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Hiking the Big Tree Trail on Meares Island

Hiking the Big Tree Trail on Meares Island

The Big Tree Trail is just 10 minutes by water taxi from the small town of Tofino, but it’s a world away.  While most of the rainforest near Tofino in Pacific Rim National Park is second growth, on the Big Tree Trail on nearby Meares Island you can find spectacular giant old growth trees including some that are estimated to be over 1500 years old.  The area was slated for clear-cut logging in the early 1980s but the actions of environmentalists and the local Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation halted the logging and the area is now protected as a tribal park.

This is a sensitive wilderness area. Learn how to Leave No Trace to keep the wilderness wild. Make sure you are prepared by bringing the 10 Essentials. Get ready for adventure with this checklist of things to do before every hike.

I hiked the trail on a misty day in February.  The trip starts off with a ten minute ride on a water taxi through a maze of small islands, sand bars and channels.  Our water taxi driver told us about the history of the trail and even stopped the boat so we could gawk at an eagle couple hanging out at their nest.

Water taxi to Meares Island
The view from the water taxi on the way to Meares Island
Bald eagles near Tofino BC
Two bald eagles and their nest

It was high tide when we arrived so our driver dropped us off directly on a rock outcropping as the dock where they usually drop off was swamped by the winter tides.  We clambered off the boat, onto the rock then up into the forest where the axe hewn cedar board walk began.

Big Tree Trail, Meares Island, Tofino BC
The walkway up from the dock
Big Tree Trail, Meares Island, Tofino BC
The start of the trail
Big Tree Trail, Meares Island, Tofino BC
Boardwalk through the forest

We followed the winding boardwalk through the rainforest with towering trees all around us until we came to the first of many giant cedars.  Some of the trees had carved placards with the name of the trees (like Cedar of Life or Hanging Garden Tree) but most did not.  The trees were so tall and so broad, so old and so gnarled that they made us feel so small.

Big Tree Trail, Meares Island, Tofino BC
Trees so big they make you feel small
Big Tree Trail, Meares Island, Tofino BC
Look up… look waaaay up.
Big Tree Trail, Meares Island, Tofino BC
Rainforest hiking

We continued along the boardwalk on the well-travelled portion of the trail until we reached the Hanging Garden Tree.  This is where many visitors turn around but we wanted to hike the entire loop so we followed the flagging around the corner on to the less-visited part of the trail where the trail maintenance ends and the mud begins!  This portion of the trail cuts inland across the small peninsula  following an old pipe line (I’m not sure what the pipe was for) to make a loop hike. It was much less scenic with no big tree sand was not really maintained so it was VERY muddy – boot sucking muddy.

Big Tree Trail, Meares Island, Tofino BC
The mud starts here
Big Tree Trail, Meares Island, Tofino BC
A rougher section of trail

After nearly a kilometer of the rough inland trail, we finally reached the other side of the peninsula and took a side trail down to the beach.  We took a break to eat lunch and enjoy the views of the surrounding small islands.  At low tide this area is a tidal mud flat, but the tide was still quite high when we were there.

Big Tree Trail, Meares Island, Tofino BC
The mud flats and islands on the south east side of the island.
Taking a break on the beach
Taking a break on the beach

After our lunch break we headed back into the forest to walk the last kilometer or so back to the dock to meet our water taxi.  This section of the trail didn’t have any boardwalk but was much less muddy.  It weaved in and out of salal thickets with a few big cedars along the way.

Big Tree Trail, Meares Island, Tofino BC
Old man’s beard. Or young woman’s beard in this case.

Before long we were back at the dock. Thankfully the tide had gone out and it was usable.  Within a few minutes our water taxi picked us up and were zooming in between islets back to Tofino.

Big Tree Trail, Meares Island, Tofino BC
Waiting for the boat ride back to Tofino
Big Tree Trail, Meares Island, Tofino BC
A view of “Tuff City” from the water

If You Go:

You can find an excellent overview of the Big Tree Trail with trail directions on Tofino Trails.  The trail is only about 3 kilometers long but takes most people about 2 hours to hike.  With lots of photo breaks, some slow travel while trying not to get stuck in the mud and a lunch break, we spent close to 3 hours on the island.

The first section of the trail with boardwalk is very easy to follow but once you reach the Hanging Garden tree there are many side trails and it can get a bit confusing.  Follow the flagging tape to the “End of Managed Trail” sign, then keep following it on the muddy trail across the peninsula to the beach – once you get on the muddy trail it’s fairly straight forward.  Just before the beach you’ll see a sign pointing right that says “boat dock” or something like that and as long as you keep following the flagging tape, you’ll end up back at the beginning of the loop.

To get to the trailhead you’ll need to take a boat.  You can rent a kayak in town or hire a water taxi.  All of the water taxis or boat tour operators in town seem to charge $30/person round trip (as of February 2016) and $5 of that goes to the First Nation group that maintains the trail.  There is cell service on most of the trail (the part along the coast has good reception – the rest not so much).  We were able to call our water taxi part way through the hike and tell them we wanted more time on the island, then call them again from the dock to request a pick up.

This hike is quite muddy so you’ll want good waterproof boots.  Don’t forget your camera of course! If you have a wide angle lens you it will be easier to fit more of the trees into the frame – I brought a small wide angle attachment lens for my iPhone on this trip and several of the images you see above were shot with that lens.

Looking for other coastal or big tree hikes in BC? Check out these trails:

Four Outdoor Adventures on Galiano Island

Sunshine on the Edge of the World: Nootka Trail Trip Report

Walk the Wildside Trail on Flores Island: Trip Report and Backpacking Trip Guide

Coastal Hiking in Vancouver

Kennedy Falls and the Big Cedar

Taryn Eyton
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Friday 12th of February 2016

Ahhhhh Tofino. Such a magical place. I always love seeing your adventures, and your Tofino pics have made my feet so itchy. Need to get back!