The Ancient Forest—A walk through BC’S hidden treasure

Photo Credit: Jed Zimmerman UNBC 2013

The Ancient Forest—A walk through BC’S hidden treasure

👤Nowell Senior 🕔Mar 27, 2015

The Ancient Forest is located 113 km east of Prince George off Highway 16, in one of the upper Fraser River Valley’s few remaining antique stands of western red cedar. These stands include cedar that are more than 1,000 years old in an area farther from an ocean than any other inland temperate rainforest in the world.

The site offers several options to choose from: a half-hour stroll along the 500-metre, universally accessible boardwalk; the 15-km Driscoll Ridge backcountry hiking trail; a 45-minute walk along the Big Tree Loop; a 60-minute return trip to Tree Beard Falls; or the Ancient Forest Loop, which takes about 90 minutes.

The ancient cedars along these trails are beautiful in their resilience: although somewhat geriatric, broken and falling apart in places, they continue to reproduce, contribute to the ecosystem and are inspiring in their old age. The trees create a diverse and rich ecosystem with a combination of coastal and interior species. The Ancient Forest consists of what is known as antique rainforest stands, where the last major natural disturbance, such as fire, happened well before the current generation of trees became established—more than a millennium ago.

The full Ancient Forest Loop takes you to Tree Beard Falls (a 30-metre waterfall cascading down a rugged rock face), clusters of colossal cedars known as Sacred Circles, a charismatic cedar called Tree Beard that towers high with an unusual display of arms, and then to an especially large cedar that makes up in girth what it lacks in character. This is Big Tree: the largest cedar in the Ancient Forest at almost 16 feet in diameter, it stands in silent vigil beside a fallen comrade.

Radies’ Tree is named after Dave Radies, a graduate student from the University of Northern British Columbia who alerted the public to this exceptional stand of cedars that were to be logged. Second only to Big Tree in size, Radies’ Tree leans forward—as if on alert—and is supported by a massive foundation of buttress roots.

The 15-km Driscoll Trail weaves through the cedar forest, climbing into the hemlock and, finally, Engelman spruce subalpine fir zones. The summit at 1,800 metres and the ridge walk provide excellent views of surrounding mountains and the Rocky Mountain Trench. Driscoll Ridge is habitat for a variety of wildlife, including grizzly and black bears, mountain caribou, moose, deer and wolverine. The east trailhead for the Driscoll Ridge Trail is located at the Ancient Forest Universal Boardwalk and the west trailhead five km west of the Ancient Forest.

UNBC has recommended the Ancient Forest be designated a World Heritage Site, and it more than meets the criteria: It does indeed display the exceptional beauty that is an inherent feature of the on-going ecological and biological processes that have occurred since the glaciers retreated from the last ice age, all within an area of high biodiversity. As well, no other temperate rainforest is located so far north and so far from an ocean—in itself this establishes the Ancient Forest as globally unique.