- Distance 3.5km
- Elevation Gain 106 stairs
- Camping No
Located on Meares Island, the Big Tree Trail has some of the largest trees in British Columbia. The old-growth forest consists of spruce, hemlock, and western cedar trees that are more than 1,000 years old, with the largest tree known as the Hanging Garden.
The trail is accessible only by a 10-minute water taxi ride from Tofino and visitors should take a cell phone to call for pickup to get a ride back. There are two options for this hike. The first option, you can explore the big trees along the wooden boardwalks, which ends at the Hanging Garden, and then return via the same boardwalks for a trip total of 2.4km taking about 1 - 1.5 hours. The second option is you can continue on a loop trail for an additional 3km (4.2km total) that follows a dirt path through the forest, passing a beach, then returning to the boardwalks close to where you were dropped off, taking a total of 2.5 hours. We describe, and recommend, the loop route below but it should be noted to bring proper footwear as the trail can often be muddy.
After being dropped off on the rocks, climb up onto the log and follow the wooden boardwalks into the forest. For the first 1.2km, you will stay on the boardwalks and pass several large trees as you carefully make your way up and down the slippery wooden steps. Plans were made to log the area in the mid-80's but the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations fought the logging plans and the courts ruled that no logging would take place on Meares Island, saving the many trees that are more than 1,000 years-old.
At the end of the boardwalks stands the Hanging Garden, the largest Western Red Cedar tree. While it looks dead, the tree is still alive and was given its name because of all the other trees and plants that are growing from it. It is about 18 meters wide and estimated to be 2,000 years old, making it one of the oldest trees in the world. The wooden boardwalks wrap around the tree, offering views from all angles of this giant.
The Hanging Garden marks the end of the boardwalks and some people choose to return via the same route. To continue on the loop, a dirt trail heads off into the forest from the otherside of the Hanging Garden. Follow this trail as you continue to pass large trees. While this trail is not marked, it is relatively easy to follow and should you come to a junction with another trail, the rule-of-thumb is to go right so you keep moving in a clockwise loop.
Much of the trail is similar terrain and can often be very muddy. After hiking about 2km from the Hanging Tree, the trail descends quickly down a hill where there are some short trails on the left that lead to a beach. Follow these short trails and emerge from the forest for some scenic views of Clayoquot Sound from the southwestern tip of Meares Island.
Return to the trail and go left, following the route as it steps over and crouches under fallen trees. Within 30-minutes, the trail reaches the wooden boardwalks where you walked earlier. At this point, it's worth making a phone call to the water taxi for pickup as you are within minutes of the pickup area. Go left onto the boardwalks and walk down the stairs, returning to the rocky area where you were dropped off.
How to get to Big Tree Trail
The Big Tree Trail is located on Meares Island and requires you to take one of Tofino's water taxi services to the start of the trail. The cost of the water taxi is about $30 per person and scheduled pickup is usually pre-planned in advance. It is also a good idea to take a cell phone to call the water taxi for pickup if you are going to be longer or arrive quicker at the destination than expected.