An hour’s drive east of Prince George (113 km) is the trailhead for the Ancient Forest Trail. Pull into the trail head parking lot and spend an hour walking through one of BC's best kept secrets, a remnant stand of ancient western redcedars, where moss-draped trees, many over one-thousand years in age, provide a glimpse of a rare inland rainforest ecosystem.
The ancient cedar stands fall within the traditional territories of the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation, who would have visited these stands from summer fishing camps along the upper Fraser River. During the past decade local communities again discovered the ancient cedar stands, leading to an amazing volunteer effort, spearheaded by the Caledonia Ramblers Hiking Club, to build and maintain the Ancient Forest Trail. These efforts culminated in the construction of the universal boardwalk in 2013, a wheelchair accessible boardwalk that leads visitors into the heart of the Inland Rainforest.
The overwhelming question posed by first-time visitors to the Ancient Forest Trail is, "How can such large trees, reminiscent of rainforests on BC's west coast, grow within sight of snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains?" Visitors are right to ask this question. By all rights, the summers are too hot and dry, and the winters too long and cold. However, it is the long, cold, and snowy winters which hold the answer to this question.
One of the most important factors in the growth of these ancient cedars is the abundance of small springs and streams under the giant cedars. Walking into the Ancient Forest Trail one immediately feels the cool moist air and smells the scent of cedar. This moisture sustains the ancient cedars during dry summers and prevents lighting strikes from causing stand-destroying fires. Crucial to the continued flow of these springs is ground water recharge from melting of the deep winter snow pack, both within the stand and on the mountain slopes above.
The importance of water to this site is dramatically displayed at Treebeard Falls, where a vigorous stream cascades into the Ancient Forest Trail, supporting lush growth of ferns and mosses. The exceptional longevity of the ancient cedars and the humid microclimate creates ideal conditions for growth of lichens and mosses. One of the more striking lichens along the Ancient Forest Trail is the Gold-dust lichen (Chrysothrix candelaris), which paints the towering ancient cedar trunks bright yellow.
Many of the plants growing within the ancient cedar stands demonstrate adaptations to growth under wet conditions. Giant cedars along the Ancient Forest Trail develop large buttress roots. Buttress roots are better known from tropical rain forests, where they provide both support for the tree, as well as allowing roots to breathe easier in wet soils (yes, even roots breathe). Hikers should take care not to climb on buttress roots along the Ancient Forest Trail. Their bark can be easily damaged by your feet.
Edible plants, such as the wild ginger (Asarum caudatum) are abundant along the Ancient Forest Trail. The roots of wild ginger have a pungent ginger flavour, while the leaves smell strongly of lemon when crushed. Perhaps the most important traditional plant species from the Ancient Forest Trail area was the western redcedars themselves, whose bark was traditionally used in many facets of day-to-day life by BC First Nations.
A Proposed World Heritage Site
The Ancient Forest Trail provides a glimpse of a primeval forest, where ancient cedars have grown undisturbed for many thousands of years. The construction of the Ancient Forest Trail by community volunteers is a broadly-based grassroots initiative, with people from across the region donating their time and effort, and local businesses donating thousands of dollars’ worth of materials. More than15,000 visitors came to the Ancient Forest trail in 2014, this based largely on word-of-mouth advertising, with people telling their neighbours, “You have to go out and see the Ancient Forest Trail”. At present there is very little representation of this rare inland rainforest ecosystem within the BC Provincial Park system. Researchers at UNBC have now proposed that the Ancient Forest Trail area be nominated as a World Heritage Site, citing the international significance of the biological and cultural values at this site. This designation would both safeguard a rare ecosystem and provide major international recognition for British Columbia and indeed Canada.
Please note that trail conditions on the Ancient Forest Trail may change by season and that ongoing trail upgrades may require closures or detours on some sections. All hikers should be aware that conditions on mountain trails can change quickly and that wildlife may be encountered.
Ancient Forest Trail Map (Click to view larger version)
Coxson, D.S., T. Goward, and D. Connell. 2012. Analysis of ancient western redcedar stands in the upper Fraser River watershed and scenarios for protection. BC Journal of Ecosystems and Management 12:1–20. http://www.jem.forrex.org/forrex/index.php/jem/article/view/206/479
Connell, D. 2014. Socio-economic Benefits of Non-timber Uses of BC’s Inland Rainforest Research Bulletin. December 2014. http://www.unbc.ca/sites/default/files/sections/david-connell/ancient-cedar/aftbulletindecember2014.pdf
Caledonia Ramblers Hiking Club – Ancient Forest Interpretive Site