Growing up in Southern Ontario, we became accustomed to having most things we wanted/needed nearby. If we needed a tool to fix something, Canadian Tire was a short drive away. If we needed groceries, we’d hop in the car and be there in less than five minutes. Here in Tofino, things are a little bit different.
While Tofino sees a crazy amount of tourists, the population of the village is small. There are under 2000 people that call Tofino home. Because of the small population, there aren’t a lot of the typical stores that we were used at home. Since we arrived in Tofino, we’ve been getting by with visits to the Co-op grocery and hardware stores for most of our needs. However, we also compiled a list of stuff we needed that we just couldn’t find in Tofino or items that are outrageously priced. This meant it was time for a trip.
To stock up on goods, a lot of Tofino locals will make a monthly trip up Highway 4 to Port Alberni. This is the one road in and out of Tofino. It’s a beautiful road with stunning views, but it’s also at minimum a 1.75-hour drive. In the winter, the drive can be a horrendous one. While Tofino sees little to no snow during the winter, Highway 4 (because of it’s high elevation) gets plenty of snow. This turns the usually tricky to navigate road into a dangerous road. Thankfully, we haven’t had to make a winter trip to Port Alberni as we went during the first week of November.
While our main goal was to get some items that we couldn’t find in Tofino, like RV supplies and certain groceries, we also made it a priority to visit MacMillan Provincial Park on the other side of Port Alberni.
The day we first travelled to Tofino, we drove by MacMillan Provincial Park and both said, “wow!” as we looked as the giant trees throughout the rain forest. As soon as we set our eyes on the park, we knew we had to visit as soon as possible and this trip at the beginning of November was the perfect opportunity.
A Bit of History
Like today, throughout the early 1900’s, many tourists flocked to the park. At the time, however, it was yet to be named MacMillan Provincial Park. Rather, it was called Cathedral Grove, a name given to the area by the Governor General of Canada – Viscount Willingdon.
For a period of time, it appeared the old growth forest – which features giant Douglas firs, western redcedars, and more – was destined to become lumber. While tourists were enjoying the beautiful sights of the massive natural structures inside of Cathedral Grove, British Columbia’s first Chief Forester – H.R. MacMillan had a different vision for the park. MacMillan had acquired the land from a timber company and planned to have the trees within Cathedral Grove cut down.
When it became known that the beautiful grove was destined to become lumber, the public demanded the government of BC protect the land. MacMillan, however, was content on keeping his land and wouldn’t budge on his plans to forest Cathedral Grove. 15 year later, MacMillan still had not forested the land and gave into the public’s demand for the BC government to acquire & protect the land from foresting operations.
In 1947, MacMillan Provincial Park officially opened, named for the man who generously decided to protect the old growth forest and allow for the public to enjoy its sheer beauty.
MacMillan Provincial Park Today
Today, MacMillan Provincial Park is a popular and easy to access destination. It’s estimated that 1 million people enjoy the old growth forest each year. The park is bisected by Highway 4 with small trails that wind through the forest on each side of the highway.
Considering the popularity of the park, the parking situation is a tad dangerous. There are pullout parking lots on both sides of the highway, but they are merely extensions of the narrow highway itself. During the busy summer months, I’m certain there are many near accidents in the busy area. The government had planned to construct a safer parking lot down the road but those plans were ditched due to concerns & protests from environmentalists.
When we first arrived at the park, it was busy considering it was early November. Because Halloween had just passed, we noticed the parking lots on both sides of the highway were dotted with pumpkins. Apparently, it’s tradition in the area to dispose of your pumpkins around the parking lot and trail entrances at MacMillan Provincial Park. While it was a fun & unique setting, I could imagine that if you were driving by at night, it might be tad spooky.
Hiking MacMillan Provincial Park
Some of the most picturesque hikes in Canada are also the most difficult but not this one. This is a short and easy trail that is also somewhat, if not completely, wheelchair accessible. Pretty much anyone can access this trail which is fantastic because it is a treat everyone should be able to enjoy.
As you walk through Cathedral Grove, you find yourself pausing early & often to look at your surroundings. The forest is a rich, dark green and full of life. The air felt smooth & crisp, likely from the quantity of lush flora. There are gigantic trees everywhere you look. Some of the Douglas firs, hemlocks, & western redcedars are over 800 years old which is incredible. When you stand beside them you feel small. There is one Douglas fir within MacMillan Provincial Park that is over 9 meters in circumference. That’s a huge tree.
We walked MacMillan Provincial Park throughout Cathedral Grove for almost an hour. Part of the trail was blocked off due to flooding from some heavy rain that had hit the area in the previous days. This meant we had to double back rather than continue the loop before finishing our short but beautiful hike.
Before leaving, I remarked to Kate that the park would be a great place to stop anytime we pass by. The hike is short and easy making it the perfect spot to stretch our legs during a drive to Port Alberni or Nanaimo. While we haven’t been back to MacMillan Provincial Park since November, we are heading to Nanaimo at the end of the month and plan to see if the park is as tranquil in winter as it was when we first visited. We’re guessing it’ll be equally, if not more beautiful than our first trip to the park.