Hiking the Big Tree Trail
Meares Island, 10 minute water taxi from Tofino
About 2 hours for boardwalk with the help of a water taxi (10 minutes boat ride, one way)
3 km loop will take 1.5 hours (once on the island)
Moderate, some boardwalks. Expect mud.
See bottom of page
Details for Hiking the Big Tree Trail
In 1984, Meares Island was one of the early battlegrounds in the "War of the Woods." The Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Council strategically
declared the entire Island a Tribal Park and gained an injunction against MacMillan Bloedel, who was prepared to log it. To this date, this injunction
stands and the island is jointly administered by the Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations.
When you travel from Tofino to the start of this trail, you will pass over or around (depending on the tide)vast mud flats that are critical resting
and feeding grounds on one of the major flyways of migrating birds on the west coast. Depending on the season, you will get to see trumpeter swans,
Canada geese, great blue herons and bald eagles.
Just before you land on Meares, the last island that you pass on your left is Morpheus Island. This island has been used for centuries as a traditional
tribal burial ground. More recently from the turn of the last century until the 1950's Morpheus Island was used as the official Tofino Cemetery. It
is now under the guardianship of Tofino with the condition that no one else be buried there.
The start of the Big Tree Trail is initially boardwalk for the first forty minutes courtesy of a cooperative effort between First Nations and the
Friends of Clayoquot Sound, but it quickly disappears and you are left to walk on a trail that varies depending on the weather and season. As
you ascend a small hill, you will notice a wide body of water to your left-hand side that is Lemmen's Inlet. This inlet runs up the middle
of Meares, which is a horseshoe shape; people often mistake this inlet as a passageway to the main island.
You will travel by several big cedars with girths of up to 60 feet wide. Although the Meares Cedar no longer holds the tallest cedar record, they
do set the international record for largest trunk mass. The age of these trees is anywhere between 1000 and 1500 years old. These are some of the
oldest and largest living life forms on earth. READ THAT LAST SENTENCE AGAIN.
To access this trail you will need to arrange for a guided kayak tour, charter or water
taxi. Go to the public dock at the foot of First Street
and ask around or make arrangements with one of the whale watching or sea kayaking companies in Tofino. Expect to pay about $20-$25 return for each
person if you are taking a water taxi.
that when the boardwalk on the Meares Island trail ends, the trail gets tougher to navigate and hiking
in this section can cause fairly significant ecological damage if care is not taken to stay on the trail. We suggest
that you do not attempt the entire loop without the assistance of a local guiding or charter company.
Meare's Island Big Tree Trail: An Article by Joanna Streetly
Walking the Big Tree trail on Meares Island is a bit like making a pilgrimage. Aside from the startling beauty of the rainforest, Clayoquot Sound's first stirring of environmental protest came in 1984 with the proposed logging of Meares Island. Although one clearcut already existed on Meares, the idea of large-scale logging, as intended by MacMillan Bloedel, a logging company operating in the area, was horrifying to many people. At the time of the protest over Meares, one of the trees here was considered the largest cedar in Canada. It was an important find.
Hikers get close to a giant western red cedar trees on Meares Island's Big Tree Trail. (Photo credit, Mike Anderson: www.updownway.com)
A trail was built and posters were made. Meares Island became visible to the public and support began to grow. The boardwalk is a recent addition to this trail, but it follows the route that was established at the time of the protest. The route became so popular that the level of traffic, combined with the dampness, led to a serious problem with mud â€“ the trail became lost in a morass of puddles; sometimes even gumboots were not protection enough for walkers; the forest floor became damaged and in places the fragile habitat of animals such as salamanders was destroyed.
By 1992 some of the boat owners who had been taking people to Meares voluntarily gave up their business in favour of letting the trail recover. The trail was unused for two years. At the same time, the possibility of building a boardwalk was explored. In the end a mixed crew of Tla-o-qui-aht and Tofino workers constructed a section of boardwalk, with financing from the Western Canada Wilderness Committee. But the boardwalk only covers the most travelled section of the trail – from the shoreline starting point to the hanging garden tree, an easy 20-minute walk. The rest of the trail continues on and forms a loop – about an hour and a half's walk.
Ever-prominent Meares Island over Tofino's harbour. Snow accentuates its presence. Photo credit, Jeff Mikus: www.wildsidegrill.com
Interestingly, this is not the spot where the protest occurred. The action in 1984 took place at Cis-a-qis, also known as Heelboom Bay, on the east side of Meares. This bay was intended by MacMillan Bloedel to be a log sort, or booming area.
Response from some of the Tla-o-qui-aht was swift. With help from Tofino locals they constructed a cabin at the head of the bay, and started carving three dugout canoes as a demonstration of their traditional use of the forest. It was also hoped that the sale of these canoes would raise money to save the island.
Soon Meares Island was declared a tribal park. The media became interested and pressure between the two sides built, culminating when MacMillan Bloedel tried to conduct their first day's work. Moses Martin, elected chief of the Tla-o-qui-aht, greeted the forestry workers, welcoming them to his garden, but requesting them to leave their chainsaws in the boat. It was an epic stand-off.
Walking in the stillness and splendour of the rainforest, it's hard to imagine the emotional turmoil and conflict that took place in 1984, but it's easy to be grateful for the result.
Excerpted from Paddling Through Time, Raincoast Books.
About Joanna Streetly
Joanna Streetly is an author, editor and illustrator based in Tofino and currently at work on her fourth book. Look for her previous books: Silent Inlet, Paddling Through Time, and Salt in our Blood in local bookstores, or on the internet. For now, you can find her at JoannaStreetly.com