Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park - A Living Tree Museum
Updated: Dec 27, 2019
This is one of my 12 Vancouver Island bucket list hikes for 2019. Checkout the full list here.
Access: From Lake Cowichan follow North Shore Road to the Nitnat Main.
Difficulty: Moderate to very difficult
Highlights: Incredibly dense rainforest with old-growth cedars and sitka spruce trees.
The Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park is home to 2% of British Columbia’s old-growth forest. At first blush, 2% may not seem like very much. However, considering that Vancouver Island’s entire landmass is only 3.311% of BC’s total landmass and the park is only 163.65 square kilometres accounting for a measly 0.017% of BC’s total area, this 2% is massive.
The park is home to ancient giants. Some of the world’s largest Spruce trees (over 95 metres tall and over 800 years old) can be found here alongside cedar trees that are more than 1,000 years old. This means these trees were just wee tree babies when Leif Eriksson landed in Newfoundland in the 11th century. They were already over 300 years old when the black plague was ripping through Europe in 1347.
Basically, the park is a living tree museum. As we explored the single track trails and boardwalk, we spent a significant amount of time with our necks craned back just trying to take it all in.
Carmanah Walbran is on the western side of Vancouver Island, past Lake Cowichan. We accessed it via North Shore Road past Youbou and then onto the Nitnat Main. There were many signs nailed to the trees giving us directions to the park. The road is gravel but when we went in early December of 2019 it was in reasonably good condition. It may have been unique to this year, but there was no snow or frost on the road or in the park.
However, being on the western side, the forest is wet and dense. The biomass of this park is almost twice that if a tropical rainforest (biomass being the weight of the plants/hectare). It wasn’t raining when we were there, but it's easy to see how it could become incredibly muddy and challenging if it rained.
The area is also prone to flash flooding and parts of the trail were completely washed out. It feels like it has been a while since this park has had some maintenance. The boardwalks are saturated, and moss is creeping over the planks and growing along with the rope barriers meant to keep visitors away from the giants. It’s felt a little abandoned, except for the very clean outhouses.
Above is the saltiest video yet about this little park.
Other Vancouver Island Hikes