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Step into the Magical World of Cathedral Grove BC, Vancouver Island

Greetings, photographers and nature lovers! Ready to explore the giant Douglas firs around Cathedral Grove? Have you ever heard of Cathedral Grove BC? If not, you’re in for a treat, for it is one of the biggest attractions of BC parks! This Majestic Woodland Sanctuary, with its huge trees, is a beautiful and serene old-growth forest here on Vancouver Island. The grove is renowned for its giant fir trees, some being over 800 years old, contributing to its tallest and stunning canopy that creates a magical old-growth forest atmosphere. Join me as we explore it’s wonders and discover why it’s a must-visit destination listed under BC parks for nature enthusiasts.

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What is Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island?

Located along the Alberni Highway, this area is renowned for its ancient Douglas-fir trees, some of which are 800 years old. Traditionally, the territory was owned by the K’ómoks, Tseshaht, and Te’mexw people, who have been stewards of this old-growth forest for thousands of years.

Since the 1920s, the Grove has been a popular tourist attraction, and in 1944, a 136-hectare land donation was made to protect the area. A stop here allows visitors to experience the awe-inspiring beauty of the giant Douglas fir trees up close.

The park, which is part of the BC Parks system, is situated near the Cameron River and is split into two sections, the Northern and Southern trails. Each section offers a unique view of the tree. To complete all the trails, visitors will have to cross the highway, with parking at Cathedral Grove available for convenience.

What to expect when visiting

For an ideal photo experience, I recommend going early in the morning to avoid the crowds.  Be sure to capture the beautiful early morning sunlight filtering through the big trees in this old-growth forest. For a real treat, visit the grove during a light snowfall. The trees in Grove look incredible, draped in fresh snow. However, beware the Cathedral Grove is closed on very windy days because of the risk of falling trees.

Photographers will be left mesmerized. All you have to do is point your camera at the beautiful forest canopy above. The canopy creates a breathtaking backdrop that will make your photos stand out.

When visiting, remember to leave no trace and pack out everything you brought in. Depositing your trash in the provided bins and staying on designated trails.

History of Cathedral Grove BC

Before European immigrants arrived in the region in the mid-19th century, indigenous people used the location for ceremonial purposes. Western red cedar trees, some of which were 800 years old trees with their bark removed, have been identified as “culturally modified trees” and date back to as early as AD 113.

The name Cathedral Grove first emerged in communication with the provincial government in the 1920s and is said to have been suggested by the Viscount Willingdon, the Governor General of Canada. In the early 1920s and 30s, the area was a well-known tourist destination, featuring groves of ancient trees. The grove is located in a prime area, just minutes from other attractions, making it a must-visit spot when exploring Vancouver Island.

During the next 25 years, petitions were signed that put pressure on the BC government to convert this to a protected area. This public campaign emphasized the importance of preserving the location on behalf of BC and its natural heritage.

In 1944, H.R. MacMillan donated the 136 hectares “for the perpetual enjoyment of the public in recognition of the unique stand of trees.” This act marked a significant step in the protection of Cathedral Grove. Three years later, in 1947, the area was established as a Class A provincial park, becoming a provincial park three years later. This was a testament to the commitment to the conservation of the area.

Despite the creation of the provincial park, logging continued around the park. A notable event was the storm in 1997, which destroyed the wind barrier and threatened the integrity of the ecosystem.

Today, the area is part of tourist destinations in Central Vancouver Island, complete with a tourist shop and facilities. The sanctuary serves as a reminder of the efforts of the public to preserve this unique stand of trees for future generations, embodying the spirit of conservation and the importance of protecting natural wonders on Vancouver Island.

Man reading about the history of Cathedral Grove BC

Cathedral Grove Directions Getting to the Park

Cathedral Grove, is easily accessible on Vancouver Island, whether you’re coming from Victoria, Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Courtenay, Campbell River, or Tofino. There is only one route, making it a convenient stop on the way to various destinations on the island.

Located on Highway 4 just outside of Port Alberni. Access is straightforward as the highway winds through the park. With limited parking available at the trailhead. Large shoulders along the highway provide additional parking options. The Northern side of the highway houses the Old Growth Trail, which showcases the ancient forest in MacMillan Provincial Park. The Southern side features the Big Tree and Living Forest Trails, allowing for easy exploration of this magnificent area.

From Port Alberni, take the Port Alberni Highway for about 20 km to reach Cathedral Grove. If you’re coming from the East side of Vancouver Island, take the Inland Island Highway to Highway 4 (Port Alberni Highway). It’s approximately 22 km from this junction to the grove. This direct route makes it an ideal and convenient location for those traveling across Vancouver Island to experience its natural beauty.

  1. From Port Alberni take the Post Alberni Highway for 20 km
  2. From the East side of Vancouver Island
  3. Take the Inland Island highway to highway 4 (Port Alberni Highway). 22 Km

Map to of Port Albeni Highway

How to enjoy your visit to Cathedral Grove

Step 1: Discovering Cathedral Grove

Cathedral Grove is an ancient Douglas fir forest in MacMillan Provincial Park on Vancouver Island. It’s known for its giant old growth Douglas fir trees. It’s split into two sections, the Northern and Southern trails. Both trails start at the parking lots. Be first or fast as the parking lots fill up quickly at peak times. If you want the less crowded experience, be there early.

Step 2: Make a plan for your visit

  • Step 1: Check the trail map. it is a small park, so it’s easy to get around. The main parking area is located off of Cameron Lake Road.
  • Step 2: Familiarize yourself with the park. The Grove is home to a unique ecosystem and wildlife, including deer, elk, black bears, woodpeckers, and owls. There are facilities at the park.
  • Step 3: Stay safe, stay on designated trails. Dogs are welcome, must be leashed. Be aware of falling branches or trees, especially on windy days.
  • Step 4: Allow yourself plenty of time to explore. It’s easy to spend many hours in the park, taking in the incredible sights and photographing the area.

Step 3: Check the opening times and other information

Open to the public year-round. On either side of the highway are pit toilets. Trails are wheelchair accessible and a combination of trails and boardwalks. Cell service is available but not very strong, so some providers may not get any. To protect the delicate local ecosystem, guests should stay on designated trails and keep an eye out for local wildlife.

Step 4: Learn about the living forest and Big Tree Trail

At Cathedral Grove, the Living Forest and Big Tree Trail offer an easy stroll through the old growth forest. Boardwalks lead you through the woodland, where you find lichen hanging from the trees, and moss growing along the edges of branches.

Both trails are flat and with the main trail being wheelchair friendly. The Big Tree Trail brings you to the largest Douglas fir tree in the park, which is 72 meters tall, 9 meters around, and 800 years old, taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. A memorable trip and a fantastic way to photograph nature’s marvels.

Step 5: Take some time to explore Cathedral Grove.

Hiking in the area is like walking through a magical forest with giant trees hundreds of years old. Bring your camera. You surely will capture stunning photos of the lush greenery and the towering trees. It’s truly a life-size fairy tale.

Step 6: Enjoy warm summer days at Cathedral Grove

  1. Start your visit early in the morning to take advantage of the peaceful atmosphere and beautiful early morning sunlight filtering through the trees.
  2. Park your car in either the north or south parking lots, each with access to different trails.
  3. Begin your walk on the trails and take in the incredible sights of towering ancient trees.
  4. Enjoy the peace and beauty of the forest and the dampening of the highway sounds.
  5. Take plenty of pictures and marvel at the unique beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
  6. If you’re visiting during a light snowfall, be sure to take advantage of the dreamy atmosphere.
  7. Allow plenty of time to appreciate your surroundings and be sure to leave before high winds become a risk.

The forest bottom in Cathedral Grove BC

Hiking Trails

South Trail

The South Trail features two walking loops: Big Tree Trail and Living Forest Trail.

Big Tree Trail features the largest tree in the park, a Douglas Fir measuring over 9 meters in circumference.

Living Forest Trail: features a number of large Douglas Firs and interpretive signs describing the life-cycle and biodiversity of the forest.

Both trails are flat, short and wide, easily accessible and simple to navigate. The highway is a major roadway and use caution when crossing.

North Trail

The North Trail consists of the Old Growth Trail, which is made up of two walking loops. It is typically quieter than the South trail and features a number of noteworthy Douglas Firs. The trail begins with a boardwalk before leading down to the forest floor, where visitors can spot an overturned tree with its fascinating root systems. The trail also offers spectacular views of Cameron Lake. For extra safety, visitors should stay on the designated trails and be careful of snow and ice during the winter months to reduce damage to the forest.

Final Thoughts on Visiting Cathedral Grove Vancouver Island

It truly is unique experience that allows people to appreciate the beauty of nature and it’s old growth forest. With free entry, convenient location, and scenic walking trails, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Not to mention, you can take advantage of the picnic areas around Cameron Lake as you take in the sights. Cathedral Grove is truly a special place that is well worth the visit.

Frequently Asked Questions

Admission to Cathedral Grove is free, making it a great activity to connect with nature in the Pacific Northwest. If you’d want to support the BC parks’ conservation efforts, there is a donation box. Contributions support initiatives like trail upkeep and revegetation plans.

Cathedral Grove is home to old-growth Douglas Fir trees, which are several hundred years old and can even be as old as 800 years old! Douglas Fir trees can live to be over 1,000 years old, making them some of the longest-living trees in the world. Western Red Cedar trees, which are also found in Cathedral Grove, are known for their life-giving properties. The bark of these trees is used to make clothing, baskets, and blankets.

Yes, Cathedral Grove is dog-friendly. Dogs are allowed on leash at all times and owners must pick up after their pets. Dogs are allowed in both the northern and southern parts of the park, but it is important to stay on the clearly marked trails to help protect the environment.

It takes around 30-45 minutes to walk through Cathedral Grove BC, but you can easily spend an hour and a half if you choose to take in the surroundings, explore all the trails, take photos and read interpretive signs. At least an hour should be allowed to explore the park, and you can really appreciate the beauty of the old trees and surrounding nature.

Yes, Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi was filmed in Cathedral Grove! The mystical vibe of the old-growth Douglas Fir trees and the magical atmosphere of the Grove make it ideal for the forest scenes of Endor, where Ewoks live. George Lucas chose Cathedral Grove as the backdrop for this planet because it is such a special place.
Some of the trees in the movie are over 1,000 years old, which is very old for a tree. Grove has many Culturally Modified Trees, or CMTs, which are living trees that have been modified by Indigenous peoples in cultural and practical ways. This makes the location all the more special and perfect for the Star Wars scenes.

Cathedral Grove BC is an important place for both its natural beauty and its historical significance. Spanning 136 hectares, the park is home to a unique ecosystem of ancient, old-growth Douglas fir trees, some of which are over 800 years old. Additionally, the area holds special significance for three First Nations peoples, the Hupacasath, K’ómoks, and Tseshaht, who have acted as stewards of the area for thousands of years.
The park has a long history that dates back to the 1920s, when it was a popular tourist spot. However, it wasn’t until 1944 that the park was officially protected when H.R. MacMillan donated the land to the provincial government. Despite the protection, logging continued around the park, threatening the integrity of the ecosystem. This was seen in the aftermath of a 1997 windstorm, which toppled a number of the largest trees in the park.
Today, Cathedral Grove is a stunningly beautiful place and a one-of-a-kind experience that inspires people to care more about the environment. The park provides an easily accessible example of old growth forests, and serves as a reminder of the need to protect our natural spaces. It is a living example of the power of conservation. It is a reminder that we all need to work together to protect our environment for future generations.

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