Words and photos by Chris Istace, Canadian Travel Writer
The Cowichan region is a favorite stop for travelers wishing to experience the beauty and culture that the west coast is known for. For example many will take in guided tours to the renowned wineries, visit the famous Chemainus Theatre or maybe book a whale watching charter. However, did you know there are several free and fun Cowichan Valley activities to be discovered?
We have assembled a cross section of areas and activities we feel represent why we love the Cowichan Valley. For instance exploring a small town made famous by murals to experiencing the sense of community at a famers market. Equally to be enjoyed could be crossing a century old wooden bridge or hiking through a preserved forest.
Here now are our 10 activities, listed in no particular order, that will be sure to keep a smile on your face and your wallet in your pocket.
This iconic wooden trestle in the Cowichan Valley spans a massive 617 feet across and a whopping 144 feet over the Koksilah River. Originally built in 1920 and then fully restored in 2011 to serve a non-motorized bridge to support the Trans Canada Trail. The trestle is the largest wooden structure of its kind in the British Commonwealth and one of the tallest railway trestles in the world.
Saturday’s in the Cowichan Valley always go better with a stop at the Duncan Farmers Market. The market is held at the heart of the city in Market Square near City Hall and it’s historic clock tower. Wander the vendors showcasing local veggies, meats, baking, crafts, treats, coffee, tea and now even local wines. Open year round no matter when you visit you will have a chance to stop by. Don’t forget to watch for all the Coast Salish totems poles in the vicinity of the market as well with Duncan being dubbed the City of Totems
Pleasant waterfront strolls basking in seaside beauty is possible thanks to the well-constructed Crofton Seawalk. Built to commemorate the town’s centennial it stretches over 1km from the ferry terminal to Crofton beach. One of the best time to enjoy this location and a perfect opportunity for photography enthusiasts is at sunrise. The sun rises and breaks over the peaks of the distant Salt Spring Island rewarding you with a stunning vista.
Mountain Bike Maple Mountain
The rolling topography, rocky bluffs and dense forest of Maple Mountain is home to the renowned Maple Syrup mountain bike trail system. Built by locals while recently being adopted and maintained by the Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society this trail network showcases some of the best riding in BC. With adherence to building standards, environmental sustainability and respect to the natural terrain features any rider will leave feeling challenged and satisfied with an epic ride.
Cowichan Bay Wharf
In the warmer months of late spring and summer this cozy historic seaside community is alive and buzzing with activity. It is a visual treat as you walk along the docks and wharfs and sidewalks in town. The water is dotted with sailboats of all sizes as well as the charming vividly colored floating homes. The Maritime Museum and Fisherman’s wharf are the perfect place to learn more on what living off the ocean was once like.
Ladysmith Waterfront Gallery
It is said that the Cowichan Valley is home to more Artisans than anywhere else in Canada. Therefore this is evident when one visits the Ladysmith Waterfront Gallery. Overlooking the Ladysmith Harbor is the old marine machine shop that has been converted to house this wonderful gallery. Inside you will find everything from pottery and glasswork to watercolor canvases and photography. Watch for interesting themed exhibitions and events like the Spring Art Tour or Arts on the Avenue.
Cowichan River Foot Path
The Cowichan footpath follows alongside the mighty Cowichan River of which has been designated a Canadian Heritage river. One of only 4 rivers in British Columbia and 39 in Canada this recognition was given due to the rivers its abundance of wildlife including 3 species of salmon and it’s famous steelhead trout. The trail meanders for an incredible 20kms from Duncan to Lake Cowichan with many spots to exit and enter the trail along the way. Notable spots to visit on the trail include the 66 mile trestle and Skutz falls.
Chase Woods Nature Preserve Hike
The preservation of this natural 100 acre ecosystem is the result of the Chase family’s efforts to keep the land in a natural state before development could occur. Now trusted to the Nature Conservancy of Canada to maintain this nature preserve. Located on Mt Tzouhalem it overlooks the Cowichan Valley and is home to rare coastal Douglas Fir as well amazing views from its rocky cliffs. Mt Tzouhalem is most know for the tall white cross perched on its cliffs , a favorite spot to thousands of hikers a year within the nature preserve.
Prior to 1981 Chemainus was a bustling forestry town with a thriving mill but things changed as the industry collapsed. Passionate local artisans got together and created a plan to cover the town in massive and vivid large outdoor murals. It is now a world renowned stop and has received global recognition for it’s community mural project. The 40 plus murals are mixed throughout the vibrant downtown businesses and leave you feeling relaxed amongst artisanal shops and cafes.
Scenic Pacific Marine Highway
Looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the busy main highways and urban centers the Pacific marine Highway whisks you away deep into the South Island interior. Running west from the intersection of the Island Highway and Highway #18 the route takes you past Lake Cowichan and onto the windy paved highway to Port Renfrew. During your trip you will be amongst forested mountains and deep river canyons. Large ancient trees and beautiful hidden parks, campgrounds and more await you.