The Big Trees of Vancouver Island Are Enough to Take Your Breath Away

Viewing these West Coast giants for the first time was truly awe-inspiring.

Avatar Grove, British ColumbiaCourtesy TJ Watt/Big Tree Tours
Johanna and Rob enjoying an amazing adventure.

One pool length at a time. Formerly afraid of deep water, I was now a woman on a mission. Was I training for a swimming competition? No, I was getting ready to see the big trees of Avatar Grove on Vancouver Island. On the occasion of our wedding anniversary last July, my husband Rob and I opted out of seeing man-made creations in the cities of our other possible destination choices—Denmark and Belgium—and chose instead to appreciate God-made wonders in our own Canada.

As a somewhat out-of-shape college teacher, my dream, as well as Rob’s, was seeing the big trees of Avatar Grove, the kind of trees it would take several people to encircle if their arms were outstretched. Swimming was building my cardio so I would no longer be out of breath climbing three flights of stairs to my college office—or hiking a trail.

On this week-long vacation, we were not content to drive our rental car out to the forests for a few photos. We would be going with professional guide and nature photographer TJ Watt of Big Tree Tours. We had never seriously hiked before, yet nothing could stop us from exploring this stunning patch of Canada, except acquiring good hiking shoes first!

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Big Trees Vancouver IslandCourtesy TJ Watt/Big Tree Tours
Johanna in the presence of giants.

Welcome to Avatar Grove

On the appointed day, we entered the Avatar Grove, a protected forest near Renfrew, B.C., with TJ, as well as one last minute but very welcome additional hiker, Val. This was my first glimpse of the big trees and as I craned my neck upwards I kept exclaiming “Oh, wow!” We’d hike awhile and I’d repeat it; on it went all day long. Nothing prepared us for the visual impact of being surrounded by these giants or the tranquil quiet that the old growth forest exuded. TJ informed us of the meaning of “old growth,” which we learned means that the massive trees are untouched survivors of storms, fires and, most of all man, through the centuries.

I stretched my arms out towards the first big tree we were introduced to and gave it an affectionate hug.

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Big Trees Vancouver Island - Big Lonely Doug treeCourtesy TJ Watt/Big Tree Tours
The group’s photo op with Big Lonely Doug.

Big Lonely Doug

We had heard a CBC podcast about “Big Lonely Doug,” an old-growth Douglas fir tree that stands well over 200 feet tall, singly exposed on logged terrain. We had the privilege of meeting 1,000-year-old Doug, which was indeed the very kind of tree it would take several people to encircle if their arms were outstretched. According to TJ, people have different reactions. For me personally, it was a sad and a glad moment. Sad because this Douglas fir was alone, whereas all the other trees around it were originally cut down due to clearcut logging. Glad because Doug was spared and now apparently brought focus to the uniqueness of old-growth forests.

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Tree Hugging in British ColumbiaCourtesy TJ Watt/Big Tree Tours
Johanna’s tree-hugging moment.

While hiking through Eden Grove, an unprotected old-growth forest nearby, TJ commented that Doug would have originally been in surroundings such as this. Taking many moments to pause on our way out, reflecting that this might be our last time in the area, none of us wanted to leave the presence of these big trees.

We concluded our day by driving along the curves, hills and switchbacks of the picturesque route from Port Renfrew to Victoria for the remainder of our vacation.

I’ve travelled to approximately 30 countries in my lifetime, but Canada remains one filled with natural beauty, adventure and history for me to discover. I’m still swimming, and getting ready for our next travels.

Adding Avatar Grove to your own bucket list? Check out 25 more essential experiences on Vancouver Island.

Originally Published in Our Canada