If you are visiting Vancouver Island or are on the way to Tofino, then Cathedral Grove is one such place that is not worth missing.
It is like a shrine for nature and the forest. Thousands of tourists visit this place yearly. While there is no option to stay and enjoy the beauty, you can stay here from morning to evening and enjoy the nature, water, and all that comes with it.
It is in Macmillan Provincial Park on Vancouver Island. It is a park that preserves a huge region of old-growth forest with a very big tree that is unique and rare on Vancouver Island.
1. Introduction of Cathedral Grove Vancouver Island
This place is located in Macmillan Provincial Park. It is a 740-acre park on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. It is almost 25 km west of Qualicum beach and 16 km east of Port Alberni.
It is on either side of Highway 4, on the shore nearby Cameron Lake in Central Vancouver Island. It protects the Cameron River Delta. The Cameron Lake and river has several species of Trout.
The sunlight here filters through the 80m high tree canopy. This protected area is home to 390 or so acres of Douglas fir, western red cedar trees, west hemlocks, and grand firs. It protects the old-growth forest that is almost 800 years old. This is home to the largest tree in Canada.
The grove has almost more than 500,000 visitors all around the year. This means it can get really busy, but it is so worth it. The park has two sections of trails.
These are known as the Northern trails and the Southern trails. There are further 3 short walking trails or 4 loops to walk. These connect directly from the highway. Cross the highway and you can complete the entire trail.
2. History of Cathedral Grove Vancouver Island
This section of the park is on the territory of indigenous people. Vancouver Island was earlier settled by European settlers, and it became a tourist spot in the 1920s.
The name ‘Cathedral Grove’ was given by then, Governor Viscount Willingdon. The people for many years implored the officials to preserve and protect the grove for generations to come, but it was never heard.
Then later in 1944, a forester named H.R. Macmillan donated almost 136 Hectares of land. The Macmillan Park along with this section of land near Port Alberni became a Class ‘A’ Provincial Park in 1947.
Despite this, logging continued thus causing damage to the air barrier which in turn threatened the ecosystem’s integrity. The damage that can be still seen was caused by a severe storm in 1997 which blew over a lot of trees.
These fallen trees are called ‘Nurse logs‘. These falling trees gives a forest canopy that gives light, nutrients, and shelter for next-gen plants.
3. How to Get There & Parking
Macmillan Provincial Park is located west of Parksville and east of Port Alberni, on Highway 4. There are certain speed limits for the area to follow. The majority of tourists going to Tofino often stop by this place and they love it.
Parking lot at Vancouver Island is free but limited. It has only about 20 angled areas on both sides of the road. The Grove can be quite busy during the summer months of June to September. There is a certain time to visit the Grove though.
If you are someone with an RV, unfortunately, there is no dedicated RV parking. The parking area is small, and it might not be good enough for RVs.
The main parking region is connected to the park trails. These trail networks are wide and flat which is easy to hike and accessible. There are other amenities like pit toilets for all. Dogs on a leash are always welcome.
4. Some Rules to follow on the trails.
There are some rules here that are to follow to preserve and protect the biodiversity and flora and fauna of the forest. It includes-
- Smoking is not allowed anywhere near the trails and groves.
- Make sure to stay on the designated walking trails and not roam away from the trails.
- On most windy days, it is advised not to use the trails just in case of trees fall.
- The trails in this area can get icy trails in the winter months of November to March.
- Camping here is not allowed.
- Leave no trace of you visiting this place. Take everything you bring back with you out of respect for wildlife and nature.
5. Hiking on Various Trails
The park trails in Cathedral Grove Vancouver Island are a mix of wooden walking and dirt trails. While both sides of the road have circular trails, almost all the trails are short, wide, and flat which makes walking and hiking here easy and accessible.
The trails here are divided into two main parts, the Northern trails, and the Southern trails. These trails are further divided into small but beautiful walking trails. The longest of these trails is known as Old Growth Trail with almost 1.02 km in length
5.1. Northern Trail system in Cathedral Grove
The northern side trail is usually silent and quieter than the southern trails. It is also near the Cameron River.
5.1.1. Cathedral Grove trail or the Old Growth Trail
This trail, the old-growth trail has two small loops of a walking trail. These trails include the Tree of Life Trail and Hollow Tree Trail.
The trail loops have very little elevation change as dirt trails, which makes it an easy walk. This is also an offshoot of Cameron Lake. It starts with a boardwalk that lowers to the forest floor. There is an amazing view of old-growth roots here.
This region has the most damage from windstorms. There are fallen trees of old-growth Douglas firs as well as new-growth Douglas firs growing in their place. These trees are perfect for the new tree to grow.
5.2. Southern Trails in Cathedral Grove
The southern trails have two forest trails, and it is perfect for a comfortable and peaceful walk. It is pristine beauty and great for small hikes. The main trail is also wheelchair accessible.
5.2.1. Big Tree Trails
This trail is flat and is all about comfortable and calm walks. It is the most visited route in the Grove. Big Tree trail has the largest Douglas fir tree in the park. Big Tree trail cuts with Living Forest trails and crosses it.
This trail is named after this 800-year-old largest Douglas fir tree, which is also 9 m in Circumference. It is almost 72 m tall, and it is taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
5.2.2. Living Forest Trail
This trail is quite similar to the big tree trail. Both of the trails intersect each other at one point. It is a huge loop of thick forest with huge trees of western red cedar trees and Douglas firs in the Living Forest trail.
There are interpretive signs in the living Forest Trails that say about the cycle of trees, flora, and fauna.
6. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q.1. Is it worth visiting Cathedral Grove Vancouver Island?
Ans- Visiting Cathedral Grove Macmillan provincial park is totally worth visiting. It is recommended by all visitors and has a rating of more than 4 or higher.
Q.2. Is Cathedral Grove free?
Ans- It is free to visit Cathedral Grove. It is a provincial park and is free for all. Parking here is also free, but there can be limited parking areas during peak season.
Q.3. How long does it take to walk through Cathedral Grove Vancouver Island?
Ans- Walking through all trails in takes almost 40 to 45 minutes.
Q.4. Was Star Wars filmed here in Cathedral Grove, Macmillan Provincial Park?
Ans- As a matter of fact, the beauty of this forest and grove was captured in one of the scenes in the Star Wars movie. Many other movies were also filmed here.
Q.5. What is Cathedral Grove known for?
Ans- It is known for its extensive forest of Douglas Fir, hemlocks, and giant Douglas fir trees. It is also known for its carpet of greenery in the forest, and it is considered a mandatory visit in Vancouver.
Visiting this place is one unforgettable experience for all. It is in the Macmillan Provincial Park. It has everything a naturist need and want. It also has the oldest and tallest trees on the continent.
The old forest and old-growth trees have a vintage feel to them. The whole region preserves the old-growth forests, Cameron River, and much more. The Cathedral Grove has more than 800-year-old big trees in the forest.
Make sure to visit and have a great time taking in the beautiful nature and its calm and fresh setting.