Entering Royal Roads Forest From Wishart Road
Earlier this week my tree hunting partner and I nipped into the Royal Roads old growth forest to check out access gates, trails, and big trees. In spite of driving by this treasury of trees often over the years, we have not thoroughly explored it. But its dark confines and big trees beckoned.
The Government of Canada bought the 565 acre Hatley Park (as the area is also known) from the Dunsmuir family in 1940 for $75,000 dollars. It has gone through a variety of uses and is currently being leased by Royal Roads University. The land was designated a National Historic Site in 1995, and is the only area with such a designation in Canada to contain an original old growth forest.
Royal Roads (and adjoining Department of National Defense lands) represent a nice chunk of the last stands of the ancient coastal Douglas-fir forest ecosystem. Such a forest contains Western hemlock and Western red-cedar, in addition to fir. This forest also contains Garry oak, Bigleaf maple, and the easternmost stand of Stika spruce on Vancouver Island.
The B.C. government has listed the coastal Douglas-fir eco-zone as rare and endangered, and after discovering in my research that the 2nd and 3rd largest Douglas-fir trees in the Capital Region District (the largest is in Francis/King Regional Park) are in the Royal Roads forest, I have vowed to give this area more attention, and find those trees.
Into The Forest
After driving along Wishart Road in Colwood we found several entrances to the forest. We chose one at random (across the street from 3122 Wishart Road) and entered the park.
It was a major transition, stepping from the city landscape on one side of the street, and into a towering old growth forest on the other. The city side probably came into existence in the 1970's, judging by the homes. The wild side has been here since the last glaciers retreated 13,000 years ago. Some of the veteran trees have been around for many centuries.
Immediately the city disappeared and we could have been anywhere in the wild lands of Vancouver Island's coastal Douglas-fir forest. Fat trunks of trees tower overhead. The light was a distinctly different quality, filtered through the green canopies of the trees.
Only in a few places did the shafts of sunlight penetrate all the way to the forest floor. It was cooler and we zipped up our light jackets. The smell in the forest was divine. Intoxicating odours revealed growth and decay mixed with the smells of an ocean breeze. Ravens clucked at us from the branches high above.
From this access point trails extend in either direction along the outer perimeter of the forest. We took a wider path straight ahead which took us, after about 10 minutes, to a gravel pit in the middle of the trees. Following the path past the pit took us to another access point on Metchosin Road. We doubled back on the same trail to complete our short hike.
Along this short route there are many fine Western red-cedar of fairly large proportions. Just inside the gate and to the right a few steps along the path is an impressively large Douglas-fir. Further down the wide path, and off to the left, is another weathered old fir. It shows the scars of a tree that has withstood the centuries of winter storms and summer drought. There is also evidence of logging here, but of a very limited nature.
All along the trail there are smaller side trails, so one could use this entrance to really explore the area. We did not find the biggest Douglas-fir that we were looking for, but we will be back. It is exciting that there is so much more left to explore and discover for the first time.
Royal Roads lands are accessed via a variety of gates and service roads. The main entrance is off Sooke Road. Watch for other small gateways along the fence around the perimeter of the park. Drive along Wishart Road to locate many different ways of getting into the forest. We chose the gate across from 3122 Wishart Road. Note: parking is limited along Wishart. The area is well serviced by public transportation, and the Galloping Goose Trail runs by across Sooke Road.
View Royal Roads Forest (from Wishart Road) in a larger map