400 Foot Coastal Douglas-fir Giants Gone, But Big Trees Remain

Giant Douglas-fir trees in Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island

The east coast of Vancouver Island, along with the Gulf Islands lie in the Dry Coastal Douglas-fir ecozone. Because of the rain shadow created by Washington's Olympic Range, and the Vancouver Island Range, this area is much dryer than the rest of the coast. This creates prime conditions for growing a tree among the tallest trees on Earth - the Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).

Vancouver Island sports the largest Douglas-fir in the world. The Red Creek Fir, near Port Renfrew, is a massive 800 year old tree with a 12.5 meter (41 foot) circumference. The top is  broken off, and the tree is currently about 74 meters (242 feet) tall.

One of the most accessible places to see large Douglas-fir is in Cathedral Grove, on the highway between Port Alberni and Pacific Rim National Park.

Cathedral Grove contains a fine stand of sky scraping trees, including one Douglas-fir that soars to 70 meters (230 feet) with a 10 meter (33 foot) circumference. It is the second biggest Douglas-fir in Canada.

The Nimpkish River Valley is 200 km north of Victoria. An Ecological Reserve was established here in 1988 to protect a small patch of a formerly spectacular, and ancient Douglas-fir forest. The tallest trees in the reserve grow to 84 meters (275 feet) and up to 2.5 meters (8 feet) in diameter.

Nimpkish Valley, Vancouver Island

Historically, Douglas-fir reached such spectacular heights that today it is hard to believe. Indeed, there have been people interviewed who personally witnessed Douglas-fir over 122 meters (400 feet) tall, including one near present day Vancouver that was measured after it was cut down.

Imagine a tree as high, or higher, than a 40 floor building. Of 42 buildings in Vancouver that are taller than 30 floors, only fifteen are taller than 40. The original forest would cover all of downtown - only these 15 buildings would poke up out of the trees.

Such incredible trees do not exist any more (that we know of), and may never exist again. These big trees have been the primary target of logging interests over the past 150 years. The unbroken extensive forests, and the 122 meter (400 foot) plus trees are now part of the tragic history of deforestation in this globally unique ecosystem. But large, tall, old, and impressive Douglas-fir persist in places.

Currently the tallest Douglas-fir in the world is not on Vancouver Island, or in Canada. The champion tree can be found in Coos County, Oregon. It is just over 100 meters (325 feet) tall, and can be seen 56 km (35 miles) southeast of Coos Bay in the Sitkum area.


  1. Anonymous11/6/11

    A Douglas fir measured 415 feet high, (127 meters) in 1902 at the Alfred John Nye property in Lynn Valley. Diameter was 14 ft 3 inches 5 feet from the ground.

    A 352 footer was felled in 1907 in Lynn Valley. Diameter was 10 feet.

    In 1897 a 465 foot (142 m) Douglas fir was felled in Whatcom, Washington on the Alfred Loop ranch near MT. Baker. Diameter was 11 feet, and 220 feet to first branch. Board footage was 96,345 feet of top quality lumber.

    A 400 footer was felled in 1896 at kerrisdale, BC, sent to Hastings mill. J. M. Fromme measured the giant at 13 ft 8 in diameter.

    Records of even taller fir trees exist, but I am in the process of collecting a complete and up to date list of old champions long forgotten.

  2. Anon,

    Thank you for sharing this fascinating information. Too bad these trees are only historical. It is so sad what we have lost.

    I have seen mention of Canada's tallest Douglas-fir as a 94.3 m tree outside of Vancouver. But as usual, several trees usually are vying for top dog.

    I mention the Coos Bay tree in the post, but there is supposed to be a 115 m Douglas-fir in California.

    I am very interested in the list you are compiling. Perhaps you would like to do a guest post here to share your work.

  3. Anonymous12/6/11


    Yeah they measured a Redwood tree near the Oregon border in 2006, it is 115.6 m tall above average ground level, but to the lowest end of the trunk it's about 117.6 m total height.

    Michael Taylor, Chris Atkins, and Mario Vaden, are the top guys searching the forests for new tallest tree species. They just located last week a new record Douglas fir west of Roseberg, Oregon it is 98.3 meters tall, live growing top. They're hoping to find a monster fir over 100 meters, and I think they will. Thousands of hectares of Oregon forest is relatively unexplored.

    But sadly, over 90% of the really big old growth has been cut down in the North West, so finding a 120 meter fir is unlikely -- Not impossible though.

    I think I posted the list in a wikipedia talk section, titled, "Historically Reported Douglas-Fir Exceeding 300 and 400 Feet." I also made a couple experimental Youtube videos dealing with the super tall reports, the 400 foot and up class.


  4. Wow! This was a super interesting post!


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