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A giant Douglas fir (left) and gnarly redcedar (right) grow in the amazing but logging-threatened Avatar Grove near Port Renfrew, BC.
Photo by TJ Watt
Avatar Grove is a phenomenal yet threatened stand of giant old-growth red cedar and Douglas fir alongside the Gordon River, approximately 15 minutes away from Port Renfrew, BC. This incredible old-growth forest growing on valley bottom, flat terrain could be the Cathedral Grove of Port Renfrew. The area drew its nickname from its natural resemblance to the spectacular alien landscapes of Pandora in the movie Avatar. Massive redcedars with huge twisted and contorted burls are found in large numbers throughout the stand including one that's been dubbed “Canada’s Gnarliest Tree” - giant alien-shaped redcedar resembling Jabba the Hut with a massive burl nearly 12ft in diameter! Rare giant old-growth Douglas fir, of which 99% have been logged from Vancouver Island, are also found scattered throughout the forest. Beautiful fern draped creeks with moss covered rocks and small waterfalls meander through the woods along their way to the Gordon River. The forest provides habitat for Roosevelt elk, Pilliated woodpeckers, cougar, bears, wolves, and more.
Finding southerly, low-elevation, flat terrain old-growth these days is a challenge. Avatar Grove represents that which has been nearly entirely stripped from Vancouver Island. 90% of the valley bottom productive old-growth has been logged at this point, making areas such as this one all the more scarce and significant. Currently, almost the entire grove is flagged with “falling boundary” and “road location” ribbon with the majority of the biggest trees tagged with spray paint. Surrey based Teal Jones Group has the logging rights for this area in tree farm license 46. At this time there has yet to be a cutting permit issued for the area and the BC government needs to make the decision to implement and new Land Use Order or provide legislated protection to the endangered forest. Both the Port Renfrew and Sooke tourism boards have drafted letters requesting this area be protected. Please write to Forest Minister Pat Bell and Premier Gordon Campbell asking them to make the right choice based on environmental, tourism, and climate change values.
Hiking Guide: Difficulty – Moderate/High
The Avatar Grove does not have any formal routes through the forest however a path has slowly evolved from the amount of recent foot traffic. Hikers in this area should have very good balance, strength, and sense of direction.
The grove can be divided into two segments, the upper and lower grove. This is determined by their relation to the Gordon River Main logging road that splits the area in two. The lower grove is on the river side of the road (right hand side) and slopes downhill while the upper grove heads up hill and away to the left.
Lower Avatar Grove: After crossing the Baird Creek Bridge and parking bridge, keep an eye out for pink flagging tape marking a route into the forest. Be careful with footing on the first slopes. Once entering the lower forest, you will find a few giant redcedars and a large and impressive Douglas fir. Note the blue spray paint marking them for falling. The forest then thins out into smaller Western hemlock and you will want to head along parallel to the road watching for flagging tape and the foot path. Further in you will start to find more of the giant cedars and firs including one of the best redcedars in the grove which has a massive circular burl around its entire base with grooves large enough for an adult to sit in. The path continues forward and down another steep embankment to a flat area near the river. This area has excellent examples of old-growth rainforest characteristics such as massive trees, large fallen logs, nurse logs, lush understory, etc. You may return to the road taking the same route you followed in.
Upper Avatar Grove: Once you have parked after the Baird Creek bridge, cross the road on foot and look for the pink flagging tape marking an entrance to the forest. There is a yellow road that will assist you on the way up. Once in the upper grove watch for pink flagging tape that marks the route. You will pass many large cedars and after about 5 minutes you will encounter a nice creek running sideways through the grove. Cross this creek and start to head up the next hillside where 5 or 6 large cedars grow until you reach “Canada’s gnarliest tree”, a giant alien-shaped redcedar resembling Jabba the Hut covered in contorted burls and measuring nearly 40ft around!
Canada’s gnarliest tree!
Dense concentrations of giant old-growth redcedars and Douglas fir trees.
Amazing redcedars covered with contorted burls and twists.
Lush, fern draped creeks and streams with small waterfalls and mossy rocks.
Easy to navigate flat terrain.
The beautiful Gordon River right nearby for summer swimming.
Where to go as you enter Port Renfrew Point A is the Coastal Kitchen Cafe in Port Renfrew and Point B is the Avatar Grove.View Larger Map
Avatar Grove Parking GPS:
lat = 48.6163043713
lon = -124.438022154
How to Get to the Avatar Grove in Port Renfrew, BC
Directions Coming from Victoria, BC – Drive time approx 2.5 hours
Drive to Port Renfrew along West Coast Hwy #14
Immediately upon reaching Port Renfrew turn RIGHT onto Deering Rd.
Cross the big bridge over the San Juan River and continue down Deering Rd. staying to the right.
You then cross a small single lane bridge and reach a “T” in the road. Turn LEFT at the “T”
Stay on the main paved road and after approx. 5 km. you will hit a “Y” at which you go LEFT and cross a tall, beautiful bridge over the Gordon River.
After crossing the bridge keep on the Gordon River Main for about 1.5 km. staying to the right at the next “Y”.
You will pass a small white 42 km. mark sign and then shortly after cross over a small bridge at Baird Creek. Park on the right immediately after the bridge. Watch for pink ribbon.
An entrance to the forest on the right will take you to the Lower Grove which is full of giant burly cedars and some large Douglas fir.
Also check out the amazing Upper Grove across the road to see “Canada’s Gnarliest Tree”!