Upper Goldstream Trail Old Growth Trees

There are 17 provincial parks within 50 km of British Columbia's capital city, and shady, mossy Goldstream Park is one of them. It occupies the Goldstream River valley 16 km north-west from Victoria. Yet, once immersed in the forest, you are transported back to a time when monumental trees were common. Goldstream is one of the most accessible spots to get up close and personal with Vancouver Island's famous big trees.

Goldstream Park is one of the Capital Region District's most popular parks. Thousands of visitors a year come to see the fall salmon run, and the eagles that gather in the hundreds to prey on their spawned out carcasses.

Others come for the 700 year old trees, and a taste of the grandeur of an ancient forest.

Upper Goldstream Trail is in the campground side of the park, and passes through some of the biggest and oldest trees. This easy 30 minute hike parallels the Goldstream River, and is surrounded by a high density of old growth trees. Huge conifers such as Douglas-fir, Western red-cedar, and Hemlock dot the small valley. Broad-leafed trees such as Big leaf maple, Arbutus, and Black cottonwood are also represented in the park.

It was very hot the day I walked through the park approaching the Upper Goldstream trail head. The trail winds its way up the river valley alongside Goldstream River, which is criss-crossed by huge fallen trees. Large ferns cover the forest floor, and lichens drip from ancient branches. Sunlight penetrates the dark of the forest in brilliant shafts, nurturing the saplings that will eventually replace the old trees.

The temperature dropped several degrees after I entered the forest. All around the forest looked shaggy, drippy and green. Moss and lichen hung everywhere.

Some of these massive trees are 600 - 700 years old. It is an amazing feeling to be surrounded by these sky scraping monuments. The vertical scale is all out of whack.

What is it about these ancient entities that draws us to them? Somehow their stillness, strength, and defiance of temporal boundaries works its magic on us. We are humbled at the base of their wide, wrinkly trunks. We love them, admire them, and are astounded by them.

Increasingly we are able to recognize their irreplaceable importance, too. That someone in the past thought that this forest was worth protecting is a boon to all of us now. The old growth forests we save today will be appreciated and enjoyed by future generations.

Large diameter woody debris lay all around, and enormous standing snags provide feeding stations and bird condos 20 stories tall. In this forest all ages of trees are represented, from seedlings to seniors. It is here that we find the greatest diversity of life - it just does not compare with second growth tree plantations that are all one age of trees, and are sprayed with herbicide to make the fiber farms more 'productive' and profitable.

The Douglas-fir and Western red-cedar are the largest trees along the trail. Along with Hemlock, the hiker will find enough old trees to keep you looking up and astounded.

No proper Vancouver Island old growth trail would be complete without the 'walk through the fallen log' feature, and the Upper Goldstream trail does not disappoint.

Eventually the trail leads to Goldstream River Falls. Cool, fresh water rushes and tumbles down the steep valley. Florescent green moss covers everything, and ferns luxuriate in the wet, humid micro-climate. It is this clean, cold water that keeps the salmon run going after thousands of years.

Upper Goldstream Trail is the most accessible old growth forest closest to Victoria. While in this forest you get the illusion that you are in an ecologically intact area - an area where nature and the forest rule. Alas, though, Goldstream Park is surrounded by development and encroachment continues unabated. This valley is unfortunately much smaller than it initially feels.

Although I didn't see anyone the day I hiked, this trail is heavily used. The forest floor has been trampled by visitors that know not the importance of staying on the designated path. However, it remains an impressive remnant of old forest and gives the visitor a good idea of what it must have been like on the south island before 98% of the Coastal Douglas-fir zone was razed in massive clear cuts.

Need a retreat from the city? Goldstream Provincial Park is a good place to get away from it all, just minutes from downtown. If you squint a bit, and pretend there aren't houses just up over there, you can get lost for a while in this lush, green place.

Getting There

Goldstream Provincial Park is located about 16km from Victoria. To get to the Upper Goldstream Trail head follow Highway 1 (Trans Canada Hwy.) north. Take the Westshore Parkway turnoff to Amy Road, then Sooke Lake Road to Golden Gate Road, which descends into the campground section of the park. There is only pay parking in the park so I park at the top across the street from the pub and walk in.

The entrance to the day use area is further along Highway 1, then turn right at Finlayson Arm Road. There are nice Western red-cedar here, as well as huge Black cottonwoods along the Goldstream River. Note: The access to the park's day use area is along busy Highway 1. Exercise extreme caution when entering and leaving this busy area.

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