The Caren Range Old-Growth Forest is documented as the oldest closed-canopy temperate rain forest in Canada. These mountains form the backbone of the Sechelt Peninsula. At an elevation ranging from 2,500 to 4,000 feet, the Caren Range is blessed with 2,000-year-old Yellow Cedar giants, pristine wetlands and numerous fish-bearing lakes.
The forest contains a species mix of yellow cedar, mountain hemlock and balsam, with the yellow cedars being the greatest in age. The forest, at an elevation of about 1,000 metres, is essentially a ‘cloud forest’, with many fog-shrouded days and a long season of snow cover. This produces a spongy, wet, forest floor with beautiful moss gardens and ancient cedars festooned with moss and lichen.
The Caren Range is also famous for its breeding colony of Marbled Murrelets, a starling-sized, enigmatic seabird that only nests in old-growth forests. The first and second active nests of the species ever discovered in Canada were on the Caren Range (1993 and 1994). The marbled murrelet’s numbers are in as precipitous a decline as the old-growth western hemlock on which the drab little bird depends.
Although most murrelets nest in cliffs and rock walls, the marbled murrelet, having evolved beside the majestic, ramrod-straight, temperate old-growth forest, lay their eggs on the hemlocks’ broad, moss-draped limbs. The Marbled Murrelets can be observed flying into their nesting territory for up to two hours after first light (4.30am – 6.30am in June and July). The dawn chorus of Hermit Thrushes and Varied Thrushes is another excellent reason to make an early visit, or to camp overnight on the Caren.
Some of the oldest yellow cedar and western hemlock in western Canada grow in the Caren Range. A bittersweet victory was gained here when the last of the great Caren forest was recently granted protection, but not before some of the oldest trees in Canada were logged. A stump of a yellow cedar yielded 1,835 growth rings, meaning that it was Canada’s oldest tree – and a seedling back in 160 AD!
In June 1991 Friends of Caren was formed by a group of people dedicated to the idea of creating a shore-to-summit park surrounding the Caren Range on the Sechelt Peninsula.
The Friends of Caren group found Canada’s first active nest of the threatened Marbled Murrelet, they spent countless hours taking more than 3,500 visitors to see the proposed park area, and they carried out the necessary work to prove that these forests contained Canada’s oldest trees.
Only a small fragment of the original old-growth forest was saved, when Spipiyus Provincial Park was created on the upper reaches of the Caren Range in 1999, but what a treasure it is, thanks to the many volunteers and supporters who helped create Spipiyus Provincial Park. The health of the Caren subalpine ecosystem depends upon the connecting forest land which extends down to Sechelt Inlet and Pender Harbour. The Friends of Caren group continues its quest for this surrounding area to be added to the park to create a shore-to summit park with a minimum of 8,000 hectares.
Sechelt Inlets Marine Provincial Recreation Area is a narrow, fjordlike environment where old-growth forest plummets down the sides of the Caren Range mountains to the ocean (Sechelt Inlet). Beaches are limited, and where they do occur you’ll find small park sites suited for rest stops or overnighting – used frequently mainly by kayakers.
One of the most ambitious mountain-bike trail projects, the 20-mile (33-km) Suncoaster Trail, opened in the mid-1990s. At present, it extends between Homesite Creek, near Halfmoon Bay, through the foothills of the Caren Range to Klein Lake near Earls Cove. Along the way, it passes abandoned rail lines, BC Hydro service roads, old-growth forests, and rocky promontories, and near its northern terminus has incredible views of Ruby and Sakinaw Lakes. Although mostly gravelled singletrack, the trail follows Hwy 101 for short distances where necessary. The shoulders on the highway have been broadened to comfortably accommodate cyclists in these places. Eventually, the trail will extend to Langdale. One of the most scenic spots is beside a waterfall where a 68-foot (21-m) bridge spans Sakinaw Creek. For more information, contact the Suncoast Trails Society, 604-883-2974.
You’ll have to drive a long way through open hillsides before you reach the shade of the park, but the tranquillity you’ll experience there will be a grand reward. Take Highway 101 for 11 kilometres north of Sechelt. At the bottom of the long downhill stretch just before Halfmoon Bay, 8 miles (13 km) north of Sechelt, turn east onto paved Trout Lake Road, marked by a Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre sign. Drive a farther 8 miles (13 km) up what soon turns into the Caren Mainline Forest Road and fork left at the main junction at kilometre 12.
The ancient stand of trees begins at about kilometre 15, with the road running through the stand for about 2 kilometres. The best place to access the forest is to walk downslope 200 metres before the next clearcut. There is no trail, and little walking is required.
Hiking: Guide and Map: The Trails of The Lower Sunshine Coast is produced by the Sunshine Coast Forest District, and is available at Visitor Centres.
Persistent destruction threatens the Caren Range. Pan Pacific Aggregates began exploratory mine work among the headwater lakes of Carlson Creek, in the heart of what is known as the Southern Caren Range. This was included in an area proposed for park status in 1991 by the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. Pan Pacific has submitted proposals for two massive open-pit aggregate and limestone quarries encompassing several square kilometers of mid-elevation wilderness that currently support forests, streams, wetlands and lakes.
Nearby Regions & Towns
This park is a Regional Park, Municipal Park, or proposed park, and does not fall under the jurisdiction of Parks Canada (National Parks) or the BC Ministry of Environment (BC Parks).