NTS Map:92C15, NTS Map:92C10. The location is the Upper West Walbran, in the Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park. The closest town is actually Cowichan Lake.
Your sensory system will be delighted by the rich rainforest, pure water, buzzing life, and above all, towering cedar and spruce in a grand tour that takes in several forest systems, waterfalls, floating bridges, moss gardens, dogwood, and various shades of green. Surely this is a destination that many travel the world over for, the equivalent of a Costa Rican Rainforest only MORE biomass and bigger trees. Yet it is so close for Vancouverites and Vancouver Island residents, it's a must see. You can visit on a weekend, if you can handle 60-80km of logging road; we did both the Carmanah and Walbran in one weekend!
The Carmanah and Walbran valleys are the entry points for rain clouds making their way inland off the coast. Mother Nature waters the flowers and trees almost daily, and the trees grow high and wide in thanks.
The trails and experience in the Walbran seem to be of a richer variety than the Carmanah, which is mostly board-walked, and dotted with "feature zones". In contrast, the trails in the Walbran valley provide a constant "big tree" experience, are still lightly visited, with some trails carpeted in moss. It's hard for any photographer to keep up with the group (as I found). The Provincial Government does not yet have a 'management plan' for the Walbran, which is all the more reason to visit. It's simply there; trails are definitely in place and mostly flat.
Our guide, Syd Haskell, is part of the forest, and has the stature of a small friendly bear as he walks through the forest (that's Syd top left). Syd and the Carmanah Forestry Society were major players in saving the Carmanah from 1988 to1990. They have done the same in the Walbran. Rarely does one get the original trail builder (one of the originals) as your guide. Syd's magic bus has a painted forest ceiling, and his skill in driving on logging roads saves you the time and hassle.
On our visit, we added a railing to part of the floating bridge - our guide, after all, is also the trail builder!
This particular trail starts off near a toilet with a heart-shaped cut-out. I know that doesn't help much, so see the directions below. The CFS have done their best to add signs, so once you follow the directions below, simply look for signs to "Fletcher Falls" and "Giggling Spruce".
The trail we took quickly takes you out of the clear-cut, and into a winding work of natural art with ferns, flowers, roots, stream crossings, boardwalks, and groves of cedar and spruce. At one point you will notice the transition from cedar to the low-plain and water loving spruce.
You come across some creeks with crystal clear water that allow you to see every detail of the rock bottom; the water is emerald in colour. The natural pools may indeed be refreshing in mid-summer.
You first head in the direction of Fletcher Falls, after passing Miller's Junction. After the lookout atop Fletcher Falls, move north on the trail to Emerald Pond, and then the "Bridge over troubled Walbran" (cross the floating bridge - see above right picture). You hike a bit and come to more creek exposures, and eventually the "Giggling Spruce" grove (see pictures below), where we turned around. The Upper West Walbran Creek is gorgeous, and you can camp at Giggling Spruce grove (the spruce are giggling because they survived the loggers chainsaws) or continue on to see the "elephant", a large tree that sports an elephant trunk-like branch. Hike as long as time permits. You could hike all the way to Anderson Lake, camp, and continue on to see the Quintuplets, Haddon Corners, and Sleepy Hollow (a very green mossy area--note: we visited this part first in our day tour). If all this sounds confusing, The Carmanah Forestry Society bus trip at $50 is a great way to go, or you can purchase the map they have created at MEC. And you are helping the trail-builder directly.
The trees in the area are huge, and perhaps 350-400 years old. Only that old because much of Vancouver island suffered a major forest fire that destroyed much of its old growth some 350 years ago.
Ancient Cedars on the way to Tofino is one area that survived intact. Other pockets of cedar and occasional spruce also survived, even in the Walbran. Regardless, the plant life and vertical treasures hundreds of feet high will have you looking all directions, and enjoying big trees. Try to find some time alone from your group, just to feel the forest for yourself. If this does not renew you, nothing will. Crystal clear water, towering trees, rich plant and animal life await you. Keep your eyes peeled, you might see a newt, and at times I was sure (or perhaps hoping) that some tree nymph would jump out in front of us. In truth, the lower Walbran does attract the 'fringe' so don't be surprised to see a few semi-permanent base camp areas with resident hippies at the Walbran crossing. As Syd revealed to us, he once saw four half-naked hikers (from the waist down). Be thankful though, if not for the activists, anarchists, and organized groups like Syd's, there would be no Walbran Valley to enjoy, only nasty clear-cuts. You'll see a few of those.
From Duncan to Cowichan Lake, take the North Shore road to and past Youbou, Then the gravel road begins. Drive, following the signs to Carmanah. At the end of the lake, veer straight to the right; do not turn left downhill. Follow the M/L, past the one ways till you reach the junction of Carmanah Main. The road to the Right goes to Port Alberni. You turn left, and drive straight for about 5 miles until you reach the turn off for Nitinat Lake and Dididaht Village. Turn left up the hill and drive till you reach Caycuse River Bridge. The sign for Carmanah points right. You turn left, and follow the M/L which encircles Upper Carmanah Valley, past the turn off to Carmanah Main and to the Bridge across Haddon Creek. The road divides and one route is very steep here, the other snakes around for loaded trucks. Continue for about 3 more miles until you are facing a fresh clear-cut, and when the road junctions you take the road to the right. This is Haddon M/L. The other road is Walbran Main and climbs over to service Central and East Walbran. Follow Haddon M/L until the forest closes. The road to the right go down to Hadikin Lake, where you can see the lake and outhouse. For Upper West, continue following the M/L, over Upper West Walbran Bridge, where on your left there is intact forest. A little further and the road junctions to the right and climbs. Drive straight and turn right at the second junction (Haddon 1000). If you remain straight it takes you down to the clear-cut valley, 1990. Drive along Haddon 1000 to the end, and turn around and park. Do not block the turnaround.
You can definitely do this trail network in the Upper West Walbran on your own, but be sure to have a car or 4x4 capable of driving logging roads. Beware of logging trucks, drive with lights on, and pull over immediately when you see a logging truck--they have right of way at all times. Another alternative is to take Syd Haskell's tour, and in doing so, get a guide and contribute to the Carmanah Forestry Society. For $50, the guide services and bus trip alone are worth it. Not getting lost definitely is. Meeting a living legend is gravy.
Getting there is all logging road. We visited the Carmanah first, then Hadikin Lake, then down to the Upper West Walbran to see Fletcher Falls and Giggling Spruce area. So if on your way back from a Carmanah valley visit, simply don't cross the Caycuse bridge; just carry on West Hatton/Carmanah Main Line, then follow Walbran Mainline up high on the mountain, before descending into the Upper West Valley as per the directions above. If you've got the CFS map, you'll see a map inset showing road detail. You will eventually come to a bridge crossing Walbran Creek. You are now close. You'll see a few hippies hanging out in the area. One hint is the bathtub sitting on the river's edge that you view from above as you cross the wooden bridge. Continue on past the bridge, taking the logging road all the way up the hill, first passing a shack/camp area where activists and trail builders hang out. Most people stop short of this and park just over the bridge at the Walbran, but as you pass the camp, turn right (or follow right) up the hill which gets you closer to the trail to Fletcher Falls. At this point you will see a toilet/out-house with a heart shaped cut out on one side. The trail passes close by. Parking up there, you have a clear-cut above you.
If also visiting the Carmanah first, you can also pick up a FREE logging road map in Lake Cowichan. From there, take South or North shore roads around the lake. Follow Nitinat Main (logging roads have names like "main") past the one-way section, and all the way to Caycuse river/bridge, which you will cross.
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Posted By: Taqulik
- Tue Aug 26 12:49:09 EDT 2008
DownsideAccess has changed and is more difficult. Trail not maintained and overgrown and most wooden sidewalks are broken and in a state of disrepair.
CommentI don't know when that trail was posted on this site but it must have been a few years. Things have changed and the access is quite different. There are no hippies up there and no outhouse. The trail is still marked at the beginning but has not been maintained for a few years and after about 1 km we got to a fallen tree on which metal mesh was nailed but the vegetation was so much overgrown that it was impossible to go any further. If that trail is to be kept, some clearing is required and fallen trees will need to be managed. The road is still passable but is quickly being covered by alders and it won't be more than one or two years before it's not passable, without removing trees. There is active logging in the Walbran valley and some accesses are blocked by gates and there is heaving truck traffic on Caycuse Main (if you come from south Cowichan Lake through that road). Hikers should consider working on this part of the park as it's very vulnerable to logging if it's not used and clearcuts are getting closer to the park.