Not far from Downtown Vancouver, quiet forests hide a few ancient treasures. Giant cedars, fire-scarred Douglas firs, and millennial cypress trees feel slightly mythical, but they are a reminder of what used to cloak the slopes of the North Shore Mountains and lands around Vancouver.
First Nations people built canoes from these tree giants. But when Europeans arrived they quickly denuded the forest. Many decay-resistant cedar stumps remain from this era, complete with springboard notches where the hand-loggers lodged boards to reach further up the trunk.
There's no single age that makes a tree old growth. The provincial government considers a tree old-growth when it is more than 250 years old; other sources put the tipping point at 350 years. But many of the most impressive old-growth trees near Vancouver stretch far beyond that age range.
Where to Find Old-growth Trees:
1. Stanley Park
Only rare massive trees remain in Stanley Park, but those that do are wonderfully accessible. The Hollow Tree is the best known, though it is no longer growing and remains upright only with the strength of metal supports.
To see still-growing ancient trees, venture along the park's forest trails. Cedars, hemlocks, and occasional firs line Tatlow Walk, Lees Trail, and Rawlings Trail. When you park at Third Beach, these trails make a short, 3-km (1.9-mile) loop. There are more large trees near Lumberman's Arch and a couple of interesting, twisted trunks near the Rose Garden.
Location: Stanley Park Drive, off West Georgia Street
This provincial park was created to protect mountaintop old-growth trees, some of which are more than a thousand years old. A roadside yellow cedar (located on the west side of Cypress Bowl Road, just before the cross-country skiing turnoff) is a 1,200-year-old conifer and is the park's largest by volume. Another similarly ancient yellow cedar (or cypress) is on the slopes of Hollyburn Mountain.
More grandparents -- amablis firs, yellow cedars, and mountain hemlocks -- slowly grow throughout the park. For an easy walk, follow the wheelchair-accessible Yew Lake Interpretive Trail to the Old Growth Loop. Some of the trees in this area may be no more than 2 meters (6.6 feet) tall yet more than 200 years old. Another, longer route through old-growth forest is the 12-km/7.5-mile round-trip hike to St. Mark's Summit.
Location: End of Cypress Bowl Road, West Vancouver
When the federal government set aside land around Point Atkinson Lighthouse in the 1880s, it inadvertently became protector of some very large, centuries-old coniferous trees. The 500-year-old Douglas firs and just-as-large western red cedars line the aptly named Valley of the Giants Trail. Also in the park, look for the peeling papery bark of the arbutus tree -- BC's only broad-leaf evergreen species.
Location: Beacon Lane, off Marine Drive, West Vancouver
A small park near the Upper Levels Highway is home to large cedars and Douglas firs, plus two rushing waterfalls. Many come to this pretty and quiet forested park to see the falls (which are most impressive during the spring freshet), but the giant trees on the west side of the creek also a lovely discovery.
Location: Take exit 4 on the Upper Levels Highway, turn right on Woodgreen Drive, and then right again on Woodgreen Place
5. Vancouver Island Old-growth
- Cathedral Grove: Two walking trail loops cut a shaded route through the Cathedral Grove giants. The ancient Douglas firs are protected within MacMillan Provincial Park.
- Goldstream Provincial Park: This scenic park is home to 600-year-old Douglas firs plus waterfalls and salmon-spawning grounds.
- Avatar Grove: These trees dwarf human visitors, who make the hike out to the site near Port Renfrew. The Ancient Forest Alliance provides detailed directions on reaching the remote site.
- Carmanah/Walbran Provincial Park: Encountering ancient Sitka spruce trees is the reward at this remote, coastal park.