Port Renfrew is a small seaside community on the west coast of Southern Vancouver Island. There are many ancient trees in the area; therefore, it is also known as ‘Canada’s Tall Tree Capital.’
Close to Port Renfrew grows the largest Douglas Fir on the planet, the massive Red Creek Fir. We love big trees, and so, of course, we had to visit this one!
Vancouver Island’s old-growth forest is home to several species of trees, including Western Red Cedar, Sitka Spruce, Douglas Fir, Amabilis Fir and Western Hemlock. Douglas Fir trees are known for their elegant beauty and distinctive grain pattern.
Port Renfrew has ideal growing conditions for a temperate rainforest with heavy winter rains, mild temperatures and summer mists. The ancient forests are special places, and their protection is essential to the survival of the tall trees and the creatures who live in them.
En route to the Red Creek Fir, you can stop by one of Canada’s largest Sitka Spruce trees, the San Juan Spruce. The amazing Avatar Grove and Big Lonely Dough are other ancient trees you can visit in the area.
How to Get To Red Creek Fir
It is not often that you get to see or even give a hug to a living being that has been around for around 1000 years.
You can reach the tree by a network of rough logging roads and a short walk through a lovely forest. If you have a vehicle with decent ground clearance, visiting the Red Creek Fir is worth the trip!
If you need to rent a car, we use the website Discover Cars. It’s a search engine with lots of deals and good customer service.
Driving Directions to Red Creek Fir Trailhead
Red Creek Fir is located about 31 kilometres from Port Renfrew and is the most difficult to reach of the big trees in the area. We do not recommend this trip for vehicles with low clearance.
The best wheels for this journey are SUVs, pickups, and 4WD vehicles. You will be driving on active logging roads, so drive carefully.
Follow Deering Road out of town. You will cross over a single-lane bridge above the San Juan River. Keep right at the fork.
Turn right onto the Pacific Marine Road towards Lake Cowichan. If you go left, you will reach Avatar Grove instead. After about 8.5 km, you will pass Fairy Lake. You can stop by the lake and snap a picture of the popular “Bonsai Tree.”
Continue driving past Fairy Lake and turn right off the paved highway onto Len’s Creek Main, which is a gravel road. Keep right at the fork (at the Len’s Triangle) onto Bear Creek Main.
You will cross a large bridge over the San Juan River. After the bridge on your left-hand side, you will find the San Juan Spruce and the Forest Service Campground. We made a stop here, and it was worth it.
San Juan Spruce is the largest Sitka Spruce in Canada, having a circumference of 1.6 metres (5.25 feet). Strong winds broke off the top portion of the trunk, but San Juan Spruce is amazing despite that.
Continue driving on Bear Main Road. After a couple of kilometres, turn right onto Mosquito Creek Main and head uphill. Keep right at the fork onto Red Creek Main. The road descends downhill for quite some time. We found this section the bumpiest.
When you get to the bottom of the hill, turn right on Red 100 Road. After about 1200 meters, you will reach a point where the road noticeably widens on both sides. Park your car there. GPS coordinates for the Red Creek Fir parking area are 48.57990-124.22639.
Driving Tips for Red Creek Fir
When travelling on logging roads, we recommend having a full gas tank and a working spare tire. The gravel logging roads are rarely maintained.
You can always check with locals in Port Renfrew for updated information on the road condition.
There might be branches fallen on the road that you will need to clear out of the way. It is probably a good idea to bring some gloves, just in case. Luckily, during our trip in June, the road was clear of any obstacles.
There is no cellphone reception in Port Renfrew and the surrounding areas, so be prepared in case of an emergency.
Red Creek Fir Hike
From the parking area, it is a short 10-15 minute walk to the Red Creek Fir. The trail is marked by bright red tags on trees.
Hike Key Facts
- Distance: 1 km out-and-back
- Estimated Time: 25 minutes
- Elevation Gain: 47 meters
- Difficulty: Easy
- Location: Red Creek Fir Recreation Site
You can find the trailhead on the right-hand side of the road. The path is straightforward to follow. When you are about halfway up the trail, watch for three giant old-growth Western Red Cedar trees on your left-hand side. Continue walking for about five more minutes until you reach the Red Creek Fir.
About Red Creek Fir
By the volume of wood, the Red Creek Fir is the largest Douglas Fir on the planet! Over the years, several violent storms have reduced its height, but it still stands at 73.8m (242 ft) tall.
Because its height was shortened, the Red Creek Fir is not the world’s tallest Douglas Fir. The tallest known Douglas Fir is Doerner Fir in Oregon, which measures 99.76 m (327 ft). The age of this tree is approximately 450 – 500 years.
What Is the Size of the Red Creek Fir?
The Red Creek Fir is 73.8 m (242 ft) tall and measures 13.3 m (43.7 ft) in circumference and 4.3 m (14 ft) in diameter. The tree would have stood at least 90 m (300ft) tall at one time before strong winds blew its top and after much of the surrounding forest was logged.
In comparison, the Doerner Fir in Oregon measures 3.5 m (11.6 ft) in diameter and is 99.7 m (327 ft) tall. Historical records document some Douglas Fir over 120 m (400 ft) tall. Today specimens over 76 m (250 ft) are rare.
Douglas Fir ranks as the fourth tallest tree species in the world behind Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) and Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis). Douglas Firs are fast-growing trees and often grow up to 24 inches yearly.
How Old Is Red Creek Fir?
The Red Creek Fir is estimated to be around 1000 years old. Douglas Fir trees have an average life expectancy of between 500 and 1000 years. That makes them proud members of the old-growth forest.
The Red Creek Fir has flourished due to its location on the shaded southern slopes of the San Juan Valley and being no more than half a kilometre from the San Juan River.
Ancient Forest Alliance
The Ancient Forest Alliance is a non-profit organization working to protect BC’s endangered old-growth forests and to ensure a sustainable, value-added, second-growth forest industry.
Already 90% of the ancient forests on southern Vancouver Island have been logged. You can visit their website here if you would like to support or donate to The Ancient Forest Alliance.
Interesting Facts About Douglas Fir Trees
Douglas Fir trees, sometimes called Red Firs, British Columbia Pines, Oregon Pines, and Douglas Spruce, are neither true fir trees nor pines nor spruces!
The genus name Pseudotsuga means “false hemlock,” referencing another kind of tree they resemble. It seems as if no one can tell what family Douglas Fir belongs to!
There are three varieties of Douglas Fir trees, which depend on different growing locations. The three varieties are Coastal Douglas Fir, Rocky Mountain Douglas Fir and Mexican Douglas Fir.
Coastal Douglas Fir extends from central British Columbia south along the Pacific Coast Ranges into central California, over 1,367 miles. Coastal Douglas Fir achieves the tallest heights of the three varieties.
Where Does the Name Douglas Fir Come From?
The official name Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) comes from the Scottish botanist David Douglas, who was the first person to introduce the tree.
But the tree was actually first documented by the Scottish physician and rival naturalist Archibald Menzies on Vancouver Island in 1791, whose name is credited in the scientific epithet Pseudotsuga menziesii, which typically follows Douglas Fir.
Menzies career mirrored that of David Douglas in many ways. He was a member of the successful Vancouver Expedition and also discovered and had several different plant species named after him.
Both men also became the first European recorded to reach the summit of Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii.
How Was Douglas Fir Used by the First Nations
More than fifty First Nations have inhabited Vancouver Island, collectively in three Indigenous peoples: the Kwakwaka’wakw to the north, The Coast Salish to the south, and the Nuu’chah’nulth along the west-central coast of the island. There are dozens of nations among them.
The First Nations used Douglas Fir trees for building, basketry, and medicinal purposes. They used the bark and resin to create herbal treatments and salves to cure ailments including stomach aches, headaches, common cold and rheumatism.
Douglas Fir needles can be made into pine needle tea, which has medicinal value and a pleasant citrus flavour.
Other Ancient Trees Around Port Renfrew
You will need to drive on unpaved logging roads to reach most of the ancient trees in the Port Renfrew area. Harris Creek Spruce is the only exception. To help with directions, you can refer to the Ancient Forest Alliance map.
San Juan Spruce
The San Juan Spruce stands on the banks of the San Juan River and is the largest Sitka Spruce in Canada. You can visit the tree on the way to the Red Creek Fir. It is situated about 50 meters from Bear Main Road. The top portion of the trunk is broken, but despite that, San Juan Spruce is amazing.
The impressive Avatar Grove is the most well-known place to see old trees in Port Renfrew. The Ancient Forest Alliance members discovered it in 2009. You can access Avatar Grove by a rough gravel road; it’s definitely worth the bumpy ride.
Big Lonely Dough
Perhaps the loneliest tree in Canada, the Big Lonely Dough stands in the middle of a clear-cut logging site, surrounded by a field of stumps. It is about 70 meters tall, and an entire book is written about it. Big Lonely Dough is located approximately 6 kilometres past Avatar Grove.
You will find Eden Grove in the Gordon River Valley, a short distance past the Big Lonely Dough. The Grove includes about 30 hectares of unprotected, valley-bottom ancient forest and is home to giant Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar trees, including one cedar over 3.66 m (12 ft) wide.
Harris Creek Spruce
This is the easiest of the big trees to access. The Harris Creek Spruce is about 29 kilometres northeast of Port Renfrew when heading towards Lake Cowichan. You can find it on the right-hand side of the road. Watch for s small sign 9.5 kilometres past Lizard Lake.
Where to Stay in Port Renfrew
Port Renfrew has some lovely places to stay. We suggest booking your accommodation in advance to ensure you get one of the best places. Here are a few of our recommendations:
- The Great Escape: Located next to Port San Juan, The Great Escape offers stunning views. The accommodation has a kitchen, and all units have a terrace or balcony. After a day of activities, you can relax inside a hot tub. It’s a perfect place to unwind and disconnect. >>See prices and availability for The Great Escape
- Hera’s Cove: Situated next to Port San Juan, these holiday homes have fantastic mountain and sea views. Very comfortable accommodation with lots of room. You can also enjoy a sun terrace and a garden with a barbecue. >>See prices and availability for Hera’s Cove
- Trailhead Resort: Cozy cabins and suites, or Hiker Huts for those looking to stay before or after hiking one of the world-famous trails in the area. The accommodation is clean and comfortable. The resort has a shared hot tub to soothe sore muscles. >>See prices and availability for Trailhead Resort
Other Things to Do Around Port Renfrew
Whether you only have a day or a whole week, there are many things you can do and explore in the Port Renfrew area. Here are some of the most popular:
- Explore Juan de Fuca: Juan de Fuca Marine Trail follows 47 kilometres of wilderness stretching along the western shoreline of Southern Vancouver Island. There are four trailheads to the Juan de Fuca Trail at Botanical Beach, Parkinson Creek, Sombrio Beach and China Beach. Our favourite is Sombrio Beach and the Hidden Waterfall. Botanical Beach is an incredible destination if you like exploring tide pools.
- Pacific Marine Circle Route: The Pacific Marine Circle Route should be on your to-do list during your trip to Southern Vancouver Island. You will visit West Coast beaches, stunning waterfalls and ancient forests. Find a deeper connection to nature and discover new communities on this memorable Vancouver Island Road Trip.
- Hike West Coast Trail: This well-known 75-kilometre backpacking wilderness trail from Port Renfrew to Bamfield is for experienced adventurers. It was built in 1907 to facilitate the rescue of shipwrecked survivors along the coast, and now it is part of the Pacific Rim National Park. The West Coast Trail is open from May 1st to September 30th, and only 30 people are allowed to start hiking the trail each day.
Plan Your Trip to Port Renfrew
- Travel Insurance: Protect yourself from possible injury, theft or a cancelled trip. World Nomads offers excellent coverage and competitive rates.
- Accommodation: Our favourite hotel search engine is Booking.com. Discover savings on hotels, apartments, resorts and villas in 80,000 destinations worldwide.
- Experiences: Make your trip extra special and memorable. Get Your Guide and Viator offer fantastic tours and activities.
- Car Rentals: Discover Cars is an excellent site for comparing car prices and finding great deals. Book online for the best rates.
- Flights: Our favourite search engine for airline tickets is Skyscanner. Compare millions of flights and discover the best fares for standard and budget flights.
Read More Travel Guides
We hope you enjoyed our guide on visiting the Red Creek Fir. Let us know in the comments below. Here are a few of our favourite articles to inspire your travels on Southern Vancouver Island.
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- Kennedy Lake – The Hidden Gem of Tofino
- Sombrio Beach – 7 Reasons You Should Visit
- Taylor River – Stunning Swimming Hole on Vancouver Island
- Ammonite Falls / Benson Creek Falls – Guide to Visiting
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