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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.