Southern Vancouver Island: Cathedral Grove

The moss was heavy on this tree

After more than a year of staying in our province we finally had the chance to fly again, even though it was to another location in Canada. During the last two weeks of August we flew to the west coast, rented a car and took in Vancouver Island.

The original plan was to spend a week on Vancouver Island and then a week in the Okanagan (located in the interior of B.C.) but the wildfires forced us to spend all of the time on the island. This was not a problem as there were more than enough places to see on the island to keep us busy.

After taking the ferry to Nanaimo from Horseshoe Bay on the mainland, we spent the first few nights in Port Alberni. The town is centrally-located, and we took in some of the beaches on the eastern side before heading over to the rugged coastline on the western side.

But Before taking in the dramatic coastal landscapes, we paid a visit to nearby Macmillan Provincial Park, just a 25 minute drive from Port Alberni. The highlight of the park was Cathedral Grove, a compact but beautiful place that has some of the few remaining old growth Douglas fir trees on the island.

One of the things we liked about the provincial parks in British Columbia was that there were no fees to enter, saving both time (no line-ups at the gate) and money. Located along Highway 4, Cathedral Grove is easily accessible by car. It is split into two sections with one on each side of the highway. You will know you are getting close when the 80km/h signs on the highway give way to warnings telling drivers to reduce speeds to 50km/h. The reason is because the only available parking for Cathedral Grove is directly along the side of the highway in angled spots along the shoulder. Between the cars looking for parking spots and tourists crossing the highway to check out the other side of the park, drivers have to remain alert.

A well-known tourist stop since the 1920s, Cathedral Grove and the surrounding area became a provincial park in 1947. The tallest trees in the Grove are about 800 years old and measure 75 m (250 ft) in height and 9 m (29 ft) in circumference. There are fewer of the largest trees in the park due to a fire 300 years ago, and many of the trees are a second growth of younger trees. But the old ones can still be found.

A severe windstorm on New Year’s Day in 1997 changed the look of the park forever as it toppled hundreds of the giant trees and obliterated sections of the trail system. Signs of the destruction can still be seen as some of the most impressive trees are fallen ones. There are even warnings about visiting on windy days, as a trip through the forest can be dangerous!

This one was massive, and the root system pulled up a lot of dirt from the ground when the tree fell
Same tree from another angle

Each side of the park has a well-maintained boardwalk that goes in a circle. Walking both sides only takes 45 minutes or less, though we took our time as we enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere.

Cathedral Grove is a temperate rain forest, with a heavy cover of ferns on the ground, mosses on the trees and huge tree branches often obscuring the sky. It was different from any of the other forests we had visited elsewhere in Canada.

Back to the parking lot

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