Cathedral Grove: A Vancouver Island Treasure

I vividly remember my first visit to Cathedral Grove on central Vancouver Island. I was immediately surprised at just how easily accessible the stand of old growth Douglas Firs is. When you think about visiting a park with really, really big trees, you don’t assume they will be located just steps from the car, but indeed they are. 

I was fortunate to visit the park before the massive windstorm on New Year’s Day 1997 when hundreds of trees were toppled and parts of the trail system suffered extensive damage. The park may never be the same as it was more than 20 years ago but natural reforestation is occurring and it remains a magical place worthy of a visit.

My son and I at the same tree in Cathedral Grove approximately 10 years apart

Cathedral Grove is not a park itself,

but rather one portion of the MacMillan Provincial Park which is located on Highway 4, between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni. MacMillan Park straddles the highway with the trails and boardwalks meandering through the 300+ hectare park. Parking is on the side of the highway and visitors are cautioned to use care when crossing from one side to the other.

One of the most accessible stands of giant Douglas fir trees on Vancouver Island.

On the northern side of the roadway you’ll find the Old Growth Trail and be treated to groves of towering ancient Western Red Cedar. The northernmost section of the park is adjoined to the western end of Cameron Lake – a delightful summer picnic spot. 

No matter how many big trees you’ve seen in your life, the highlight of a trip to MacMillan Provincial Park is a stroll around Big Tree Trail. The name alone leaves nobody guessing what they’ll encounter. 

The southern side of the highway is home to the famous Cathedral Grove with some of the largest Douglas Fir - one measuring in excess of 9 metres in circumference and more than 800 years old. The other trail winding through this side of the park is the Living Forest Trail and both of these trails are considered easy. 

Discover More Victoria Day Trips & Island Adventures

As for clothing and footwear - be prepared for the season. From November to January it can be quite wet and muddy with daily high temperatures around 5 degrees Celsius (approximately 40F). Summer temperatures will average around 24C (75F) with negligible amounts of rain. As the temperature goes up so will the number of visitors to the park which can cause challenges finding parking.

It is approximately 175 km from Victoria to MacMillan park and will take an estimated 2.25 hours to drive. Not everyone will see this as an easy day trip from Victoria but many people choose to make the stop on route to Tofino or Ucluelet or in conjunction with a trip to the Parksville area. Whatever your itinerary looks like, a stop at the park will be awe-inspiring and memorable. Photos do not do it justice!

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