Two hundred feet above our heads, a small group of bald eagles chortle at each other, marking the boundaries of their territory along the edge of Cameron Lake. To those of us standing on the ground, the water is hidden from view by thick walls of green salal, lacy ferns, and the mossy trunks of gigantic Douglas fir trees. For the birds perched high above, in a canopy that seems to reach forever into an iron-grey sky, the view must be spectacular.

Cathedral Grove, which is situated in MacMillan Provincial Park and located on the route between Parksville and Port Alberni, is home to much more than this family of bald eagles. The ancient ecosystem also shelters owls, woodpeckers, black bears, elk, and deer. The old-growth trees include Red Cedar, hemlock and fir, and some of the oldest trees in the park are more than 800 years old.

Cathedral Grove has been a popular tourist spot since the 1920s. The name is reputed to have come from Governor General Viscount Willingdon’s description of the grove, when he referred to it in a letter to the provincial government in 1928. During the 1930s, increased tourism in the area brought more people to Cathedral Grove, and a citizens’ organization began to petition for its conservation. It took 15 years, but HR MacMillan donated the 136 hectares to the province in 1944. In 1947, it was designated as a Class A Provincial Park.

With a network of well-groomed trails that wind amongst the giants, Cathedral Park provides a peaceful, accessible place for families to introduce young children to the grandeur of B.C.’s old-growth forests. Some paths lead around mossy stumps, others pass huge root systems, while one leads to the shore of Cameron Lake. Small plaques along the trails provide information about flora and fauna, but our children barely noticed them—they were far more impressed at the sheer size of the trees, and stared wide-eyed at the huge trunks, gigantic fungi, and twisted roots.

Because of the grove’s natural state and the dangers of falling branches, it is not recommended to visit the park on windy days. However, Cathedral Grove is open year round and can be just as enjoyable to experience during a spring shower as it is during a warm summer afternoon.

Trails on either side of the highway ensure that, no matter where you park, you are sure to enjoy a beautiful walk and breathtaking encounters with nature.

To reach MacMillan Park and Cathedral Grove, take Hwy #19 or Hwy #19A to Parksville and take the exit to head west on the Alberni Hwy (Hwy #4) towards Port Alberni. Drive 25 kilometers west. Hwy #4 leads directly through the park; no turnoffs are necessary. Parking is free and there is no admission. Be sure to park on the south side, though, if you wish to see the largest Douglas Fir, with a trunk that boasts a circumference of 9 meters!

Kim Bannerman’s work has appeared in publications including 100 Stories for Queensland (eMergent Press, 2010) and the Paraspheres Anthology (Omnidawn Press, 2006). Her most recent novel, Bucket of Blood (Fox&Bee, 2011), is a Vancouver Island-based murder mystery. Visit web link or web link.