Wandering Seymour Valley’s Old Growth Trail

When the topic of Seymour Valley’s big trees comes up, as it often does in my world, one of the first places I recommend visiting is the Old Growth Trail. Set deep in the heart of the valley near the Seymour Dam, and surrounded by the North Shore Mountains, it has a magic you won’t find anywhere else! 

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An ancient forest of the Old Growth Trail is always a captivating experience

The origins of this trail date back to the 1980s, when the Seymour Demonstration Forest, as it was then known, became open to the public. Roughly 11 kms up the valley, on the banks of the river, was a track that had been used for quite some time by the Seymour Salmon Hatchery. It wound through what is today one of the rarest of ecosystems in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland.   Majestic Sitka Spruce, with their moss laden limbs, tall, straight trunks and distinctively patterned bark,  after all, are always standout trees!  In time, the newly renamed Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve (LSCR) carefully constructed a trail system through this venerable forest for the enjoyment of all. 

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Tall Sitka Spruce in morning light

Let’s remember, though, that it takes some good honest effort to get there! You’ll need to cover about 11 kms on the Seymour Valley Trailway to get to the trailhead, and the round trip will involve about 26 kms. Riding your bike, therefore, is the most efficient way to reach the Old Growth Trail. Should you choose to walk or run, that will add substantially to your time.

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It’s fun to ride your bike   to the grove in winter, but that’s definitely more challenging and on some days it’s impossible!

 

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The cliffs of Jack’s Burn below The Needles, as seen from near the 7km mark on the Seymour Valley Trailway

 

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The Stoney Creek Fir  near the 9km mark on the Seymour Valley Trailway

 Once you cross the Seymour Mainline and head downhill, you’ll shortly reach a junction at end of pavement. Heading straight has you on the cobblestoned banks of the Seymour River, and bearing left will get you to the Old Growth Trail in another five minutes or so. Don’t forget that this part of the Seymour Valley has a well earned reputation for rain, so choose your weather window carefully and/or bring the necessary rain gear!

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Paton’s Lookout from the river

Arriving at the trailhead, you’re immediately greeted by those tall pillars of Sitka Spruce ( Picea Sitchensis). Sharing the forest with them are the Western Red Cedar (Thuja Plicata), Douglas Fir(Pseudotsuga Menzieszi), and that other coastal companion, the Western Hemlock ( Tsuga Heterophylla). Immersion comes naturally here, especially when you have the opportunity to enjoy it with solitude. Other than the fact that you’re riding a  bicycle and following an easy gravel path, the primeval feel remains unmistakeable.

 

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Tall Sitka Spruce in morning light

 

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Deer hanging around near the trailhead
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Mosses

These  trails have had their challenges over the years, as storms have been known to take their toll in the valley. There have been trees blown down, floods, and even events that have moved bridges and trail structures right off their foundations! It’s always good to check first to see if the trails are open and be aware that on windy days, extra attention is required.

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Nature’s own carpeting

 

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Water is life!

 

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Entering the wonder

 

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This bridge, at the Old Growth/Spruce Loop junction, was lifted right off its moorings by floods  in 2017!

The trail system consists of the Old Growth Trail, which basically follows the Seymour River up to the fish hatchery, and the Spruce Loop, which branches off to tour the largest of the ancient Sitka Spruce trees, then visits the salmon rearing ponds before rejoining  the Old Growth Trail again. I generally make the left turn at the junction and walk my bike on the Spruce Loop, as I like to visit the giants first. The oldest of them is nine feet wide and over five hundred years old, but there are many approaching their fourth centuries. The trees are heavy with epiphytic plant life, fed by the valley’s considerable rainfall, and the biomass alone is impressive to witness! Additionally, you might want to consult this study for some more detailed information on this unique forest.

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Straight and true trunks are typical of Sitka Spruce, unless found in wind blasted coastlines. This is the oldest tree in the grove, well over 500 years in age and over nine feet in diameter!

 

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The biodiversity on the Spruce Loop Trail is spectacular, life seems to be everywhere!…photo by Doug Pope
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Visiting the giants…photo by Doug Pope

 

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Sunshine through the trees on Spruce Loop  

 

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Interpretive sign

 

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Looking up at the largest Sitka Spruce, over nine feet in diameter and five centuries old

 

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Moss laden branches abound on this 400 year old Sitka Spruce

 

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It’s all about the biomass in this forest! The next time someone tells you second growth trees sequester more carbon, show them a photo of a Sitka Spruce forest

 

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The bridge on Spruce Loop near the salmon rearing pond was also once lifted right off its footings in a storm!

You can and should expect to see wildlife on these trails too. Black Bears,  Bobcats, and Black Tailed Deer are often sighted, as are more elusive creatures such as Pine Martens, Pacific Newts, Pacific Water Shrews, and perhaps the stealthiest of all, the Cougar, or Mountain Lion. Among birds, Pileated and Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Harriers, Barred Owls, and Peregrine Falcons  are regulars, as are Bald Eagles and the occasional Heron. The river, with considerable help from the hatchery, sees substantial runs of both salmon and steelhead!

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Pacific Rough Skinned Newts!

 

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The Downy Woodpecker is a common site on the Old Growth Trail network

 

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Bald Eagles are drawn to the area, in part due to the nearby fish hatchery, but there are several nesting sites believed to have been used for at least a century

 

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It may just be that herons show up here to pirate fish from the hatchery, just as the eagles do sometimes!

 

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The Seymour Valley has a thriving Black Bear population, so before you go, learn how to be bear aware so you can avoid confrontations. They are almost always peaceful animals.

There is ideal habitat for fish rearing too, with the rearing pond and several side channels. Nearby, the curiously named Hurry Creek also provides excellent gravel beds for spawning, though its waters seem in no particular rush to get anywhere.

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The salmon rearing pond was actually created by diverting a tributary called Junior Creek…photo by Doug Pope

 

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Salmon rearing pond..photo by Doug Pope

 

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The shining waters of Hurry Creek usually seem to take their time

 

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Hurry Creek is absolutely photogenic! 

 

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The spawning gravel of Hurry Creek, near the bridge on the Old Growth Trail 

The Old Growth Trail, as mentioned, continues following the Seymour River until you arrive at the hatchery, where the Sitka Spruce forest fades away. Take the time to savour every moment, because you’ll find this is a place of irrepressible charms. The sounds of birds with the river rushing by in the background alone will make a lasting impression.

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Fallen Sitka Spruce branch

 

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The Seymour River in early winter

 

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Shaded spruce

 

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The fascinating texture of Sitka Spruce bark is always on display

 

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Creekside views and moss covered branches on Bigleaf Maples

 

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Paton’s Lookout from the forest reaches

You also have the option of crossing the Bear Island Bridge and returning via the Eastside Road, which leads back to the Spur 4 Bridge. From Spur 4 Bridge you have two options: The first is to return to Rice Lake via the Fisherman’s Trail, then follow the steep path of the Homestead Trail. The other choice is to follow the connector trail up to the Mid Valley Viewpoint, and then continue back up to the Seymour Valley Trailway.

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Bear Island Bridge, which allows you to cross the river and explore the Eastside Road, which leads back to Spur Four Bridge

 

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The spillway of the Seymour Dam from the Bear Island Bridge…photo by Doug Pope

The steep slopes of the North Shore Mountains are ever present, but sometimes, you must be content with fog and mist, for this is a classic rainforest in every way. Mornings are generally cool, even during the hotter weeks of the summer season. Winter, too, has its own appeal, as long as the road is not too inundated by snow.

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Paton’s Lookout from the forest reaches

Throughout the years I have probably visited this place at least 75 times, usually via bike rides, just once by walking, and a handful of times by running. What’s never changed has been my growing affinity for the Seymour Valley, and the Old Growth Trail is where that love began. That’s an experience I would wish upon everyone!

*********AUTHOR’S NOTE*********

The Seymour Valley, do not forget, is also a wildlife sanctuary, not just a destination for recreation. Please take the time to educate yourself about the animals you may encounter along the way, and treat them as you would wish to be treated. This is wilderness, first and foremost, and that is the way it should stay.

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Do treat the wildlife as you would like to be treated, and obey park signs

One thought on “Wandering Seymour Valley’s Old Growth Trail”

  1. This is so amazing. I am from Ontario, and I have never seen the giant coastal trees yet in my lifetime. The Old Growth Trail is a great name for the trail. So see trees 9 feet in diameter is truly amazing.
    I am seeing a lot in the news about the cutting of old growth in BC. Which really saddens me. Hoping the beautiful giants in this article are not proposed to be logged. 🙏

    Like

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