The Big Tree Trail on Meares Island
Meares Island was the centre of dispute in the 80's when the Nuu-chah-nulth protested Macmillan Bloedel's intent to log the island. The Nuu-chah-nulth together with environmental groups blockaded the island and fought in the courts. The court ruled that until the Nuu-chah-nulth's land claim to the island was settled, no development can occur on the whole of Meares Island.
This tremendous victory enabled the creation of the Big Tree Trail and its breathtaking star feature, the Hanging Garden Tree. This monster of a tree. A Western Red Cedar, estimated to be older than 1500 years, is enormous. 18 metres around and magnificently tall, it easily is included among Canada's greatest trees.
A nice boardwalk takes you from the trailhead to the Hanging Garden Tree. Most people return from there the same way. You can however, continue on and do a circle route taking in some more of the amazing, and unexpectedly pristine forest, that was the centre of such a chaotic battle not so long ago.
If you walk the circle route, expect to take over an hour though, as the huge trees take a while to look at. The Hanging Garden Tree is particularly interesting as, like many other ancient cedars, is hollow on the inside. In fact you could fit five people inside quite easily!
Directions to The Big Tree Trail
Tofino Water Taxi can run you to the trailhead from Tofino for a pretty good price ($30 return), and often at a moments notice.
Island hiking in Clayoquot Sound is phenomenal. Few people, endless beautiful beaches, wild and enormous forests overlooking the wild Pacific Ocean. Just a short boat taxi ride will get you to dozens of these beaches. Here are five great island hikes near Tofino. For more, and probably better islands to visit, ask your boat taxi driver. They are always happy to drop you off in paradise.
Flores Island Provincial Park is located just a 40 minute water taxi ($20 scheduled or $25 on demand) ride away. This beautiful, remote and wild feeling island is a popular beach camping destination, relatively close to Tofino. Some of the beautiful beaches have excellent vantage points for whale watching as Gray whales pass here on their annual migration between Alaska and California. Fishing and kayaking are very popular in this park as well. The park has no fees for hiking or camping but to walk the Wild Side Trail you have to pay an alarming $25/person as it is maintained by the local Ahousaht First Nations. The trail is 22k roundtrip and considering the two day (average) time people take to hike this island, $25 is not too bad. Beautiful beach camping is the norm on Flores. The Wild Side Trail runs through a beautiful jungle forest of massive Sitka trees and passes along Whitesands Beach and Cow Bay and leads to Mount Flores. The views from Mount Flores are amazing. As with many rainforest trails in this part of the world be prepared for mud with good footwear and of course possible wet weather. The trail is generally easy, though fairly steep at the Mount Flores ascent.
Hot Springs Cove is a wonderful day trip from Tofino. Lots of whale watching companies offer whale watching/hot springs tours for very reasonable prices. The boat ride is out on the open ocean is quite fun and there is a fair bit to see, not least the whales that you hopefully encounter. The hot springs themselves are wonderful, and the 25 minute (1.2 kilometre) walk to them is unexpectedly beautiful and interesting. Intricate cedar boardwalks and bridges move you up and through massive trees and wind through the forest. Years of interesting carvings into the boardwalk planks adorn the route. Hundreds of names of visiting people, groups, and vessels, give the walkway a historic and artistic feel to it. Along the boardwalk there are a couple very nice viewpoints looking out to the ocean beyond the forest. Upon reaching the hot springs there are some nice, beautifully built, cedar changing rooms and yet another viewpoint. Finally a short path takes you to the hot springs. Flowing through fissures in the rock the amazing 50 degree water (122F) flows from a small waterfall and continues through five wonderfully natural pools that lead to the ocean. Ocean waves occasionally burst into the lower pools in a wonderful contrast of breathtaking cold and wonderful warm water.
Lone Cone is the wonderful cone shaped mountain that dominates the skyline in Tofino. It is just 6k from Tofino on the north-western end of Meares Island. Lone Cone is an incredible hike to do while in Tofino. There are several attributes that make it fantastic. First, its location. Very close to Tofino. Just a short and very scenic boat taxi takes you to the trailhead. Second, is it is such an abruptly steep hike that you go from the ocean to absurdly sweeping views in just over an hour. Due to the location of Lone Cone requiring a water taxi to access, ensures that it remains serene and quiet most days. In the 15 minute, fast taxi, you will see a quick look at the spectacular scenery that has made Tofino famous. Small and large islands crammed almost solid with beautifully huge trees. Sandy beaches that make you think more that you are in Hawaii than in Canada. Abrupt, rocky outcrops with chaotic, swirling, clear and green water that the boat taxi/tour guide continuously points to unexpectedly beautiful creatures lurking in. Then you look up in the trees and spot a resident eagle staring menacingly down from a tree branch next to its nest full of offspring. And that's just the first five minutes from the pier. 15 minutes from the pier you arrive at the grungy, though at the same time, strangely beautiful pier at the now abandoned town, Kakawis. There are still a few dozen houses that line the gravel road you will see as you make your way to the trailhead. In 2013 another trailhead was opened closer to Tofino but much further from Lone Cone. This trailhead also has a $5 fee to access.
Vargas Island Provincial Park is a popular Kayak camping destination due to its wonderful location close to Tofino. It has wonderful, wilderness camping for free and a beautiful feeling of remoteness from the world. And if you are lucky you might see whales pass in the distance from Ahous Bay. The overgrown and often muddy trail from the Tofino side of Vargas Island to Ahous Bay is 3 kilometres. Making this an easy day-hike from Tofino or Ucluelet at just 6 kilometres roundtrip, trailhead to trailhead. Most of the western and most beautiful side of Vargas Island is within the Vargas Island Provincial Park. The massive and beautiful Ahous Bay is the camping destination for most on Vargas. You can camp anywhere on the beautiful beaches in the park for free, and there are outhouses available at the campsites. Though it is a popular kayaking destination, Vargas Island is so close to Tofino that many simply canoe/kayak across to it. You never lose sight of land and are in sheltered water the entire way. You can stash your canoe in the vicinity of the Vargas Island Inn(if you ask nicely) and you will see the trail to Ahous Bay next to the Inn. The trail is easy and well used 3k trail has little elevation gain though an amazingly varied plant life. Remember to bring lots of water as Ahous Bay has very little drinkable water.