Big Cedar & Kennedy Falls hike, North Vancouver: A walk down skid road

We sunk in the mud, sloshed through countless creek beds and crept over slick rocks and roots. Sounds horrible, eh? Turns out I was totally jazzed by our Big Cedar-Kennedy Falls hike. Have I lost my mind? I hope not. I’d rather attribute my weird sense of fun to the fact that this is a really cool hike. Located in North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley area, the hike’s main attractions are a giant, 600-year-old cedar tree and a gorgeous waterfall. But what intrigued me just as much are the many reminders of the area’s logging history that make this gnarly, beautiful hike feel like a walk back in time.

Introduction

This isn’t a detailed account of directions/how to do this hike. Rather, I’ll be taking you on the hike…be prepared for wet feet.

My partners for this hike are Cheryl and Greg. We call ourselves the Wednesday Warriors and meet up for a local hike, rain or shine, on most Wednesdays.

My Gaia app recorded this hike as 13.5 km (8.4 mi), with a 479 m (1572 ft) elevation gain. That’s starting from the Baden Powell Trail at Lynn Headwaters Regional Park in North Vancouver.

It took us 4.5 hours walking time and we weren’t dillydallying. Although the stats for this hike are fairly moderate, it’s slow going in parts with all the creek crossings and muddy, slippery conditions. In general, the route is easy to follow but you must keep an eye on the orange trail markers. Apparently North Shore Rescue has had its share of calls here. And, beware of early nightfall these days. The sun sets before 4:30 p.m.

Here goes…

Wet rollercoaster ride

Within less than a kilometre of the Cedar Tree trailhead we encounter our first creek crossing. It’s not deep but relatively wide. I jump from stone to stone and manage to keep my boots dry (that doesn’t last). We quickly lose track of how many creeks we’ve crossed—at least a dozen. This hike is unlike many other North Shore hikes that are relentlessly uphill. It’s more of a rollercoaster and we quickly become familiar with the pattern: down a gully, cross a creek, up the other side.

The photo above is typical of the creek crossings and the trudge out of the gully on the other side. Cedar Tree Trail is also called Mike’s Trail. We learn why later in the hike, near the Big Cedar, where there is a picture of Mike Dal Santo, a North Shore Rescue volunteer who died unexpectedly in 2018.

Some of the crossings are fairly straightforward like the one above that Cheryl is negotiating. It’s a great balance workout zigzagging across stones and logs.

Others, like the one Greg is carefully approaching, are a little more challenging with steep slopes on both sides. One of the gullies has a rope assist but it’s not as bad as it looks.

The imposter tree

I get excited when I spot a massive tree stump. I say to Cheryl and Greg that this must be the remains of the Big Cedar. If I had read the info on the sign, I would have known that the real Big Cedar is significantly further along the trail, and it’s an intact tree. Nonetheless, it’s an impressive sight and definitely the largest stump we’ve come across.

Maybe you’ve noticed the notches in the tree stumps. Back about 150 years when logging commenced on Vancouver’s North Shore, loggers cut notches into the trees in order to hold planks. Perched on these planks called springboards, loggers worked in pairs to chop and saw from both sides.

Huge stumps are everywhere along the trail. It’s staggering to imagine what this forest looked like only 150 years ago. Some experts claim that Lynn Valley was once home to the largest trees in the world. Today, this recovering forest is mostly dense second-growth hemlock. Sadly, in this day and age, when old-growth logging is not necessary to sustain the forestry industry, British Columbia is still cutting down tracts of ancient trees.

Smaller trees spring out of one side of the massive stump. The exposed root system makes me think of a giant spider.

A walk down skid road

We come across portions of the trail where logs lie perpendicular to the path. The logs are old and warped, and there are big gaps between them, but it’s clearly a track. Most of the trail we are on is in fact the remains of an old skid road that was used to skid (drag) logs from the forest to the mill. Imagine the sight of oxen and horses dragging logs over skid roads greased with fish oil—check out the old photo below! Many of the old skid roads formed the framework for today’s road system on the North Shore.

You may know the term skid row as an impoverished urban area. This term originates from the Pacific Northwest and has its roots in the skid roads of the logging industry where the term was used not just for the log roads but also for the logging camps and mills. When a logger was fired, he was “sent down the skid road.”

Mega-moss forest

There’s a lot of moss everywhere, but there’s a section shortly after the big stump that has mega moss. It clings to tree trunks, hangs off branches and carpets the forest floor. It’s both enchanting and spooky, and again my imagination wanders to a time when the entire North Shore was covered with dense forest.

The real Big Cedar

Finally, we get to the real thing. The Giant Cedar is enormous in girth and height. Experts place the tree at over 600 years old. So why is this giant still standing when the rest of forest is denuded of old growth? There is speculation that “deformity” saved the tree. Notice how the trunk forks? This may have made it undesirable for lumber. There is now fencing around the tree to protect it from too much human traipsing and touching.

Kennedy Falls

About 1.5 km past the Big Cedar we get to Kennedy Falls. Thick cascades plummet down the granite and cut a swath across the verdant forest. It’s an alluring scene, and we have it all to ourselves. We don’t stick around too long as it’s cold and damp, and we don’t want to run out of daylight.

The trail ends at Kennedy Falls. Rumour has it that there are stands of giant cedars beyond the falls. It’s tempting to think about bushwhacking in search of these ancient beauties. That, however, will have to wait for another day.

For those who plan to hike Big Cedar-Kennedy Falls:

You’ll find a good, detailed description of where to access the trail and trail directions at Happiest Outdoors.

You can find my Gia route and stat details here. We enjoyed our Lynn Headwaters approach but there are other access options detailed in the Happiest Outdoor link above.

For an easier hike that provides great insight into the North Shore’s forestry history, consider the Brother’s Creek Forest Heritage Walk in West Vancouver. There are loads of big stumps and informative signage. The photos below were taken on the Brother’s Creek walk.

References (and interesting reads):

Super Stumps: Vancouver Big Tree Hiking Guide (blog)

North Shore News Time Traveller, April 26, 2020

Logging:North Vancouver Museum and Archives

Categories: British Columbia, Hiking | Tags: , , , | 39 Comments

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39 thoughts on “Big Cedar & Kennedy Falls hike, North Vancouver: A walk down skid road

  1. Well done to the Wednesday Warriors for completing a stunning hike with wet feet. At least I imagine that it was impossible of all of you to avoid getting your feet wet, Caroline. It is sad to think that ancient trees are still being cut down, as one would hope that what is left will be preserved. That first massive tree stump you encountered is truly wonderful. So are the moss dripping down the trees. Just wow!

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  2. This sure looks like fun, though I would probably get more than my feet wet in those creeks! And the mossy forest and giant cedar are such a sight for sore eyes. I had no idea about the origins of the term “skid row”, so thank you for explaining how it came about. The idea of navigating log roads greased with fish oil – yuck! How surprising (and saddening) it is to hear that old-growth logging still goes on in parts of B.C. My general impression was that Canada was serious about preserving old-growth forests and protecting the environment as a whole, but I suppose the oil pipelines and the Athabasca tar sands turn that assumption on its head. Alberta is the “naughty” province I guess.

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  3. I love a good creek crossing (or 10!), so this would totally agree with me. The mossy sections of the woods remind me very much of some childhood hikes in western Pennsylvania where there are creeks galore. The part of your post that made me most jealous was that you have a regular (and adept) hiking crew – that would be heavenly!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh good…so you won’t mind wet feet when you do hikes here…though who knows what the crazy weather will bring. As I’ve mentioned to you before, I’m extremely lucky to have such a great group of friends who enjoy hiking as much as I do. Cheryl, her brother Greg and I all went to the same high school in Montreal. We became reacquainted when Cheryl moved to Vancouver about 15 years ago and we’ve been hiking and trail running ever since.

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  4. Anonymous

    You always astound me with your adventures. I often ask why/how etc. etc. etc. and then you answer with your pictures and magical transformational commentary. Not for me to do but really appreciate the mystical uplifting it gives you and those of us that share in your experiences. Thanks for giving us experiences that many of us wouldn’t do. (and sharing them with others that would want to do but didn’t know about the particular experiences to be had.)

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    • Oh, what a lovely comment; you just made my day. I love my hiking adventures and writing about them. It gives me great pleasure to know that readers enjoy my posts. I’m trying to figure out who you are as you come up as anonymous. No worries if you want to stay that way 😀.

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  5. wow just gorgeous forest, and what an effort to get to this tree! But you did! I would be tempted to try the roller coaster river back down the mountain I think!

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  6. Looks like a great hike! Lovely captures, Caroline! enjoyed it!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Even on a fine day this is not a hike I’d take on – too much negotiating, but it looks like you had fun though.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Now that’s an impressive cedar!! The forest looks magical with all the moss, tall trees and large cedar stumps. That’s a shame that so many of these giants have been cut down over the years and that they are still being logged today. This looks like quite the adventurous hike and a great way to test out whether your hiking boots are waterproof.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am definitely in the market for a new pair of waterproof boots…mine have had it! It’s a wonderful hike and it made me think a lot about our old growth forests. It’s a travesty how B.C.’s ancient forests have been managed (or mismanaged). I can understand old growth being logged 150 years ago when there was less knowledge about the importance of these forests, but now?

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I echo what Maggie said — I had never thought of doing a wet hike but this post made me think again. Mother Nature created some of the most beautiful things on Earth, and humans are attracted to them. But because of this, the ‘ugly’ ones are left untouched and survive to this day. The Big Cedar is a good example of this, also the modest Old World sparrows whose ‘unattractive’ gray plumage makes them rather dull to human’s eye. It’s wild to think about this. Thanks for the background story of skid row, Caroline!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha. I think you have to do many wet hikes before they start to grow on you. November is a rough month here, and if you want to get some fresh air you’ll likely have to get wet. Unfortunately there’s more heavy rain as I write this and I’m worried for the folks who live in the Fraser Valley who have been so badly affected by the floods.
      Your sparrow example is interesting and it makes perfect sense that these birds have survived since ancient times with their unremarkable plumage and song.

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      • I hope the situation in the Fraser Valley will improve soon. Unless governments across the globe do something substantial to slow down climate change, I’m afraid we will see disasters like this happening more frequently in the future.

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  10. What a crazy hike but in an enchanted forest! To walk amongst 600 year old trees would be magical, but I guess most are gone. I wonder why hemlocks are the new growth and not cedar? Interesting to read the origin of skid row, and that you hiked by some of those old logs. At first I though ‘I’ll never do this wet hike’ but by the end your enthusiasm has me rethinking it😊 Maggie

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think I’ve lived here for so long now that I’ve become a full-fledged North Shore hiker. Getting muddy and wet on a forest hike is better than sitting inside all November. I’m glad my enthusiasm came through. That’s a really good question about the hemlocks. I don’t know for sure, but my understanding is that the natural regeneration of hemlocks is superior to other species. You’ve got me curious and I’ll do some more research.

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  11. I’ve never seen a tree so big! Looks like a fun hike despite the mud & wet feet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are a few monster trees still standing and it is so impressive to see them. As long as there’s a hot shower waiting at the end, the mud and wet feet don’t bother me much.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This looks like quite the adventure! Those trees are insanely cool. Im impressed that only took you 4.5 hours!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. It makes you think, doesn’t it?, about what that tree might have lived through in its 600 years. I do enjoy the hikes with ups and downs more than the up-up-up and down-down-down. Although a bit muddy, it looks like a great trek.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know, right!? The things a tree that old has seen. I wonder how it feels being the oldest tree in the area? The ups and downs were a nice change and a little easier on the old body.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. That’s a great hike. Challenging and fascinating. And, like you say, the area was an absolute wonderland before the logging industry did their thing there.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. It’s amazing how big those trees are (even the ‘smaller’ ones), but what a sight is that Giant Cedar tree! The moss forest looks like a fairy wonder world … but I guess I would have come back with wet shoes looking at your many creek crossings 😁!

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    • Oh yes…wet shoes are inevitable. I was very proud of myself for keeping mine fairly dry to Kennedy Falls, but on the way back when we were in a bit of a rush, I gave up. I agree that the moss forest looks like something out of a fairy tale.

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  16. This looks great! My cousin wanted to take me here last month but we didn’t have time. Thanks for the virtual tour😎

    Liked by 1 person

  17. It is a special feeling to walk among the forest giants. I know Lynn Canyon and like cycling on the paved path there but I’ve never done the hike you described – I must.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Sounds like a wonderful adventure! A few precarious creek crossing never hurt anyone, and is it really a hike if you don’t come home covered in mud? 😂 That cedar tree is so enormous; it’s sad to hear that old trees are still being cut down. I’m glad that one still remains.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Haha…these days I come home covered in mud all the time. It’s amazing what you get used to and even come to enjoy in a weird way. Unfortunately old growth logging still continues in parts of the province. You may have heard of massive protests against old growth logging at Fairy Creek, on Vancouver Island. It’s the largest civil disobedience event in Canada’s recent history.

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