Walk Amongst 1000 Year Old Giants At The Ancient Cedars Trail, Whistler

A lot of the sub-alpine in Whistler has succumbed to ruthless logging over the last century. There are a few little-known old growth trees in the valley, and we’ll do a post on them soon, but mostly you have to venture up into the alpine. But, to be honest, we think the effort of getting up there makes it all the more special. You have to earn your right to stand among them.

To get to Whistler’s Ancient Cedars Trail drive towards Emerald, just north of Whistler Village. Turn off the highway into the The Adventure Group base for Superfly. Drive passed the Superfly base and continue along the fire service road for 4km until you arrive at a small parking lot and the Ancient Cedars Trail sign and map.

The trail starts here and takes about 2 hours depending on your hiking speed. The trail is a gradual uphill, all the way.

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After driving up the fire service road for around 3.5km you will pass this western-looking cabin and a sign pointing you in the direction of the Ancient Cedars Trail. We don’t know the exact history of the cabin, but we imagine that it is an old trapper’s cabin that is now used for backcountry horse tours and day-trips.

Local knowledge: The fire service road is not graded until around June. Until then the road is VERY rough and full of potholes from the winter. However if you have a 4×4 we urge you to head up because it’s just beautiful up there!

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250m past the cabin you will see the Ancient Cedars Trail map on your right and the small gravel parking lot on the left.

Local knowledge: Although this trail and fire service road are open to the public, The Adventure Group and Superfly do use the road for ATV and RZR tours. Please park sensibly and do not block any part of the road.

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As you walk the trail keep your eyes peeled for things like this. The thick black scar on this tree was created during a storm when the tree was struck by lightning. As energy from the lightning passed down the trunk it burned the tree from the inside, out, boiling the sap and charring the core.

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The trail is very well-marked with signs at every major junction and intersection.

The Ancient Cedars Trail winds its way up into the alpine, through vast expanses of second-growth forest. Second-growth is a term used to describe trees that have grown since the area was last logged.

Local knowledge: Until the mid-1990s most harvesting on public lands in British Columbia involved clearcutting.
Clearcutting is the practice of removing trees from an area of one hectare or more, and greater than two tree heights in width, in a single harvesting operation. The ancient cedars at the top of this trail were spared because the terrain was too steep to access with heavy machinery. A small pocket showing us what this landscape used to look like.

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This second-growth tree is a western yew. As it grows, thin, dark reddish or purplish scales shed off the trunk to expose a rose-coloured under-bark. BC’s native people used the strong, stiff wood for making items such as bows, tools and paddles. It is still used for making bows and paddles, today.

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Local knowledge: The road to the left of this sign does go to the same place trail on the right. The left trail is much easier to walk because the large rocks have been removed and steps have been built on the steep corner. Take the left route and follow the sign.

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No doubt you’ve already seen this “witches hair” lichen in the trees around Whistler, but do you know how special it is? Lichen is not just one organism, it’s two. A symbiotic relationship between an algae and a fungi the algae has the ability to make its own food via photosynthesis, and the fungi harvests the sugars produced and helps them diffuse through the permeable cell walls of the algae. Both the fungi and algae could survive without each other, but by working together they can thrive in many different environments.

Lichen are also a great indicator of air quality because they only live in unpolluted environments .

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A painted lady butterfly basking in the sun along the Ancient Cedar Trail.

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The Ancient Cedars Trail is made-up of two parts: 1. The Ancient Cedars Trail, 2. The Ancient Cedars Loop. The trail starts at the parking lot and leads to the loop. The loop is a short interpretive trail with information about the old-growth trees you’ll find along the loop. When you finish the loop, simply come back down the trail to the parking lot.

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About two-thirds of the way up watch out for a viewpoint sign post. It leads along a short path, from the main trail, to this lookout. Looking north, you can see Showh Lake hidden in the trees.

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It’s easy to know when you’re getting close to the Ancient Cedars Loop and the old-growth trees. Old-growth is a term for an area of forest that has reached great age without experiencing any significant disturbance, such a logging. The trees here are huge compared to anything in Whistler Valley.

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A pair of red cedars who have grown beside each other for hundreds of years.

Local knowledge:
The majority of Whistler’s sub-alpine trees are around 200 – 400 years old. Trees up at the Ancient Cedars Loop are between 700 – 1000 years old. Whistler oldest living tree is recorded as being between 1100 and 1200 years old.

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There are a few trees here that are much smaller than their brothers that surround them. However, this does not necessarily make them younger. Yellow cedar grows very slowly, and can be deceptively small for their age when compared to red cedar.

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The Ancient Cedars Loop always has something new for us every time we go. One thing we always forget about is the incredible view that is waiting for us on the drive back down.

What is your favourite thing about the Ancient Cedars Trail?

As always we’d love to see your photos and hear your stories. Please share them with us on Facebook, TwitterInstagram or in comments below.

Happy trails!