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 license, 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.
With a huge amount of rainfall and a relatively mild climate, Vancouver Island is the perfect place for trees to grow. And grow they do, with some of the biggest trees in Canada found in the misty valleys of Vancouver Island.
Seeing big trees is a high priority for many visitors to Vancouver Island. And quite rightly, it should be. To admire a living creature much larger and older than any of us is a humbling and sometimes even spiritual experience.
Luckily, there are many opportunities to see and admire big trees on Vancouver Island. This post includes 15 different places across Vancouver Island where it is possible to see incredible old growth trees.
When exploring nature, it is so important to be aware of your impact and make steps to reduce it as much as possible. Doing so helps maintain sensitive forest ecosystems and preserve these magical groves for future generations.
This list of big tree groves on Vancouver Island is not exhaustive. I have, however, chosen to include only big tree groves that have been, at this time, developed for visitors.
This means that all listed groves have basic facilities such as parking and established trails or boardwalks. In addition, almost all (with one exception) of these Vancouver Island big tree groves are located on protected lands.
Located in MacMillan Provincial Park, Cathedral Grove is Vancouver Island’s most visited old growth forest. It’s a convenient place to see lots of big trees very quickly. Some of the giant Douglas Fir trees in Cathedral Grove are 2000 years old.
The biggest, found on the short but aptly named ‘Big Tree Trail,’ has a circumference of over 9 metres. A popular stop on the way to Tofino, Cathedral Grove is located right on Highway 4, between Port Alberni and Coombs.
Cathedral Grove isn’t the only place to see big trees on the way to Tofino. A short walk on the Giant Cedar Trail will reveal a number of huge cedar trees, with the most magnificent being found within 500m of the road.
The Giant Cedar Trail itself is a little overgrown and not as manicured as those found in Cathedral Grove, but you’re likely to have the beautiful cedar trees here all to yourself.
The Giant Cedar Trail is one of my most recent discoveries on Vancouver Island, something I’m a little embarrassed about since it is right on Highway 4! It is well signed too, just look for the Canoe Creek / Giant Cedar Trail signs about 19km after the Taylor River Rest Area when approaching from the east.
The Ancient Cedars Loop is part of Ucluelet’s wonderful Wild Pacific Trail. This section takes only 15-20 minutes to walk and is easily accessible straight from the highway.
For such low effort, the reward is surprisingly high with large cedar trees appearing next to the trail almost immediately. Some are over 800 years old.
Being so close to the ocean, the trees found along the Ancient Cedars Loop have had to regularly withstand extreme weather conditions including gale force winds and lightning storms.
Be sure to extend a little further along the Wild Pacific Trail to see the spectacular coastal scenery that characterizes this area.
The Long Beach Unit of Pacific Rim National Park showcases Vancouver Island’s coastal scenery in its many forms, from windswept sandy beaches and rocky coves to bogs and temperate rain forest.
One of Vancouver Island’s most recently developed big tree groves, Avatar Grove offers two short trails through an old growth forest filled with cedars and firs.
The northern route is home to “Canada’s Gnarliest Tree,” a cedar with a gargantuan burl (knotty growth). The southern boardwalk loop trail also has its share of gnarly trees, with my favorite being the one pictured below.
Avatar Grove is located about 10km north of Port Renfrew, with the last 6km on unsealed industrial roads.
f you have a vehicle with decent clearance and good tires (AWD or 4X4 would be beneficial), I’d recommend also visiting Big Lonely Doug, Canada’s second tallest Douglas Fir. It sits in a clear cut just fifteen minutes from Avatar Grove.
Drive north on Gordon River Road and then take a left on Edinburgh Main. The road is good for the most part but there is a steep hill close to Big Lonely Doug that could be challenging for smaller vehicles.
Not only can you see big trees on Vancouver Island, but it is also possible to camp under them too! The following campgrounds all feature large trees within their boundaries, making it possible to both sleep under the stars and a canopy of old growth.
Set into an old growth Douglas Fir forest, Rathtrevor Provincial Park hosts one of the most popular campgrounds on Vancouver Island. The popularity is well deserved, with a 2km long scenic beach to explore in addition to the impressive forest.
Reservations are required to get one of the 250 vehicle accessible or 25 walk-in camp spots in summer. Be sure to book early! There is also a day use area.
Off Track Travel / Crickey Nature Conservation Society 2022.