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.
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.
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.”
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.
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