Big Tree Hunting in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest

By Darvel and Darryl Lloyd 

My twin brother, Darryl, and I have always loved big trees and old forests. We grew up at our family’s Flying L Ranch near Glenwood, Washington, where we hung out at the ranch’s only old-growth ponderosa pine that we named “The Council Tree.” We always loved to explore the lovely old-growth ponderosa pine stands above the Glenwood Valley and fish in the creeks shaded by big cottonwoods, cedars and firs.

So after we sold the ranch in 1997 and settled down a bit in this new millennium, we began taking trips together throughout the west, always seeking out big trees wherever possible. We especially love the remaining old-growth stands in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, getting to know the area quite well after so many years climbing its peaks and driving its back-roads. Throughout our lives we were always awed by the “Trout Lake Big Tree,” just inside the GPNF and one of the state’s largest ponderosa pines until it died last year).

Our passion for hunting giant trees in the GPNF has increased, especially over six years when we’ve made some significant “discoveries” and brought along a steel measuring tape to measure diameters at average breast height (dbh). We’ve held off purchasing an accurate laser height-measuring instrument because of the cost. In some cases, it has taken Internet sleuthing and difficult bushwhacking with map and compass to find some of the giants. Darryl finally bought a GPS device—hooray!

Here are what we believe to be the GPNF’s largest known western redcedar, two Douglas firs, and noble fir by girth and volume, with a caveat: only a tree climber and/or a forest expert (with an accurate height measuring device) would be able to determine these trees’ exact heights and volumes. Of course, there may be larger trees out there, but someone has to find them.

Giant Noble Fir in Goat Marsh

1. A giant western redcedar (Thuja plicata) 14’ 3” in diameter at breast height (dbh) and maybe 150 feet tall. We dubbed it “Trinie’s Cedar,” after a young lady who helped us discover and measure the brush-surrounded tree. The huge tree is located off FR 25 in the Cedar Flats Research Natural Area in GPNF, on a terrace of the Muddy River. We challenge anyone to find a larger “cedar” in the GPNF!

"Trinie's Cedar"

2. An equally-giant Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) 11 ft.,10” dbh and about 160’ tall to the shattered top, only around 5 miles from of Randle in an unlogged area of the Cowlitz Valley Ranger District. We called it the “Bob Pearson Fir,” a spotted owl expert who discovered the tree and showed it to us. It’s certainly must be one of the largest-diameter Douglas firs still alive in the Cascade Range.

"Bob Pearson" Douglas fir north of Randle, WA

3. An immense “stove pipe” of a Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), 10’ 3” dbh, maybe 250-275 tall. Its the largest tree in the Quartz Creek Big Trees Preserve and probably the GPNF’s largest tree in volume, located not far off FR 26, just outside of the Mt. St. Helens blast zone and inside Lewis County. Unfortunately, the Forest Service is no longer maintaining the loop trail through this very impressive grove, and FR 26 is vulnerable to washouts from strong winter storms.

Giant Quartz Creek fir

4. The world’s largest known Noble fir (Abies procera) is located in the Goat Marsh Research Natural Area of the Mount St. Helens NVM, in a magnificent 70-acre stand of very large noble firs and Douglas firs (said to contain the highest wood volume per acre of any research plot in the world outside the California coast redwoods). Discovered by Robert Van Pelt in 2001 and named “The Goat Marsh Giant”, the tree measures 8’3” dbh and approximately 265 ft. tall, with a dead top reducing the height since Van Pelt measured it. It has almost reached the end of its life (age around 300-350 years).

Crown of the largest known Noble fir