Old growth forest in Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park

Disclaimer – This post may contain ads and affiliate links that help keep Travelling BC running. If you purchase through these links, we may receive a commission, at no cost to you. Thank you for your support! Learn more.

Where to See Big Old-Growth Trees on Vancouver Island

Hidden among the forests of Vancouver Island are some of Canada’s oldest and largest trees. Alive for centuries, these moss-covered giants have withstood the testament of time and grown to impressive sizes.

Thanks to a mild climate and plenty of rain, Vancouver Island is the perfect place for huge trees to grow. These ideal conditions have allowed these old big trees to reach incredible heights, with the tallest tree standing at an impressive 96 meters!

If you’re wondering where to see big trees on Vancouver Island then we’ve got you covered. We detail the best places to visit to see big old-growth trees on Vancouver Island, and give you some top tips on how to get there. So let’s dive right in!

Cathedral Grove, MacMillan Provincial Park

Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park is the best place to see big ancient trees on all of Vancouver Island.

The old-growth forest protected by this park is home to some of the largest Douglas fir trees in Canada. These huge trees tower above you while you explore the boardwalk trails. Some of the trees are over 800 years old and one even measures over 9 meters in circumference!

But the impressive trees are not the only reason this park is the best spot to visit for old-growth forest. MacMillan Provincial Park is right beside the highway, making it the most accessible big tree spot on Vancouver Island. Many of the other ancient trees on this list are accessed via rough logging roads.

Cathedral Grove is located just 15 minutes east of Port Alberni. The park makes for a great stop on your drive to Tofino.

If you’re looking to see the largest Douglas firs in the grove, then check out the trails on the south side of the highway. The north side of the road features ancient Western red cedar trees. The trails on either side of the highway are short though, so we recommend walking both!

Big Lonely Doug, Port Renfrew

Big Lonely Doug is a massive Douglas fir that stands as a solitary giant in a clear-cut area, a stark reminder of the impact of logging on Vancouver Island’s old-growth forests.

Measuring in at 66 meters tall and approximately 1000 years old, Big Lonely Doug is the second-largest Douglas fir in all of Canada. It towers above the landscape below and its immense size is highlighted by the empty cutblock surrounding it.

Big Lonely Doug stands alone in the Gordon River Valley, not too far from Avatar Grove and about a 35-minute drive from Port Renfrew. The tree was saved by a logger back in 2012, when the rest of the forest was harvested.

A testament to the resilience of these ancient trees, Big Lonely Doug’s solitude in the midst of a barren landscape is a poignant symbol of the challenges facing old-growth forests in British Columbia.

Now, the tree towers over its forest backdrop and is a popular spot for photographers. Once you get here, you’ll see why!

Just keep in mind that the drive to Big Lonely Doug is along a rough, unpaved forest service road. On the way, you’ll pass by Avatar Grove — which is definitely worth a stop. Also, Eden Grove is just past Big Lonely Doug. Make sure to stop at both of these ancient groves while you’re in the area!

Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park

Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park takes some effort to get to but it’s certainly worth the visit!

Home to some of the largest spruce trees in the entire world, this park is undoubtedly beautiful. Many of these trees are over 800 years old. One of these trees is the Carmanah Giant which is 95 meters high!

Carmanah Walbran has many impressive ancient trees but there are a few spots that you should definitely check out while visiting.

The Randy Stoltmann Commemorative Grove features several huge trees and you’ll also spot the Heaven Tree as you walk to the grove. There’s also the Three Sisters trail which is only 1.5 km long and offers superb views of three Sitka spruce trees (one has fallen now).

Just keep in mind that most of the trails through Carmanah Walbran aren’t well-maintained and have broken boardwalks and fallen trees.

Also, to access the park, you’ll need to drive along a logging road, Rosander Main. Logging is active here and the road has lots of rocks, potholes, and bumps — so you’ll need to drive with caution and used radios if you have them!

Avatar Grove, Port Renfrew

Avatar Grove is home to many old-growth trees and is located near Port Renfrew, the big tree capital of Canada.

Some of the huge trees in Avatar Grove are around 1,000 years old. You’ll also find Canada’s Gnarliest Tree here, a huge Red Cedar with a gigantic burl — which is a sight that you don’t want to miss. 

There are two areas to explore at Avatar Grove: the Upper Grove and the Lower Grove. The Upper Grove is home to Canada’s Gnarliest Tree, as well as other massive ancient cedars. The Lower Grove features ancient Douglas fir and cedar trees.

Avatar Grove is a popular stop along the Pacific Marine Circle Route. The grove is within the Pacheedaht First Nation traditional territory, just a 20-minute drive from Port Renfrew so it makes a great day trip! 

Port Renfrew is often referred to as the “Tall Trees Capital of Canada” so you’ll find plenty of other large trees nearby too. If you continue further down the logging road, you’ll come across Big Lonely Doug, as well as Eden Grove.

You’ll find some other notable trees in this area too including the Harris Creek Sitka Spruce, the San Juan Spruce (Canada’s largest spruce tree), and the Red Creek Fir — the largest Douglas fir in the world. If you’ve got time, we certainly recommend paying these a visit too! 

Ancient Cedars Loop, Ucluelet

Hiking the Ancient Cedars Loop, part of the Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet, is a top place to see old-growth trees.

The Ancient Cedars Loop is quite short, only 1 km long. The loop is part of the Wild Pacific Trail, a coastal trail stretching along 8 km of Ucluelet’s coastline. Walking this beautiful trail is one of the best things to do in Ucluelet.

Walking around the Ancient Cedars Loop only takes about 15 minutes. The trail takes you through lush old-growth forest, where you’ll get to see a variety of tree species including giant red cedars, Sitka spruce, and Western hemlock.

Some of these impressive trees date back around 800 years, making them the oldest trees on the Ucluelet peninsula!

If you’re wondering where to see old-growth trees on Vancouver Island, then this may be the trail for you! It’s an easy trail, quite accessible, and is a great option for those who are short of time. It’s also located near the beautiful Ucluelet and Tofino — BC’s surfing capital.

Just make sure you bring your camera as you’ll want to take photographs! 

Rainforest Trails in Pacific Rim National Park

Although famous for its sandy beaches, surfing, and epic sunsets, Pacific Rim National Park near Tofino has plenty more to offer. Near Wickaninnish Beach, you’ll find two forested trails known as Rainforest Trails A and B on either side of the Pacific Rim Highway.

These are some of the most popular hikes in the area, especially if you’re looking for gigantic trees! 

The Rainforest Trails take you through a great example of coastal rainforest. Both routes cover a distance of 1 km on boardwalks. While relatively easy, there are also some stairs!

The trails take you through the ferns to see giant trees, including Western red cedar and Western hemlocks.

As a heads up, because you’ll be in Pacific Rim National Park, you’ll need a park’s pass to visit this spot. However, the pass can be put to use to visit other spots around the park, including surfing at Long Beach and the Canso Bomber Ruins — one of the most unique things to do in Tofino.

Big Tree Trail, Meares Island

Big Tree Trail on Meares Island, the large island seen from the town of Tofino, is a special place to visit for several reasons.

First, the Big Tree Trail is home to some of British Columbia’s largest trees. The Hanging Garden Tree, an ancient Cedar, boasts a huge circumference of around 18 meters. Along the trail, there are some Western red cedar trees that date back about 1,500 years!

The second reason to visit Big Tree Trail is because Meares Island is the site of a historic stand against logging by the Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations in 1984. This protest started the “War of the Woods”, a series of protests against clearcutting on Vancouver Island.

Many protests against old-growth logging continue to this day. Recently, the 2021 Fairy Creek blockades, when protestors fought to save the forests near Port Renfrew, have been the largest act of civil disobedience in Canada.

The only way to reach Meares Island is by water. You can take a water taxi to the island, which takes around 10-15 minutes. It doesn’t take long to get there and its a beautiful boat ride. 

There are two hiking trail options for the Big Tree Trail. Either hike to the Hanging Garden as a there-and-back trail (2.4 km) or follow a loop trail along the coast (4.2 km). The trail starts with boardwalks, but these end after the Hanging Garden and the trail can get muddy after that!

Goldstream Provincial Park, Victoria

Taking a trip out to Goldstream Provincial Park is one of the best ways to see huge trees around Victoria.

Famous for impressive waterfalls, wildlife, and a beautiful mossy forest, visiting Goldstream is also one of the best things to do in Victoria. Best of all, it’s just a 20-minute drive from the city.

While many people visit Goldstream Provincial Park for Niagara Falls (not to be confused with the iconic Niagara Falls in Ontario) and the salmon run, the park is also home to towering moss-covered trees, so it’s not a place to miss.

Here you’ll find a variety of species including Douglas fir trees, Western red cedar, big-leaf maples, and red alder. Some of these are around 600 years old, and the best way to see them is by hitting up some of the local hiking trails. 

Goldstream Provincial Park features 16 km of hiking trails. Some trails are quite short, taking only 5-10 minutes to walk. If you’re short on time but are still wondering where to see big trees on Vancouver Island, then this place is for you!

Not to mention, there are ample wildlife-watching opportunities here. If you visit during the fall (from October to December), you’ll see the salmon run and have the chance to spot bald eagles too.

Harris Creek Spruce, Port Renfrew

While Harris Creek Spruce may not be the largest Sitka spruce on Vancouver Island, it is still quite impressive and is one of the most accessible of these large trees.

This ancient giant is located along the Pacific Marine Circle Route, about a 30-minute drive from Port Renfrew and 9-km north of Lizard Lake. You’ll find the Harris Creek Spruce just off the paved Pacific Marine Road, so you won’t need to walk much to get here.

The trail to the tree takes about 10 minutes total and the path is even wheelchair accessible, unlike many of the other trails to big trees out there. This makes it a great option for those with limited mobility.

Standing over 80 meters tall, the Harris Creek Sitka Spruce towers above everything else in the area. The tree is quite popular but luckily, there’s a fence around the tree to protect the roots from visitors.

Red Creek Fir, Port Renfrew

The Red Creek Fir in the San Juan Valley is the largest Douglas fir tree on the planet. Standing at nearly 74 meters high, this incredible natural wonder will take your breath away. 

Red Creek Fir is thought to be around 1,000 years old. It’s got a 9.8 meter circumference and towers over the other trees with a height of 73.8 meters (242 feet).

The tree is about a 35-minute drive from Port Renfrew. As you’ll be driving along active logging roads, we’d highly recommend having a high-clearance vehicle if you’re planning to visit.

Once you’ve parked, it’s a 10-15-minute hike to the Red Creek Fir, so it doesn’t take long to get there on foot from the trailhead. Driving will be the more time-consuming part of this journey.

Despite the significance of this tree, it still isn’t protected from logging. Ancient Forest Alliance is currently working towards protecting this majestic tree and the forest around it.

San Juan Sitka Spruce, Port Renfrew

The San Juan Sitka Spruce is one of the largest Sitka spruce trees in the world, at an impressive 62.5 meters tall. You’ll find this tree alongside the San Juan River, and it’s just a 25-minute drive out of Port Renfrew. 

Unfortunately, after a lightning strike and wind damage, much of the tree has now collapsed onto itself. It no longer holds its title as the second largest Sitka Spruce in the world but is still quite an impressive sight.

Although the San Juan Sitka Spruce may not be as impressive as it once was, it’s an incredible sight to see.

While you’re in the area, make sure to check out the other big trees nearby. The Red Creek Fir, the world’s biggest Douglas fir tree, is only a few minutes away. The Harris Creek Spruce, Big Lonely Doug, and Avatar Grove are also in the area.

Cheewhat Giant, Pacific Rim National Park

With a height of 56 meters and width of 6 meters, it’s no surprise to hear that Cheewhat Cedar, also known as the Cheewhat Giant, is the largest tree in Canada! It’s also the world’s largest Western redcedar. 

This incredible tree is in a remote location within Pacific Rim National Park. For this reason, it’s not visited as often as some of the other spots, like Avatar Grove.

This old tree is located near Cheewhat Lake, which is in between Nitinat Lake and Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park. It makes for a great add-on to a trip to Carmanah Walbran, as the trail to the tree starts just off Rosander Main, which leads to the provincial park.

Once you’ve parked, the trail to the Cheewhat Cedar will take you downhill through coastal rainforest. The trail can be overgrown in places so we’d recommend having a GPS device on you. 

The Cheewhat Cedar gained its title of largest redcedar after the death of other record-holding trees, like the Quinault Lake Cedar and Kalaloch Big Cedar Tree (both located in Washington).

Giant Cedar Trail, Canoe Creek Recreation Site 

Just before you reach Kennedy Lake, in between Port Alberni and Tofino, you’ll find the Giant Cedar Trail at the Canoe Creek Recreation Site. Home to a grove of giant old cedars coated in vibrant green moss, this is another great place to visit on Vancouver Island to see big trees.

The trail is located just off the Pacific Rim Highway that connects Tofino and Ucluelet to the rest of the island. You’ll be hiking through an old-growth forest along a boardwalk, so its a pretty easy walk with a high reward.

Some of the trees along the Giant Cedar Trail are around 500 years old, so take your time while you’re here to admire the majestic views!

As you’re driving to the Giant Cedar Trail along Highway 4, make sure to also stop at Cathedral Grove to see more old-growth trees.

Juan de Fuca Trail, Port Renfrew

Much of the forest around the Juan de Fuca Trail near Port Renfrew is second growth, but there are still some prime examples of big old trees in the provincial park.

The Juan de Fuca Trail is a 47 kilometer long trail that stretches from China Beach (near Jordan River) to Botanical Beach by Port Renfrew. It’s a multi-day backpacking trail and one of the best on Vancouver Island.

While you might not want to walk 47 kilometers to see big trees, there are trailheads located all along the trail.

Payzant Creek, which can be accessed from the Parkinson Creek Trailhead, features some huge western hemlock and western red cedar trees around the campsite. There are also big trees on the trek to Botanical Beach — which is an amazing spot for tide pooling.

There are some big trees on the way to China Beach, also. And just outside of Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, there is a trail to Chin Beach that protects a Lone Cedar that is quite impressively large.

West Coast Trail

The famous West Coast Trail has some prime examples of gigantic trees in one of the most beautiful settings on all of Vancouver Island.

This iconic hiking trail is 75 kilometers long and quite challenging, but very popular. It goes along the coast of western Vancouver Island through Pacific Rim National Park, between Gordon River in Port Renfrew and Pachena Bay near Bamfield. The trail is just north of the Juan de Fuca Trail.

Most people take 6 to 8 days to hike the West Coast Trail. Unlike the Juan de Fuca Trail, you’ll have to hike all (or at least half) of the trail to see the large trees.

Along the trail, you’ll see huge old growth spruce, cedar and hemlock trees that are hundreds of years old. Much of the trail features beautiful ancient temperate rainforest and getting to see these beautiful trees is quite the reward for such a difficult hike.

Cape Scott Provincial Park

Cape Scott Provincial Park, located on the far north end of Vancouver Island, is a great spot to find big trees — and to see some absolutely beautiful beaches while you’re at it.

Cape Scott is home to incredibly beautiful sandy beaches, the amazing North Coast Trail, and best of all — big trees. Visiting this park is one of the best things to do near Port Hardy.

The park is about 70 km west of town. The only downside is it is accessed on a forest service road with lots of potholes — drive carefully!

The Cape Scott Trail, which goes north from the parking lot to Nissen Bight and Nels Bight, features a huge Sitka Spruce with a diameter of over 3 meters. There is also another big spruce with a 7 meter circumference at the Eric Lake campsite.

There are many other large Sitka spruce and Western Red Cedars in the park, not just along the Cape Scott Trail. The walk to San Josef Beach also features some big trees and is a very easy walk. Plus, San Josef Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches on Vancouver Island — so you’ll definitely want to stop here too!

Koksilah Ancient Forest Trail

The Koksilah Ancient Forest Trail, just to the west of Shawnigan Lake, takes you to a beautiful grove of old-growth trees.

The trail is just past Koksilah River Provincial Park and is pretty close to the Kinsol Trestle. Both make great add-ons to your day when visiting this spot.

The hike to the Koksilah grove starts in a cutblock, before leading you through a lush forest of maples, alders, and cedars. The highlight of the trail is the patch of old-growth Douglas Firs, although the river here is quite pretty too.

Top Travel Tips & Resources for Vancouver Island, BC

  • Travel Insurance – If you’re travelling internationally, travel insurance is a must for any trip. Being covered by insurance is especially important when you’re going to an adventure-filled place like British Columbia. If you injure yourself while adventuring, you want to have insurance! We recommend using SafetyWing for international travel insurance. They are affordable and have great policies for travellers, digital nomads, and remote workers. Also, SafetyWing provides COVID-19 coverage, which many other insurance companies don’t cover.
  • Car Rental – We find the best deal on vehicle rental prices using RentalCars.com. They compare the prices for different car rental companies so you can find the best deals out there!
  • Accommodations – We prefer booking all of our hotels, hostels, and other accommodations through Booking.com because they have a flexible cancellation policy. Also, there are lots of different options on their platform, from hotels to vacation homes. Alternatively, Expedia and Hotels.com are good for booking accommodations. For vacation home rentals, VRBO is an excellent choice (they have lower fees than Airbnb, many of the same properties, and are more ethical).
  • Flights – You’ll find many good flight deals on Skyscanner or Google Flights. You can book flights through these websites and they’ll help you find the best prices and flight times. If you fly at less popular times (e.g. mid-week or red-eye flights), you can also save some money.
  • Tours – Get the most out of your vacation by taking a guided tour! This is a great way to see the city, adventure to exciting new locations, and learn about the local culture. Viator or GetYourGuide are great options for booking tours.

About the author

Hey, I'm Nicole! I've travelled all over the world but my favorite place is British Columbia. I've lived in Victoria, BC since 2019 and spend most of my free time travelling around BC. My goal is to explore as much of this beautiful province as possible. Along the way I'll be sharing travel tips with you!

Contact Us