Refugee Tree: Largest Red Cedar In The CRD

The multi-topped Refugee Tree, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Washington's Olympic Range can be
seen from the gravel pullout along Highway 14

A recent big tree quest saw us cruising West Coast Road/Highway 14 west of Sooke on a stunning fall day. Our mission? To seek out the largest red cedar in Victoria's Capital Region District.

For enthusiasts, a journey like this is a pilgrimage, but instead of searching out a temple, the goal is a living shrine.

Some of these shrines are older than those of the more visited religious variety. Several are older than the establishment of the religions themselves.

Call me a druid, but I think that these old growth shrines, like the CRD's Refugee Tree, have as much or more moral and spiritual significance than a lock of hair or scrap of hem from someones garment.

You can't live for an eon or more and not exude a certain aura of experience, wisdom, and patience.

The Refugee Tree is 13.72 meters in circumference (45 ft) 

Comparing these places to shrines is only one spiritual similarity. When surrounded by the giant column-like boles in an old growth forest, many people feel like they are in a cathedral. Indeed, that is exactly how Port Alberni's Cathedral Grove got its name.

The lofty heights take ones eye upwards to the canopy high overhead. Light filters through like beams through stained glass. The magnificence of the trees, plus the stillness and quiet, elicit a sense of humility in all gentle supplicants that enter here.

What we should be asking for is forgiveness, for the bulk of this cathedral has been desecrated and razed to the ground.

The Refugee Tree is surrounded by other older cedars and younger forest of Western Hemlock

The hike to the Refugee Tree is a short, but occasionally steep fifteen minutes from the Highway 14 pullout. The trail is marked with some flagging on some bush. Once you have found the trail, just follow the flagging right to the tree. The trail is overgrown in spots, and the trail is easy to miss if you are not paying attention. Always keep the next flag in sight before proceeding.

Away from the road the highway noise begins to fade and you can hear the distant roar of waves below. There are a few big hemlocks along the trail, but these are small compared to the Refugee and several other smaller, yet still impressive, red cedars in the area.

With the sound of the ocean below, and the fresh air surrounding you, it is soon apparent that a visit to the Refugee Tree is a worthwhile quest. Big trees and ancient forests have an amazing capacity to instill a sense of awe, as well as calm.

This is a special place, and if you are still and quiet, all questions are answered.

The adventurer returns, like after all successful pilgrimages, a renewed person with more respect and appreciation for the larger world.

There are other nice old growth trees around the Refugee Tree

Getting There

Directions from Victoria, BC – approx. 1 hour

  1. Take West Coast Road/Hwy #14 through Sooke towards Port Renfrew.
  2. Set your tripometer at Jordan River; you will drive approximately 17 km more before hitting the roadside turn out
  3. The turn out is at a corner which you can recognize by its cement barrier that runs along the left hand side of the road and the steep cliff face that runs along the right. Loss Creek is about 2 km past the turn out, so if you make it to the creek you can turn around and go back.
  4. Stop at the corner pull out on the ocean side, and park. From here y
    ou should be able to see out over the Juan de Fuca, and you can see the many spires on the top of the Refugee Tree.
  5. Walk along the road barrier toward Victoria while keeping an eye out for a bit of flagging in the bush to your right.
  6. Enter the forest by the flagging, and follow the faint trail. Before long you will come to a short steep section that requires caution. 
  7. After descending the small shelf you can follow the flagging and the trail to the tree.
  8. At the beginning of the trail notice the huge cedar stump on the left hand side. Many areas along this stretch of coast were clear cut logged 30 or 40 years ago. For reasons unknown, the odd huge cedar, including the CRD's largest, were left standing.
  9. Loss Creek, two km past the Refugee Tree, has areas of protected old growth Sitka Spruce forest. There are no services or established trails, just a nice creek and some great trees.

The Refugee Tree is currently unprotected as it grows on forestry land. The Juan de Fuca Trail, which passes by below, could be extended to include the tree and other bits of remnant old growth that are close by in the steep ravines.

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