Last Updated on July 14, 2021
Note: Cathedral Grove reopened on July 1, 2021. As a precaution, the trails are one-way.
Wandering Under The Shadow Of Towering Ancient Trees At Cathedral Grove
Table Of Contents
- MacMillan Provincial Park
- Cathedral Grove
- Storm Damage Fuels Regeneration
- Stay On The Trail
- Cathedral Grove Trails
- Know Before You Go
- Parking At Cathedral Grove
- Safely Crossing Highway 4
- How Long Will A Visit To Visit Cathedral Grove Take?
- How To Get To Cathedral Grove
MacMillan Provincial Park
MacMillan Provincial Park is a 301-hectare Provincial Park in British Columbia, Canada. Cathedral Grove, located within MacMillan Provincial Park, is one of the most accessible stands of giant Douglas Fir trees on Vancouver Island; some more than 800 years old and 9 meters in circumference. You can wander through a network of trails, starting on either side of Highway 4 in central Vancouver Island, through the shadow of towering ancient Douglas fir trees, majestic pillars that have remained untouched by the modern world. These trees were massive. It really helped us put into perspective how small we are and how powerful Mother Nature is. To be able to stand beside one of these Ancient Giants of our forestlands is truly a surreal experience that takes your breath away; inspiring with both beauty and simplicity.
As you wander, look up every so often and enjoy the sunlight filtering through the 80-meter-high canopy of 800-year-old giant Douglas Fir, Grand Firs, Western Hemlocks, and Western Red Cedar trees. Mother Nature will take your breath away! It is immediately obvious where the name ‘Cathedral Grove’ came from.
Indigenous cultures have a long history of taking care of the land in MacMillan park. The K’ómoks, Tseshaht, and Te’mexw were able to use raw materials to support their shelter, transportation, clothing, and tools. Every part of a tree was sustainability harvested. There was no waste as every part of each tree was used.
Storm Damage Fuels Regeneration
There was some damage to the park after a severe windstorm back in 1997, that toppled hundreds of massive trees and have since forever closed some of the trails. Today you will see many of these huge trees laying on the ground, still valuable to regenerating the beauty of the park. The fallen trees provide a canopy that can provide light, shelter, and nutrients for the next generations of plants. It was fascinating to see signs of growth in action and to see the huge giants along the ground. Cathedral Grove is a stunningly beautiful place.
Stay On The Trail
Always stay on the trail to help protect the people, plant life, and trails themselves. On our first visit to Cathedral Grove five years ago, we experienced a great example of the people aspect. Not only are you disturbing plant life, but you never know what is hiding in unmaintained areas.
While we were wandering, a kid jumped into a pile of nature along the path and started absolutely screaming in pain. The girls started to run over to where he was wanting to help. We didn’t know what he had stepped into, so I (Debbie) had to quickly run in to grab them and get them away from the area as the boy’s parents tended to him. As I put the girls down, I felt a sharp pain in my leg, enough to make me scream “OWWWW!”
The little boy must have disturbed some angry Hornets and luckily I was the one stung instead of having upset kids. When it stung me, I looked down and it was still on my leg after it stung through my shorts, so that must have helped me a bit, too. I have only been stung by a Wasp previously, and a Hornet hurts a lot more. The ‘bite’ sure stung for a long time afterward. However, better me than the kids!
Cathedral Grove Trails
All trails within Cathedral Grove are easy and flat trails with minimal elevation gain.
The Living Forest & Big Tree Trails
A boardwalk leads you through the gorgeous forest. On the south side of Cathedral Grove, you will find the Living Forest Trail and the Big Tree Trail, both sections are an easy walk.
The Big Tree Trail is where you will stumble upon the biggest tree in the entire park. The Douglas Fir is about 800 years old and measures 75 m (250 ft) in height and 9 m (29 ft) in circumference. To put its massive size into perspective, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is only 56.67m tall, on its highest side. Mind-blowing!
This tree also makes the Big Tree Trail the most popular route in Cathedral Grove.
The Living Forest Trail has several interpretive signs that describe the tree life cycle and other flora within the park.
Old Growth Trail
The Old Growth Trail in the northern side of the park includes the Hollow Tree Trail and The Tree Of Life Trail, with an access point to Cameron Lake, popular for swimming and fishing. It is even claimed that there is a giant sea monster that lives in the waters, and surfaces from time to time, giving Ogopogo in Okanagan Lake come competition. Sadly, we have yet to find this creature during our visits (HAHA!).
While we prefer the trails on the other side of the highway, we are always completely fascinated by the toppled trees, exposing their old-growth root systems, as well as trees and other plant life growing from other trees.
Know Before You Go
- Help out Mother Nature by staying on the clearly marked trails and walkable areas.
- Dogs are allowed on leash.
- There are outhouses, but no other facilities are available. Camping and overnight parking is not permitted.
- Stay off the trails on windy days. Cathedral Grove is an old forest. Root system disease can cause some trees and branches to die, and they can fall without warning.
Parking At Cathedral Grove
In the current arrangement, the Park’s estimated one million annual visitors are served by a roadside pullout-style parking lot right along the Highway. It is a huge safety issue for tourists and passing motorists. Be careful when getting out of your car and slow down when you’re driving past the stretch of highway used for parking! Arrive early as parking is limited and Cathedral Grove is understandably popular.
Safely Crossing Highway 4
At Cathedral Grove, there are trails on both sides of Highway 4. To explore all of the trails, you will have to cross Highway 4. It is an extremely busy highway, so only cross when you are absolutely certain it is safe. Also, keep kids by your side when you are all loading into and unloading from your vehicle.
How Long Will A Visit To Visit Cathedral Grove Take?
We recommend allowing for at least an hour to really be able to enjoy being surrounded by incredible Mother Nature and the towering ancient trees. It is really easy to pass time at Cathedral Grove if you are fascinated by the surroundings and like to snap a lot of photos. Bring a picnic and enjoy some time at Cameron Lake before returning to your vehicle.
How To Get To Cathedral Grove
We love stopping at Cathedral Grove to stretch our legs on our way to Tofino.
Cathedral Grove is located on central Vancouver Island, 25 km west of Qualicum Beach and 16 km east of Port Alberni along Hwy #4. You cannot miss Cathedral Grove as you will drive right past it. If you are coming from Hwy #19 and Hwy #19a, take the exit to head west on Hwy #4 toward Port Alberni.
There are also plenty of other great places to explore nearby in Coombs, Qualicum, and Parksville.
Where have you been fascinated with Mother Nature on your travels?