Possibly the largest tract of un-logged old growth temperate rainforest on Vancouver Island is found in the Walbran Valley. Home to the “Castle Giant” (one of Canada’s largest Red Cedars ), waterfalls, emerald pools, diverse wildlife and incredible biodiversity. Enjoy remote hiking and camping under an intact old growth forest canopy providing with a life changing connection to nature and wildlife.
Walbran Valley – Protecting Vancouver Islands Old Growth
The opportunity to travel deep into a region where intact ancient old growth forests still stand. Trees telling their story of centuries past, can’t be overlooked. One of the last remaining areas of such beauty and rarity still exists deep in the heart of the southern interior on Vancouver Island.
On unceded Pacheedaht Territory, one of the most spectacular ancient rainforests in Canada is threatened by clearcut logging. Over 25 years of protests and blockades, “Kaxi:ks”, or the Walbran Valley, still remains largely unprotected.
While those efforts in 1988 led to the creation of the Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park, the unique and exceptionally special zone was left outside of the park protection. This “bite” as it is sometimes described sits within the Upper Walbran River watershed in the central Walbran Valley. It covers 500 hectares and is home to the last 4% of remaining ancient temperate low level rainforest on Vancouver Island.
Walbran Valley Driving Directions
Its remote location, which requires back-road driving, makes this destination a rare and seldom visited one. The best starting point for your journey is the town of Lake Cowichan. From here you will head south of the lake along South Shore Rd, past the towns of Messachie Lake and Honeymoon Bay and lastly Caycusse campground.
From here the road comes to the intersection with Caycusse Main logging road, where you will turn left (not right to Carmanah Prov Park). You will travel along for roughly 10km (6.2mi), then stay to the left at the fork in the road, now traveling along McClure Main logging road. Take the opportunity to stop at McClure Lake along the way if you wish for a tranquil spot and undoubtedly great fishing.
After about 8km (5mi), stay straight onto the Walbran Main logging road, following this and avoiding spur roads until roughly 15km (9.3mi) in, at which point you will turn right down the narrow spur road into the Walbran Valley. This narrow spur road winds along for 2km (1.2mi) at which point you reach the Walbran Creek bridge and your destination.
Exploring the Walbran Valley
On either side of the Walbran Bridge there is ample room for parking while you are camping or hiking. Across the bridge which crosses the Walbran Creek, you will find a beautiful handmade information sign with maps and info on the boardwalks, trails and sights not to be missed on your hike. Before you cross the bridge take the time to read the history of how passionate people stopped the logging over 25 years ago and still fight to protect it today. All the information is found in the Witness Shelter immediately before the bridge.
To the left is the Emerald Loop Trail, which takes you to the wild and awe-inspiring Emerald Giant tree, and down to the Emerald Pools of the Walbran River. This is a short loop which offers a great lunch spot along the river and in summer refreshing swimming.
To the right and down the road from the info board is the not-to-be-missed Walbran Falls Trail. The trail works its way through giant cedars and douglas fir alongside the massive Walbran falls. The lower falls trail leads to the base of the falls while also offering open patches in a serene setting along the river shoreline for tenting. The Upper Fall section of the trail leads and winds over incredible cedar boardwalk milled from fallen trees right within the forest. Volunteers crafted some of the finest stairs up the steep forest floor that I have ever seen.
At the end of the Walbran Falls trail you find yourself crossing the Walbran Creek to reach the trailhead for the Castle Grove Trail. The highlight of this out and back trail is reaching the massive Castle Giant western red cedar. This champion red cedar estimated at more than 1000 years old and is over 5 meters (16ft) in diameter and one of the widest and largest in Canada.
If visiting the full falls, the Castle Giant, and taking time for a lunch and photos, this loop should take about 3-4 hrs and is roughly 5km (3.1mi). The majority of this trail is on boardwalk that has painstakingly and beautifully been crafted by volunteers. Do make note that the Castle Grove Trail can only be crossed in low flow seasonal river conditions for safety as this is the only way to reach the trail.
The Anderson Lake trail was cleared and opened back up in the summer of 2018. The 6hr trail loop out to Anderson Lake is a great additional hike in the region (13km/8mi) but also as an overnight option for backpackers. The Anderson lake trail is accessed off the Castle Grove Trail.
Further down the logging road, to where the final standoff ended logging in 1988 is the Harriet Nahanee Memorial Trail. This section of the forest trail network is roughly 5km if you do the entire loop. It is a bit more challenging and physically demanding then the other trails but worth the effort.
The trail works across the same superb boardwalk experienced on the other trails but eventually becomes a trail along the forest floor. Along the way there are stops at the amazing Tolkien Giant tree, waters of the Marblerock canyon. Eventually the trail culminates in the Monster Jam which is a large jam of giant trees from years past that have gathered across the river. Explore this full section and when the river is low in summer be sure to keep going above the jam to the Limestone Canyon.
The Walbran Valley sits atop the special karst limestone formations and the Harriet Nahanee memorial trail showcases endless opportunities to discover special beauty of these formations. Charly Caproff wrote an in-depth report on the Walbran valley karst and is an article you should take the time to read. Karst in the Walbran
Once you are done exploring the end of the trail you can come back on the same trail or take the right hand fork that goes to the upper benches above the valley traversing back to the start of the trail. This is a very difficult and faint trail but is important to witness as it goes through two proposed cutblocks.
Walbran Valley Maps Created by Wilderness Committee
Educate Protect Preserve our Ancient Forests on Vancouver Island
This location is completely created through the generous efforts of the many volunteers who love this special place, and I am sure after you visit you will, too. Detailed information including history on the area and precise driving instructions can be found at the Friends of the Carmanah Walbran website.
There are great awareness campaigns as well as the much thanked and dedicated trail work from the team at the Wilderness Committee. To join in as a volunteer to support the maintenance and building of trail in the Walbran follow this link, WC Walbran Trail Building
Groups like Ancient Forest Alliance are doing work to bring awareness ; https://www.ancientforestalliance.org/cause-view/central-walbran-valley/ and also Sierra Club BC is committed to bringing awareness also; https://sierraclub.bc.ca/vancouver-island-old-growth-logging-speeding-up/
A quick documentary overview from Daniel Pierce of Heartwood on Vancouver Island logging.
I have written about other threatened old growth forests on Vancouver Island and hiking opportunities to witness and bring awareness to them. Port Renfrew Ancient Forests and Tofino Road Trip Must Do Stops will surely add some big trees to your Vancouver Island ancient forests sightseeing list.
Images From My Trips to the Walbran Valley
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