British Columbia’s Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park is one of the coolest parks that nobody visits. Protesting in the 80’s – 90’s saved the valley from logging and now it remains as an intact and spectacular example of the mature temperate rainforest. It’s similar terrain to the Olympic Peninsula, but less visited and disturbed. A walk anywhere in the park provides a surreal experience with groves of massive spruce, cedar and hemlock flanked by sword ferns. Amongst the many highlights is the Carmanah Giant, which at 96 meters is Canada’s tallest tree and arguably the world’s tallest Sitka Spruce.
We recently decided to visit for attempt two at finding the Carmanah Giant, which resides about 6km downriver from where the trail ends. A trail used to extend to the giant, but it was hastily built in the 80’s in an attempt to lure recreational use to save the valley, so it quickly fell into disrepair. It was closed in the early 90’s has been throughly retaken by the forest. Attempt one to find the giant was a spontaneous and half hearted effort in 2011 that didn’t make it far past the “trail closed ahead” sign. This attempt wasn’t well planned either, but at least I did some research on the location of the tree.
On Feb 1, we tried to day hike to the Carmanah Giant from our camp at the end of the established trail near Heaven Grove. A sign warns of fines from using the closed trail, but there’s little danger of that since you can hardly find the old trail anyways. The going is surprisingly good in most areas with the shade from the big trees leaving only ferns to wade through. The main challenges are thick pockets of devils club and salal, along with the occasional steep embankment. The cobble stone lined creek also provides good travel in most areas, with occasional deep pool requiring a return to the forest.
We made it half way to the giant and then turned around. The math of completing the trip before dark turned against us, and we started to get chilly from the time spent in the creek and rain. I am more confident than before that a visit to the giant isn’t ridiculously hard. Eventually we’ll go again, next time in the summer and likely as an easy one night foray from the end of the established trail. As with many things, the journey is more fun than the destination so we’re lucky to experience it several times.
I have a highly accurate idea of the giants location from numerous sources including some old Carmanah books. I won’t toss out GPS coordinates to the tree as that’s cheating and deflates the adventure. What you need to know is the old trail crossed the creek very soon after the current closure sign. You don’t need to cross here – we didn’t – but you do need to cross eventually as the tree is on the south side. The Giant is about 80% of the way to the ocean past Silver Strand Falls and Carmanah Canyon. You want to be on the south side of the creek before the canyon which starts ~1km before the tree. The going is pretty good on the North side for a while, so perhaps walk the north side of the creek alternating between the forest and creek bed as appropriate. When the salal gets too thick, ford the creek and continue on the south side. You’ll probably have to cross a few times as the south shore can get a bit tricky too. Crossing is normally easy. The tree itself is marked with an old sign and rope around it, so you’ll know when you’re at the right spot. If you really want coordinates, you can find them on the BC Big Tree Registry.