Discover Alberni Episode 26: Cathedral Grove

Around the bend of Cameron Lake and into the trees, you may have noticed a flurry of activity along the sides of the highway. This is because you have just entered Cathedral Grove, a section of MacMillan Provincial Park. 

This is very special, as it is one of the few remaining old-growth forests in British Columbia. So naturally, people love to visit and experience one of the province’s rare treasures. Admission is free, but the experience is priceless.

A visit to Cathedral Grove is like stepping back in time to a place filled with coastal beauty, peacefulness, and age-old symbiotic relationships between plants and animals. Trails weave through the old-growth forest passing by the Cameron River.

Magnificent trees like Western Hemlock, Red Cedar, and once-in-a-lifetime sights like the nine-meter circumference Douglas Fir tree are all around you. Conservation efforts have protected and preserved these giants for many years and continue to this day. 

An intense wind storm in 1997 damaged several areas of the park, closing trails due to sudden tree fall. Although this event may seem disheartening, the resilience of the forest continues. The ability of its residents to adapt is what has kept it alive for hundreds of years. 

Fallen trees now provide opportunities for more sunlight, habitats for ground-dwelling critters, and new surfaces for fungi and plants to grow upon. However, it is not recommended to visit during windy days, as it is more likely for more of these old trees to fall.

Facilities at the park are limited due to the impact of preserving the natural state of the forest.  The small amount and size of parking spaces can mean that finding a spot can be a challenge, or impossible for RVs. Peak travel times also contribute to congested traffic along that section of the highway. It is recommended to use the trails on the same side of the highway where you have parked your vehicle, for obvious safety reasons. 

Some trails are wheelchair accessible, but not all places are level. The transition from your vehicle to the trail covers uneven terrain, and some parts of the trail contain packed gravel, dirt, or wooden boardwalks. There are pit toilets on either side of the highway for public use. Smoking is not allowed anywhere on the premises and visitors must stay on the designated paths. 

Exploring the sights, sounds, and smells of a forest that’s hundreds of years old is something that not many people have the opportunity to experience. Of the trails, “Big Tree Trail” contains the massive Douglas Fir mentioned earlier, “Living Forest Trail” contains other large trees, and “Old Growth Trail” showcases a fallen tree that allows visitors to examine the root system of an old-growth tree. 

If you have the chance to visit, Cathedral Grove will leave you feeling refreshed, recharged, and rejuvenated.

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