While there are other places on Vancouver Island to see old growth trees, the Carmanah Walbran Valley is home to the biggest and best collection of huge trees, including Douglas Fir, Red Cedar and Sikta Spruce. It’s a slow and bumpy ride out there, but a pristine rainforest awaits you. The rain soaked valley seems endless as you hike for hours through it, spotting another ‘big one’ after another. Eventually you’ll lose count and just soak it all in. The atmosphere is thick with mist, and the forest quiet with the only sounds being your own footsteps, dripping water and the occasional bird.

Alone in the woods

Some of these trees are many centuries old, but some of the youngest ones are also the tallest and widest (the wet environment here is favourable for quick growth). Well, when I say young, I mean maybe three hundred or four hundred years. At least as old as Canada anyway! At one time, most of BC looked similar to the Carmanah Valley, which makes the experience even more poignant. This is a truly special place, and most likely you’ll have it all to yourself like we did. It requires a bit of effort to reach, but if you’re willing to put in the time, Carmanah Walbran will deliver.

A trip back in time at Carmanah Walbran

After some quality time spent on the Island’s logging roads (around three hours from Lake Cowichan, more from Bamfield) you reach Carmanah’s parking lot. There’s not really much to it, though it feels like entering a bit of a time warp since all of the information on the notice board relates to 1995 – the year BC Parks acquired the Walbran portion. The brochures posted on the board hint that new developments will be happening soon in 1996, once the ‘new’ land is consolidated. Perhaps there were big plans for Carmanah Walbran at one point, but it seems that it has now been left to run a little wild, mostly due to funding issues. In some ways, this may be the best thing for it, though I wish that the route to the Carmanah Giant, the tallest Sitka Spruce in Canada (95m), was still open.**

Carmanah Walbran Provincial park Valley hiking Randy Stoltmann Grove

An overnight stay

Back to the present time of 2014, there are a number of hikes you can take in the Valley, along with a couple of different camping areas and a parking lot for overnight stays for RVs. I had a hard time picturing large RVs making the long journey by logging road (especially the part that went up and over a small mountain and the particularly narrow sections) but they do seem to get everywhere. It costs $5 a night per person to stay in a RV, and $10 per person per night for camping, paid via self-registration. The camping area by the parking lot was surprisingly nice and well kept, though I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to light a fire here.

Carmanah Walbran 4

On the trail

All hikes start from the parking lot – it’s basically just one route heading north through the Valley, with your return route the same way you came. There are some specific trees highlighted for viewing, such as the Hollow Tree, Heaven Tree and the Randy Stoltmann Grove. The latter is named after the environmentalist who tirelessly campaigned for this area to be protected back in the late 1980s/early 1990s. This area was actually scheduled by the Provincial Government to be completely clear-cut but after repeated protests by Randy and friends, the land and trees were saved.

Hollow tree Carmanah Walbran

Wet, wet, wet

One thing you must know if you go hiking here is the risk of flash flooding. We spent around three hours wandering six kilometres around the Valley to the Three Sisters and then to the Randy Stolmann Grove before returning to our van. Soon after we got back, the rain really started pouring. It had been raining most of the day and we’d gotten dripped on a fair bit in the forest, but now the heavens just opened. Jean Robert put a quick tarp up and we were collecting 500mls of rain in our water bottles in less than five minutes. I have never seen rain like that anywhere outside of Fiji.  I wouldn’t have wanted to be hiking, let alone camping, down in the Valley right then.

Carmanah Provincial Park 1

Relentless logging

Having spent an amazing day amongst the giants in the Carmanah Valley, it was disturbing to see logging trucks on our way home, loaded up with trees not of a dissimilar size than the ones we were recently admiring. On the other hand, I’m not sure there would be any kind of access to Carmanah Walbran if there was no logging in the area. What a weird kind of juxtaposition to be in. This has come up quite a few times during our time on Vancouver Island – why is it that we’re always driving along logging roads to reach the most beautiful spots?

Regardless of the politics, our time at Carmanah Walbran was one of the best days we have spent on Vancouver Island. It is a long way out there, but I urge you to go if you can. If you don’t have much appreciation for trees before you go, you definitely will after.

Carmanah Walbran tall trees BC

The Cheewhat Cedar

**On the way to and from the Carmanah Valley, we attempted to find the Cheewhat Cedar, apparently Canada’s largest tree (by width). It is located not far off the logging road on the way to the Provincial Park. Despite it being highlighted in our Backroad Mapbook, and using GPS, we could not locate the start of the hike to the tree. We were pretty disappointed, especially since it was on Jean Robert’s Western Canada bucket list. I can only put it down to visiting the area in early season (May); a lot can happen to the condition of trailheads over the winter, particularly in areas as wet and full of big trees as this (it would only take one big tree across the trail to completely block it from view).

Carmanah Walbran Three Sisters

The Three Sisters

Carmanah Walbran 6

Blue grouse Carmanah

Hover over the below image and save it to your Pinterest board for future referencewalking-amongst-giants

Gemma
Author

One half of a Canadian/British couple currently living in Penticton, British Columbia. Gemma is happiest with a paddle in her hand, on the trail or planning the next big adventure.

16 Comments

  1. Thank you for posting this Gemma. I will be camping in Carmanah in a few days, and it’s nice to get some current info about conditions in the park. Happy travels!

  2. Pingback: 5 Places I Never Expected To See in Canada | Off Track Travel

  3. Hi Gemma,
    Thanks for this post, it’s a nice description of an underrated area.
    I’m about to visit Canada again and I’m wondering if this area can be accessed from the west coast trail?
    When I was hiking the trail 5 years ago I heard a story of someone who went looking for the Carmanah Giant as a sidetrip. I thought it was crazy back then as the trail offers more then enough but since I’m going back I wouldn’t wanna miss it if possible.
    Regards,

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      Hi John,

      All of the literature and information I have read implies that the Carmanah Giant is very difficult to access, from either the West Coast Trail OR the road accessible side. They stopped maintaining the trail and now major bushwhacking is required. The official line is to prevent damage to this area, but I would guess that stopping people from accessing the West Coast Trail would have some part in the decision too.

      • Gemma,
        Thanks for the reply, I’ve done some further research as well. It seems you’re right. The Carmanah Giant is probably impossible if not very hard(!) to reach. The distance from the trail is also not realistic as a side trip.

        Two much more realistic possibilities would be to look for the Cheewhat Giant (Canada’s largest) near the Cheewhat lake approx half way on the trail. Or Big Lonely Doug close to Port Renfrew (unreal scenery).
        We haven’t decided yet.

        • Gemma
          Gemma Reply

          Hi John,

          We tried to find the trail to the Cheewhat Giant both on the way to and from Carmanah Park, but had no luck! It was early May so we wonder whether the trail just doesn’t get bushwhacked until the summer. Would love to know if you make it!

  4. Hi Gemma. I was reading your story about your trek into Carmanah-Walbran PP. I had the pure joy of visiting the park back in the late 1990s with my sister and her boyfriend. We camped out on the sat and did our hiking on Sunday. A sunny summer day with no rain! A miracle! We were told that the extension of the trail that went to the Giant was closed because it was too dangerous. The tree sits on the face of a cliff so you had to repel down a rope to see the tree. At the bottom of the cliff the trail continued to join up with the southern extent of the west coast trail. I am returning next week and hope to visit the giants again so I enjoyed your story about the drive into the park. Thanks

  5. Does anyone have any updated info on reaching this? It’s been on my list for awhile and I just found out that certain parts are flagged for logging. Breaks my heart, I love the old growth stands on the island and I’ve yet to see this one! Thanks

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      Oh wow, I had no idea that loggers were trying to log in this area again. That is really sad. From my research, it doesn’t sound like access to the park is unavailable. Definitely try and go if you can!

      • Hey, I am planning to visit the area in April of 2016; as far as I can tell it is all still accessible. I loved your post, sounds spectacular! My question is in regards to the road conditions leading up to the parking lot. Since you also visited the area in early spring I am wondering what the 3 hours of rough roads entail? Is it accessible my car, or is an SUV/truck necessary. Would greatly appreciate any help on the matter as it is my first trip to Vancouver island!
        Thanks!

  6. Hi Breanna,
    I’ve been to the Park a few times and it is well worth a visit. The road however is very rough and includes but not limited to: potholes that are difficult to avoid, fallen trees, sharp stones and in wet conditions, run away streams. A larger vehicle is recommended as you will have more clearance but at the very least bring a spare tire and jump cables with a battery pack. This is essential. It is remote and does not see many people in a day. However that said, it is an incredible experience and a great way to immerse yourself in nature. Keep an eye out for the Cheewhat Giant Cedar trail- a small flag that is easily missed! Enjoy

  7. Hi Gemma,
    Thank you for your excellent account, including great photos, of exploring the giants in Carmanah-Walbran. In July I’m going to be on Vancouver Island for about 3 days, landing in Victoria. After considering the physical and time challenges of driving into Carmanah-Walbran for a day, I’m wondering if you could recommend another forest hike in the central/south end of the island. I have stayed in Sooke in the past and enjoyed some hikes in that area, including the Potholes. Many years ago I hiked the west coast trail, which today is a bigger commitment than I’m prepared to make, and I’ve visited Cathedral Grove over the years, which is ok but it’s over-crowded and closer to a theme park.
    John (above) mentioned “Big Lonely Doug” near Port Renfrew. Do you have any info on that area, or could you pass on any website or name of a good book/guide that would be helpful? Or maybe John or someone else can jump in.

    • We just came back from a day among the Giants at avatar grove. About 1/2 hour from Port Renfrew. Huge and beautiful!

  8. Just got back from Carmanah a couple of hours ago. Left the parking lot at 9am got back at 6:45 . Tried to make it to the Giant but gave up after 5 hours. The trail is poorly marked and not maintained at all. Did it 10 or 12 years ago and it was no problem. Saw the giant and went as far as the west coast trail in about 8 hours return. Today we got to a signpost that said the giant was still 2.1 km away. That was after 5 hrs of steady hiking. I would not attempt this hike now unless you are a glutton for punishment . Beautiful place tho. Stoltsmangrove is incredible . When you see the sign at the end of the boardwalk that says the trail is closed don’t go too much further. Enjoyed the ancient forest hope you do too!

    • Gemma
      Gemma Reply

      Thanks for the update on the Carmanah Giant trail – or the non-existant trail to be more accurate! I’m glad you still had a great time despite not seeing the Giant.

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