Cathedral Grove is located in MacMillan Provincial Park and is one of the most accessible locations to see old-growth Douglas firs in all of Vancouver Island, BC. This easy access applies both in terms of getting to the park and getting around Cathedral Grove itself.
Cathedral Grove will make you wander a little slower as you stop and marvel at the giant 300 to 800-year-old Douglas fir forest for some magnificent forest bathing.
Welcome to Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island
(in MacMillian Provincial Park)
Cathedral Grove is arguably the most accessible old-growth forest across Vancouver Island. Located on Highway 4, it couldn’t be easier to get to, but this also means that the park can get quite busy. Despite this, it’s still worth the visit, as it’s a popular tourist stop for a reason!
The park is split into two sections, the Northern and Southern trails, with the short walking trails starting right next to the highway. Across these sections, there are three total trails or four walking loops.
In order to complete all of the trails, you will need to cross the highway. Although the speed limit is low and it is possible to walk across, it is important to remember that this is a major highway, made even busier by the extra traffic for the park. So make sure to be careful and double-check the road is clear.
The parking at Cathedral Grove can often become a point of controversy. As there isn’t that much parking at the trailhead, people visiting Cathedral Grove tend to use the side of the highway, as the wide shoulders provide plenty of parking.
However, as the highway is single-lane and narrow, the two lines of parked cars on either side can also add to how busy the road is.
To help keep this beautiful place sustainable, please consider arriving early or late in the day to avoid parking issues and overcrowding.
Walking with the Cathedral Grove Trees
The Cathedral Grove Northern trail is typically less busy and consists of the Old Growth Trail, which is made up of two walking loops. The Southern trail has both the Living Forest and Big Tree Trails.
I am always surprised by people rushing past me on these trails. We take far longer than most to explore these sacred places.
I feel like I am dipping my toes into the wellspring of life in Old Growth Forests. I want to stay and soak up as much of that magical something only these places carry as long as I can.
The forest feeds and fulfills me in a way that can come from nowhere else. Time and space are suspended as I stand in reverence of what I am a part of. I embrace all majestic and seemingly insignificant sights as miracles because that is what they truly are.
I am so very grateful for every second in the company of these wise old giants and the abundant, intricate, interwoven, and incredibly complex community that joins them at their feet.
Let yourself wander purposely and slowly and you find yourself astonished within these Old Growth Forests like Cathedral Grove. There is nothing like a deep, integrated walk where you are carried away by something unseen and seen at the same time.
History of Cathedral Grove, BC
Cathedral Grove sits within MacMillan Provincial Park, which was created in February 1947 to protect the giant Douglas fir trees, some of which are more than 800 years old and the surrounding ecosystem.
A severe windstorm showed this on New Year’s Day in 1997 when it blew over a number of trees. The aftermath of this damage can still be seen as you walk around the trails today, with new growth sprouting beneath these toppled trees.
These fallen giants become regenerative “nurse logs” healing the entire forest. The fallen trees provide a canopy that can provide light, shelter, and nutrients for the next generations of plants.
It was fascinating to see signs of growth in action and to see the huge giants along the ground. Cathedral Grove is a stunningly beautiful place.
However, it is important to recognize that the forest still existed prior to the creation of MacMillan Provincial Park, with First Nations people having a special connection with this land thousands of years before Europeans settled Vancouver Island. Cathedral Grove is situated within the traditional territory of the Hupacasath First Nation.
The Cathedral Grove Trails
Generally, the overall difficulty of the trails in the park is considered easy. This is because the walking trails are quite short, with the shortest, the Big Tree Trail, coming in at 0.4km in length, the Living Forest Trail being 0.5km in length, and the longest (the Old Growth Trail) being 1.02km in length – although this is made up of two shorter walking loops.
Cathedral Grove Trail: South
The Big Tree and Living Forest Trails are both flat, comfortable walks, coming to just under a kilometer total, and the main trail is also wheelchair accessible.
The Living Tree Trail is a big loop of thick forest, and the Big Tree Trail cuts across it.
Embracing this wise old crone was and will always be a highlight of my life. I got to hold her, and call me crazy, but it felt like we were holding each other.
It was a minuscule moment in her ancient lifespan compared to my little breath of life. But we got to share seconds, together, her and I. It was the gift of a lifetime.
The Big Tree Trail is named after the largest tree in the park, which is what the rail will bring you to. This tree is over 800 years old, 72 meters tall, and 9 meters in width! That’s substantially taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa!
Cathedral Grove Trail: North
This Old Growth Trail consists of two smaller walking loops, the Tree of Life Trail and the Hollow Tree Trail.
The Old Growth Trail is across the road from and is very different from the other two trails. In this area, the damage from the wind storm is the most obvious.
There are fallen trees to be seen, as well as new growth where they once stood. These fallen trees also mean sunlight can stream through the canopy, making for a different experience.
This loop has very little elevation change and is mostly dirt, so it should make for a relatively easy walk.
Things to Remember
We hope this guide has been helpful in planning your trip to Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island, and learning about its rich history! Some other things to keep in mind before you go are a few standard rules or warnings from the park.
For everyone’s safety, the park is strictly no smoking. Dogs should be kept on a leash at all times. And finally, it is important to stay aware of the possibility of falling trees – especially during windy months.
If you love Old Growth Forests, don’t forget to visit Avatar Grove while you are on Vancouver Island as well!
If you enjoy your trip or would like to explore more of Vancouver Island, we recommend checking out other guides to various BC destinations. There are plenty more adventures to be had and secrets to discover by exploring the Best Ever Guide website!
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