The Carmanah Valley is revered as an almost mystical destination with thick moist air and giant Sitka Spruce towering above. It is indeed a spiritual place, saved from the chainsaw thanks to the Carmanah Forest Society, and, the WCWC. The Carmanah received park status in 1990 with the upper Carmanah valley gaining protected status in 1995. The adjacent Walbran Valley has also been protected recently, and both offer a rich rainforest experience buzzing with life.
In the case of Carmanah, getting there is the trick. It's all logging road after Cowichan Lake, a great place to pick up supplies. It only took us a few hours though, so really not too bad, and, on a Friday at that -- with logging truck traffic.
The directions are not difficult, but the driving is best suited to a 4x4 or a car with decent suspension. There are a few narrow sections, and lots of single lane creek crossings.
Once you get to the parking area and main trailhead, the valley walk is clearly marked. You simply park and descend on gravel path down to the valley floor, and either go left, or, right. That simple. It's also mostly boardwalked -- although we found a few sections blown out by fallen trees - shit happens. Those expecting some bushwhacking or navigation challenges need not worry, the boardwalk makes it eeeasssyy. While some visit and camp, others can literally do this as a long day trip from Victoria, Duncan, or Nanaimo -- with a two or three hour boardwalk hike to enjoy the big trees such as "Coast Tower", "Three Sisters", and the "Randy Stoltman commerative grove".
If you walk up the valley further, you can reach Grunt's Grove, and, paradise pools. Indeed, the Carmanah trailhead signs that describe the distances to these "feature zones" are a rather poor choice in words. What is a feature zone? Nonetheless, key "feature zones" can be reached in a scant 2km walk in either direction, no more than 3km, so visit both. The walking is nice, but, from an overall experience of rich vibrant rainforest, I preferred the Walbran Valley. Perhaps because the Walbran is a bit more open to the sky in places, being a less closed in , there also seemed more variety, more plants, more "features" -- and it's non-stop, you can walk for 6 hours up the entire valley by trail, and that's what you need to do to enjoy a rainforest. You need to let it work on you, put you in a mood, it's a journey, not a "feature zone".
There are three different routes leading to the Caycuse River Bridge, which is the only way to access the park. It's mostly all logging road.
Visitors traveling from Port Alberni should follow the Bamfield Road for approximately 40 km to the Franklin River Junction. At the junction, turn left onto South Main and proceed eastward, past the logging camp buildings and toward Nitinat Lake. Continue on South Main for approximately 23 km to the Nitinat River Bridge. Stay on South Main until reaching the Caycuse River Bridge.
Travelers from Port Renfrew should follow the Lake Cowichan Connector Road north to Honeymoon Bay. At Honeymoon Bay, turn left and proceed along South Shore Road, which becomes Nitinat Main, continuing to the junction of Nitinat Main and South Main. Turn left onto South Main and proceed to the Caycuse River Bridge.
From Lake Cowichan, follow the South or North Shore around the lake to the lakehead. This is where you connect with Nitinat main (main logging roads are called 'main'). All logging roads here have signs. We chose the North side, going through the village of Youbou (you'll see a sign) afterwhich you are on logging road until you get to Nitinat Main.
Continue along Nitinat Main till it connects with Junction South. Turn left onto South Main and proceed to the Caycuse River Bridge.
Once you have crossed the Caycuse River Bridge, turn right immediately and proceed on Rosander Main for approximately 29 km to the park. It's pretty easy, you will see most logging truck traffic right in the main junction area (just past Youbou) as no doubt this is a collection point. The closer you get to Carmanah, the less traffic you will see. The last part is steep and rough, just go slow. Took us a half-tank of gas to get to Carmanah, then, drive over to Walbran, then, drive back to Lake Cowichan. So as long as you are gassed up, no worries there at all. When getting close to Carmanah, you'll get glimpses of the Ocean and you'll think you are only 5km away (more like 10km), but it sure seems near, and one can only imagine those on the West Coast Trail just below you!
A great map of all Southwestern B.C.'s recreational hikes (including logging roads) is available showing the locations of key groves, logging roads, camps, and trails, from the Carmanah Forest Society, see www.carmanah.bc.ca, or pick one up at MEC. They'll also give you a free logging road map while at Lake Cowichan visitor center. What's kind of nice is that the free map has co-ordinates on it. We tripled it with topo map 92C10, which also covers the West Coast Trail. The latter two maps give you co-ordinates, which are more useful on the logging roads than in the Carmanah itself, unless you are walking up the Valley and perhaps going off trail.
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