canada) by attracting tourists from all over the world who seek to explore a series of massive trees and groves outside of the city limits. These giants are widely recognized as exemplary for their massive sizes.
Notable trees include the Red Creek Fir (the world's largest Douglas Fir - picture one), the Harris Creek Sitka Spruce, Big Lonely Doug, the Chin Beach Trail Lone Cedar (picture two), and the San Juan Spruce (Canada’s largest Sitka spruce).