PORT RENFREW, BC. 'CANADA'S TALL TREE CAPITAL'
Close to town grows the world’s largest Douglas-fir tree, the massive Red Creek Fir, as well as “Big Lonely Doug”, Canada’s second largest Douglas-fir. En-route, through the ancient forests to the Red Creek Fir is one of Canada’s largest Sitka spruce trees, the San Juan Spruce. Also very close by is the Harris Creek Spruce and the amazing Avatar Grove, the “Cathedral Grove of Port Renfrew”, and home to “Canada’s Gnarliest Tree”.
AVATAR GROVE & CANADA'S 'GNARLIEST TREE'
The big trees of Avatar Grove are the closest to Port Renfrew and one of the easiest sites to access. Avatar Grove is about 25 minutes from Port Renfrew and can be accessed by any car. The last few kilometres of the road are unpaved and bumpy, but regular 2wd cars will be fine if they drive slowly. There are actually two separate groves at Avatar Grove: the upper grove and the lower grove. You will find 'Canada’s Gnarliest Tree' in the upper grove, reached by climbing wooden stairs and board walks. In the lower grove you’ll find a collection of cedars and firs along a short loop trail. You have to descend a set of stairs to reach the loop. Both trails have muddy, slippery and uneven sections, despite the numerous boardwalks and bridges that have already been built (more are being constructed). Be sure to wear hiking boots. To get there from Port Renfrew there's a turn off (across from the fire hall) to Cowichan Lake. Take this turn off onto Deering Rd. Cross the big bridge over the San Juan River and continue down Deering Rd., staying to the right at the next Y. You’ll cross a small, single lane bridge and reach a “T”. Turn left onto Gordon River Main (right goes to Lake Cowichan). Stay on the mostly-paved road and after approximately 5 km, you will reach a “Y”. Go left and cross a tall, beautiful bridge over the Gordon River. After crossing the bridge, stay on Gordon River Main (now a bumpy gravel road) for about 1.5 km, keeping to the right at the next “Y”. You will soon cross a small bridge at Baird Creek. Park on the right side after the bridge. Look for signs at the trailheads.
CANADA'S 'GNARLIEST TREE'
BIG LONELY DOUG
Big Lonely Doug is located a few kilometres up the road from Avatar Grove so it may make sense to visit them one after another...a day trip. Continue past the Avatar Grove on the Gordon River Main for approximately 5 km and make a right turn onto Edinburgh Main. This a narrower, semi-overgrown road. But it should still be fine for regular cars up until the bridge over the Gordon River. Be sure to stop and check out the view from the bridge as the Gordon River canyon is spectacular. After the bridge the road gets rougher and steeper. NOTE: vehicles with 4wd and good clearance are necessary from here on to Big Lonely Doug. If you only have a 2 wheel drive car you can park at the bridge and walk up the road for about 1.5km. Follow the rough road as it goes uphill and around to the right. Continue on this main road for approximately 3-5 minutes and Big Lonely Doug is towering alone in the middle of a clear cut. Back in 2012 a logger working in the area decided to spare Big Lonely Doug when marking a cut block full of other old growth trees. It is the second largest douglas fir tree in the world. The best place to view Big Lonely Doug is actually from the logging road where you park. If you want to get down close to the tree, there is a rough foot path marked with blue flags that descends the hillside, weaving around clearcut debris. Try to minimize the time you spend right next to 'Doug' hugging him, so as to protect his roots!
SAN JUAN SITKA SPRUCE
The San Juan Sitka Spruce was one of the world’s largest sitka spruce trees by volume. Unfortunately, a few years ago the top portion of the tree suffered wind damage and the top broke off. The main trunk still stands, but the tree has lost much of it’s former height. It’s still worth a visit to see this beauty. The tree is located in the San Juan Bridge Forest Recreation Site. In the spring the site is almost carpeted in beautiful Pink Fawn Lilies. Most of the drive to the San Juan Spruce is on a paved road. The last few kilometres are on gravel roads with active logging and fine for 2wd vehicles. To reach the San Juan Spruce start at the Port Renfrew Community Center/Fire Station and drive down Deering Rd. Cross Deering Bridge and turn right towards Lake Cowichan. Turn right at 9 Mile Junction onto Len’s Creek Main (start of gravel road). Keep right at fork (Len’s Triangle) onto Bear Main. Cross the large bridge over the San Juan River. The San Juan Spruce tree & Recreation Site are accessed via a left hand turn just after the bridge.
RED CEDAR FIR
The Red Creek Fir is the largest known Douglas Fir tree in the world. However it isn’t the tallest (there’s a taller one in Cathedral Grove) but it is the biggest by volume. This is the most difficult to reach of the big trees near Port Renfrew. It requires a longer drive on rougher and unmaintained roads. This route is not possible for vehicles with low clearance. Trucks, SUV’s, and 4wd vehicles are best. After the drive there is a short uphill hike to the tree. Along the way you’ll pass several giant cedar trees. To see this tree, continue straight uphill past the San Juan Spruce. Turn right onto Mosquito Creek Main and begin heading uphill. Keep left up the steep hill through some recent clearcut. At the fork in the road keep right and continue right at all forks in the road to reach Red Creek Main. This road appears less-used and descends downhill for quite some time, so don’t feel that you’ve gone the wrong way! 14. Turn right at “T” junction at the bottom of the hill. 15. Park where the road noticeably widens on both sides. The trailhead is found just a few meters beyond on the right hand side. It's a 10-15 minute walk to the Red Creek Fir! Watch for three incredible old growth red cedar trees along the left hand side of the trail about halfway up as well.
THE HARRIS CREEK SPRUCE
The Harris Creek Spruce is located on the east side of the paved Pacific Marine Circle Route road in between Port Renfrew and Lake Cowichan. About 40 minutes (25 km) from Port Renfrew. There is only one small sign to indicate that the tree is there. Watch for a 'Point of Interest' sign a few hundred meters before the pullout. The Harris Creek Spruce is the easiest tree to visit on this list since it’s located right next to a paved road. It’s not the largest sitka spruce on Vancouver Island, but it is still pretty spectacular. A wooden fence surrounds the tree to protect it’s roots. (Remember, giants don’t like having their feet stepped on.) This tree stands in a second growth forest since the Harris Creek Spurce was spared when the area was originally logged in the 1890s. It grows right on the banks of Harris Creek and.its massive limbs are wonderfully draped with mosses and ferns.
MAP OF GIANT TREES AND ANCIENT FORESTS