It’s incredible to me that less than 60 years ago the slopes of West Vancouver were still being logged commercially—and not just to clear space for million-dollar homes. The scars are still visible from Vancouver.
This hike takes you to the survivors of that 19th and 20th century logging and these are some of the biggest and oldest fir trees in Canada.
The suggested hike is a seven-kilometre combination of the Lawson Creek and Brother’s Creek Forestry Heritage Walks, created years ago by the District of West Vancouver. But history aside, the highlight is the massive Hollyburn Fir.
The trailhead is at the corner of Millstream Road and Chartwell Drive in the upper section of British Properties. Hiking boots or sturdy shoes are highly recommended for these rocky, often muddy and moderately steep trails; bring plenty of water and pack a lunch as well.
Head west on the Millstream Trail, turning right at the junction with the gravel fire access road. Soon a signpost on the right side of the road marks the “Shields Incline Railway,” but stay left and save that for the return trip. You’ll soon come across remnants of an old army surplus truck (including the engine block) used by logging crews until it expired around 1950.
Keep pushing uphill until you reach the Skyline Trail, which is indicated by power lines overhead. Turn left at the Skyline Trail, then turn right at the junction for the Upper Brewis Trail. Follow the orange reflective tree markers uphill for 20 minutes until you catch your first glimpse of the giant Hollyburn Fir.
At three metres in diameter and 10 metres in circumference, it is one of the biggest and oldest Douglas fir trees in B.C. if not the world. It is estimated to be well over 1,100 years old and the surrounding 100-and 200-year-old “youngsters” look like twigs by comparison.
The Hollyburn Fir survived the axe and saw of the early 1900s because local loggers were mostly interested in cedar trees for shingles. It was re-discovered in the mid-1980s when the province was compiling a Big Tree Registry.
You can retrace your steps back downhill from here or turn right and head east along the aptly named Crossover Trail, which is relatively flat and usually muddy. After passing junctions for the Baden Powell and Brother’s Creek trails (shortcuts back), the Crossover Trail eventually reaches a junction with the upper section of the Shields Incline Railway.
To see a few more giant trees, turn left and follow the uphill trail. It joins the Brother’s Creek Fire Road before you see a marker for “Giant Trees” to the right. The first of these is another Douglas fir called the Candelabra Tree.
After a 300-metre elevation gain from the trailhead, it’s all downhill from here. Retrace your steps down the fire road and turn right at the Shield’s Incline Railway post. This trail—now grown-over but easier on the knees than the gravel road—is the former bed of a cable railway system which carried logs and shinglebolts downhill using “Steam Donkey” and “Walking Dudley” engines in the 1920s.
The trail is named after Robert Shields, popular owner of a shingle company that owned the land rights to log the area.
The railway was abandoned in 1926 once the accessible cedars were cut down. Environmental concerns, including erosion and the degradation of the view, didn’t rise until later in the century.
Turn right at the familiar Skyline Trail, cross the bridge over Brother’s Creek, then turn left at the Brother’s Creek Trail and follow it downhill until it rejoins the lower section of the Incline Railway Trail downhill to Millstream.
If you have a few minutes, turn right for a quick side-trip along the Millstream Trail to the Shields Log Dam and Flume Pond. This was once a mid-mountain stop for cedar shinglebolts carried by the railway and an extensive flume system.
From here, it’s an easy stroll east along the Millstream Trail to your car, and a return to the 21st century.
Mike Hanafin is an avid backcountry hiker who can see the forest and the trees. Reach him at email@example.com.