Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park, on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, is home to some of the world’s largest spruce trees.
The Carmanah Giant, at 95 metres, is thought to be the tallest Sitka spruce in the world, although it is less than 400 years old! There are much older, gnarled cedars estimated to be well over 1,000 years old clinging to the side hills.
The lower Carmanah valley was declared a provincial park in 1990, as a result of the eventual discovery of the Sitka Spruce ‘legendary giant’ by conservationist Randy Stoltmann in 1988.
The Walbran and upper Carmanah Valleys were added to the park in 1995, thereby completing the protection of the Carmanah Creek watershed and the southern portion of the Walbran Creek watershed.
Visitors come to Carmanah to be entranced by the spell cast around big trees – trees so large that you have to expand your consciousness in order to assimilate the almost overwhelming impression made by such enormous biomass. Carmanah Walbran Park protects an extremely complex forest ecosystem, including the large Sitka Spruce ecosystem that comprises two per cent of BC’s remaining old-growth forest. The park’s spruce groves attain a biomass (weight of plants per hectare) of nearly twice that of a tropical forest. This dynamic system has developed over thousands of years and only functions properly if left totally undisturbed.
Old-growth forest consists of trees of a variety of species and age, a mix that is only possible in a forest that has been undisturbed for hundreds of years. As old trees die and fall over, they are replaced by younger ones that grow beneath the canopy. Dead and dying trees are essential in old-growth systems for the habitat and nourishment they provide.
Viewing platforms are located at Coast Tower, Three Sisters and Heaven Tree. An elevated platform at Three Sisters offers visitors a different perspective of this majestic old growth forest. These viewing platforms also help to protect the vegetation surrounding these natural wonders.
The orientation and relief of the narrow, sheltered valleys result in a very wet climate for much of the year. Weather systems approaching Vancouver Island from the west are funnelled by the valleys and result in heavy downpours of rain. The lower reaches of Carmanah Creek support Coho and Chinook Salmon, Steelhead Trout, Sea-run Cutthroat and Sculpins, while the upper reaches of Carmanah Creek contain small resident Cutthroat Trout.
The park’s old-growth ecosystem provides a home to a variety of insects, birds and animals. Mammals living in the park include squirrels, mice, voles, marten, raccoons, Black-tailed Deer, wolves, cougar and Black Bear.
Bird species include Hairy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Winter Wren, Pigmy Owl, the Marbled Murrelet and varied thrush.
The 16,450-hectare park provides excellent opportunities for wilderness camping, hiking and nature study. Trails in the park lead either up or down Carmanah Creek. The northern route leads 7.5 km to the park boundary, and beyond, while the southern route is closed at the 2.6-km mark for public safety and to preserve the fragile environment. Unfortunately, this closed trail blocks access to the Carmanah Giant, a further 7 km to the south.
With no developed BC Parks’ trails or facilities in the Walbran Valley, access is discouraged due to potentially unsafe conditions.
Wilderness camping is allowed at several locations upstream from The Three Sisters in the Carmanah Valley, with walk-in camping available above the Valley where the Carmanah Valley Trailhead is located. This is the only area in the park where campfires are permitted.
Camping is also permitted during the summer months in the Valley on the Carmanah Creek’s exposed gravel bars. Campfires are prohibited here, and campers are expected to adhere to Leave No Trace camping practices.
Campsites with tent pads, picnic tables and fire rings are provided beyond the parking area on the service road. Short-term vehicle camping is permitted in the parking lot.
A backcountry camping fee is charged at Carmanah Walbran; self registration vaults are located in the parking lot at the Carmanah Valley Trailhead.
Once in the Carmanah Valley, an aura of calm and tranquility surrounds you. Giant Sitka spruce rise like stately columns linking heaven with earth, while the forest floor is richly covered – false lily-of-the-valley’s white blossoms, ferns, and fungi. Be serenaded by the hermit thrush’s call as it drifts through the walls of the forest. There’s as much to admire in the mystery of Carmanah’s hidden side as there is in that which thrusts up before you.
Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park is located 12 miles (20 km) northwest of Port Renfrew, on the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island. The Carmanah Valley is accessed from various directions via the Caycuse River Bridge. The park is reached by vehicle from Port Alberni and Lake Cowichan, and also from West Coast Highway 14 via Port Renfrew.
Nearby Regions & Towns