Directions to Cheewhat Lake Cedar Trail

Cheewhat lake is in a remote location on south west Vancouver Island. It is reached using industrial logging roads that are known tire eaters. A friend of mine on a recent trip to nearby Nitinat Lake had the pleasure of three flat tires along this stretch of road. He was prepared with a small electric tire pump, tools, and a tire patch kit. If you are still interested, directions to the Cheewhat Lake Trail are below.

In 1988 long-time Sooke resident Maywell Wickheim discovered the Cheewhat Lake Cedar growing on the eastern side of Cheewhat Lake. It remains the largest known Western Red Cedar in BC, and grows protected in old forest in Pacific Rim National Park. However, this fragile and vanishing forest is susceptible to blow down from nearby logging.

The Cheewhat Lake Trail is recommended for experienced hikers due to its poor and unmaintained condition. Losing the trail and ending up navigating your way through an extensive blow down area, in the rain, as dusk in approaching, is no fun and potentially dangerous. Exercise extreme caution.

Roland and his wife discovered some of the potential pitfalls of hiking Vancouver Island's wild forests:
"Yesterday (27/7/07) my wife and I attempted to find this tree. The way is VERY poorly marked with tape. Saw some big cedars, but never found the Cheewat. Tapes petered out and we got lost searching for tree. Eventually had to bushwack back out the the road. VERY hard.!Took us two hours!! This trail is dangerous without GPS!!"

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Directions To Cheewhat Lake Trail (Adapted from: Hiking Guide to the Big Trees of Southwestern British Columbia by Randy Stoltman)

Follow highway 18 from Duncan to the town of Lake Cowichan. From Lake Cowichan drive the shore of Cowichan Lake to Heather Campsite at the Western end. From the western end of Cowichan Lake, follow the Nitinat Mainline logging road for about 20km (12m) to the junction with Carmanah Mainline.

Keep left at the Carmanah Mainline and follow the road - watch for signs for Carmanah Park. After crossing the Caycuse River, keep right on Rosander Mainline at the "T" junction. Near the top of the hill the road will cross a narrow bridge. This bridge crosses a notable limestone box canyon 45m (150ft) deep.

Rosander Mainline will traverse the hillside above the east shore of Nitinat Lake, climbs steeply, then drops into the Marchand Creek valley. The road winds down into the valley, then after several bridges rises gently.

After a wide clearing the road enters a logged area. Park safely off the road at the first widening of the road on the right after entering the clear cut. Nearby a rough, overgrown track leads down into the clear cut.

Follow this track down and across the slash. As the track rises slightly and bears left along the edge of the old-growth forest that marks the boundary of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, look for a huge cedar stump 4.6m (15ft) across. Ring counts of this stump totaled 968 years. Another stump nearby has 1212 intact annual rings, plus it has a hollow center - this tree could have been as old as 1400 years when it was cut down.

The Cheewhat Lake trail is roughly marked with flagging, but it is easy to lose ones way here. The trail begins near an area of blow down along the park boundary, and the initial start to the trail is obscured with fallen trees. After carefully negotiating your way over, under, and around the downed trees, the trail will descend to the right through the blow down.

Pick up the trail again at a flat covered with ferns and huge cedars. The largest tree in this grove is over 4.6m (15ft.) thick, but the grove itself has been affected by more blow down due to inadequate park buffer zones.

Beyond this grove carefully follow the vague and poorly marked trail. It heads to the right over a low ridge, then doubles back to the left along a bench land through dense salal and cedar-hemlock rain forest. The trail will turn downhill and passes two Western red cedars growing by each other. The bigger of the two is 5.5m (18ft.) in diameter.

A short distance downhill and left you will find the awe-inspiring pinnacle of The Cheewhat Lake Cedar. This champion tree is 6.0m (19.7ft) in diameter and 59m (194ft) tall. Nearby are many other large cedars scattered through the original, wild forest.

If you go, enjoy this precious landscape and use it carefully. Stay on the trail, if you can find it, and pack out all garbage. Most of all, enjoy Canada's largest tree, The Cheewhat Lake Cedar.


  1. Anonymous24/5/12

    Thanks for the directions. Thought I'd let you know that I just visited the Cheewhat Giant without a GPS, and it is now quite easy to find! A well flagged route and trodden path. Would be hard to lose the trail!

    Also of note is that Parks Canada has now installed small yellow signs at the tree indicating its significance. I would say it was about a 30 minute hike from the pullout to the tree, but probably ended up taking 40 minutes (one-way) including the time spent stopping at all the trees on the way in.

    1. Fantastic to hear that you visited this amazing tree. Thank you so much for the update - this is very important information to have recorded here.

      Also great to hear that Parks Canada has improved access to this spot. I am planning a trip to check it out this summer.

      Thanks again for the update.

  2. Hi everyone, just a quick note. The tree is marked in V6 Backroads map book. Just look for the lake. Happy travels.

    1. Hey Jade, Thanks for adding this valuable information to this post.

      Cheers, and enjoy the big trees!

  3. Anonymous10/6/16

    Thank you for your wonderful description. My husband is a kite boarder and we were up at Nitinaht for a few days. On a no-wind day June 8, 2016, we decided to go hiking to see the Cheewhat Giant and its fellow large trees. It was awe-inspiring and so beautiful. The trail is well marked it you are a hiker used to using your eyes to see where it goes...it is steep at times, lots to scramble over but so worth it. If it helps - we milaged it at 23 km from the junction of the road where you would go right if you were going to nitinaht/dididaht village - go left to continue on to Carmanah-Walbran. Approx 23 km from there with lots of flagging on the right side of the road to find a hidden start to a subtle but good trail right to the Cheewhat Giant. Thanks again!


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