Vancouver Island is located in the temperate rainforest biome, with the mild climate and high rainfall combining to produce groves of massive old-growth trees. Some of the tallest stretch over 90 meters into the sky, while others measure as much as 20 meters in circumference. One senses that there is a race between logging companies, who are determined to log and clearcut as permitted by their tree-farm licence, and the environmentalists who are desperately trying to find and seek protection for these last pockets of old-growth trees before the chainsaws find and destroy them.
MacMillan Provincial Park
Location: Central Vancouver Island
MacMillan Park is famous for Cathedral Grove, one of the most accessible stands of giant Douglas-fir trees in British Columbia. Highway 4, between Parksville and Port Alberni, provides roadside access to Cathedral Grove’s 800-year-old Douglas-fir forest, offering a unique opportunity to count the fallen tree’s rings for yourself. A stroll on the network of trails meandering through the towering ancient Douglas-firs can be quite an inspirational experience.
Port Renfrew Area
Location: South Vancouver Island
Some of the largest trees in all of British Columbia are growing in the area around Port Renfrew, a small village at the end of Highway 14 on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. Long-time favourites include Canada’s largest Sitka Spruce tree, the giant San Juan Sitka Spruce growing at the San Juan Bridge Recreation Site, and the Red Creek Fir, one of the largest Douglas fir trees in Canada, located a short drive north of Port Renfrew. The Ancient Forest Alliance leads monthly tours to Avatar Grove, a stand of massive trees that includes the “world’s gnarliest tree,” an 80-metre tall red cedar with a bulbous, three-metre burl and serpent-like roots. And then there is Big Lonely Doug, a coastal Douglas-fir tree called the loneliest tree in Canada, as it stands in the middle of a clear-cut, surrounded by a field of huge stumps. The giant red cedars and Douglas firs that once surrounded it were legally cut down and hauled away by loggers in 2012. Unfortunately, protection of old-growth trees in British Columbia is not a priority. Conservationists believe the tree could be as much as 1,000 years old. With no wind protection from other trees, Big Lonely Doug will blow down as soon as it is hit by severe winds. Then government officials can count the rings to determine its exact age. In the company of these monster trees, the Harris Creek Spruce near Port Renfrew barely gets a mention, but it is over 80 metres tall, and wider than a car!
Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park
Location: South West Vancouver Island
The 16,450-hectare park protects a large Sitka spruce ecosystem that represents 2% of BC’s remaining old-growth forest. Giant Sitka spruce rise like stately columns linking heaven with earth, accessible by trails that lead either up or down Carmanah Creek. The northern route leads 7.5 km to the park boundary, and beyond, while the southern route is closed at the 2.6-km mark for public safety and to preserve the fragile environment. Unfortunately, this closed trail blocks access to the Carmanah Giant, a further 7 km to the south. Carmanah Walbran is way off the beaten track on the southwest corner of the island, so visitor numbers are very low. Don’t be alarmed to encounter no other hikers while enjoying the silence and solitude of this remote and wilderness park.
Goldstream Provincial Park
Location: Victoria, South Vancouver Island
Massive towering trees are just one of the many attractions that draw people to Goldstream Park, located only twenty minutes from downtown Victoria. Huge Douglas-fir and western red cedar trees stand on the Goldstream River floodplain in this 700-year-old temperate rainforest. The nature centre, a cascading waterfall and a spectacular fall salmon run add to the allure of this popular Victoria park.