Beachcombing Big Trees

Drift wood on Sooke's Ella Beach

The beaches of Vancouver Island are fantastic places to see big trees, both those growing on the shore, and the ones washed up on the sand and rocks. Exposed beaches on the outer west coast end up as drift log cemeteries, covered in huge tangled piles of sun-bleached carcasses of rainforest giants.

Van Gogh's Starry Night in driftwood

Throughout the wild and windy coastal winters rain-heavy winds lash the coastline. Huge swells and waves throw ocean borne forest debris up onto beaches everywhere in a swirly maelstrom.

Large drift logs and whole trees may stay a few days, weeks, months or years, depending on the size of the debris and weather conditions. If they stay long enough it will bleach and dry in periods of dry, hot summer weather.

More Ella Beach driftwood showing a tangle of roots

Swollen rivers in winter disgorge large amounts of forest debris that falls into the water from above, or is actively eroded out by the high, raging waters. Huge rainfalls see many of Vancouver Island's rivers transporting big tree debris to the ocean, destined for a beach and final resting place.

Fallen branches on pocket beach, Sooke Basin

Most beaches on the south island will have collected some drift wood. It certainly adds interest to a walk on the beach.

Back when Vancouver Island logging was in its heyday, rafts of huge logs were transported to saw mills on the mainland, up the Fraser River. Over the decades thousands of logs were lost to storms. These logs eventually found their way to local beaches.

This source of driftwood ended with the building of mills on the island, downturns in the economy, whole-log shipments, and the eventual depletion of the Dry Coastal Douglas-fir forest. However, many of the logs that got loose during the period of intense tree harvesting still lay on the hundreds of kilometers of beaches of Vancouver Island's coastline.

The beach at Port Renfrew has collected piles of big tree debris

Beaches open to the full brunt of the Pacific Ocean tend to gather more forest debris. The beach at Port Renfrew shows this nicely. During the winter it gathers massive drift logs for as far as the eye can see. Not only that - the beach is also often littered with much smaller wood debris, small chips of wood sanded smooth by the wave action.

Whole tree, roots and all on the sand, Port Renfrew

This stump on Billings Spit has lay here for many years

Beaches often yield great wood remnants. Often showing the results of chainsaws, naturals also end up here.

And the great thing is you never know what you will find. Each day can bring new treasures, as the beach is built anew every day by the wind and waves.


  1. Thank you so much for this lovely visit to Sooke! i lived on Whiffen Spit a few years ago, and Sooke is very close to my heart xox those beaches are magical. i'm writing a story, with these beaches as the setting for memories. your description of "sun-bleached carcasses" is exactly how i described them... (well, i didn't say sun-bleached, but i described them as tangled carcasses, like beached whales... tossed upon the shore.) anyway... thank you for feeding my muse. i enjoy your posts very much.

  2. Lulu,

    Sooke is a lovely place to be. We are at the opposite end of the harbour, and look across the water west toward Whiffin Spit. This time of year that is where the fog comes in as it pours in from the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Magic.

    I am really very glad you are enjoying VIBT.

    Thank you for very kind comment.


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