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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If You Go:
You can find an excellent overview of the Big Tree Trail with trail directions on Tofino Trails or Tofino Hiatus. 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:
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