It has been more than 40 years since I first set foot in the magical environs of Cathedral Grove but still, every time I visit, I am entranced and soothed by the place.
Cathedral Grove is located within MacMillan Provincial Park, a 301 hectare (743 acre) slice of old growth Douglas fir and western red cedar forest that straddles Highway 4, the main transport route between the east coast of the Island and Port Alberni. For almost 100 years the forest has been a major tourist attraction. The majesty and silence draws in millions of visitors who marvel at the ever-evolving forest that envelopes them and draws the eye to the minutiae of a centuries-old natural phenomenon.
My first visit to Cathedral Grove back in the early 1970s was a much different experience from what today’s visitors enjoy. In those days the trails were rough-hewn and there was little in the way of interpretive material to explain the natural ecology of the place. Since then the forest has survived major storms that have changed its face but, in many ways, add to the wonder. Additionally the trails have been upgraded (some to the point of even being wheelchair accessible), interpretive signs help visitors understand and enjoy Cathedral Grove even more and viewing platforms afford the opportunity to pause and take in the splendor of the surroundings.
Every time I have wandered the meandering trails of Cathedral Grove, I have come away pondering something new that has left me spellbound and marveling at the power and beauty of the natural world. Wind storms toss huge Douglas firs as if they were match sticks, leaving them in amazingly precarious positions. Nurse trees provide sustenance and support to new volunteer seedlings. Wildlife continues to arrive at the Cameron River to slake its thirst, just as it has for thousands of years. There is a timelessness and magnificence rarely found in today’s modern environment, and it is all so easily accessed simply by stepping out of your vehicle and into this other-worldly setting.
Although the forests on both sides of the highway are part of the park, they are different and, therefore, both worth a stroll. The trails on the south side serve as home to Douglas fir and the Cameron River. The north side trails will find you meandering through western red cedar forest and ending up along the shores of Cameron Lake. The entire experience won’t consume more than an hour of your time and, almost guaranteed, you will come away contemplating the resilience and magic of the natural world. It’s a great, if brief, re-connect that gives pause to reflect on our own priorities in life.
MacMillan Provincial Park and Cathedral Grove are located on Highway 4, 25 kilometres (15 miles) west of Qualicum Beach and 16 kilometres (9 miles) east of Port Alberni. Dogs are welcome but must be kept on leash. Some minor muddy spots may be encountered on the trails during the winter months.
GPS co-ordinates are:
Lat. 49.28848772878144 Long. -124.66891483618315
N 49 17.309 W 124 40.135