Fall Into Cowichan
As summer draws to a close across Vancouver Island, Cowichan, the “land warmed by the sun”, comes alive with the flavours and colours of fall. Warm autumn sun falls on the orchards, filled with ready-to-pick apples. The vineyards burst with grapes ready to harvest and turn into new batches of award-winning wine. The earthy tones paint the valley, trails and mountain peaks a calming golden hue. All across the region, the 800+ farms brim with deep colours of fruits and vegetables, ripe for the picking.
From the unique cranberry bogs at Yellow Point Cranberries, to the kiwis at Kiwi Cove Lodge, fall is unlike any season in Cowichan. With mild weather and smaller crowds, it’s the perfect time to get off the beaten path and discover something new.
Bring the Fall Season Home
Thanks to the surrounding mountains, a mild climate, and fertile soil, Cowichan has Canada’s longest growing season. The region is known for its produce, with fresh items that can only be grown in Cowichan, and yes….radishes and beets the size of your hand.
The Duncan Farmers’ Market is a favourite weekend pastime of residents. It’s a great spot to pick up tons of local goodies from over 250 vendors that come every Saturday. It’s Canada’s only year-round outdoor market and fall is the best time to taste all the produce the region offers.
You’ll also find more than just fruits and veggies here. The Duncan community has turned this into a social event over the years, with live music, patios, and art shows.
Safety is paramount in Cowichan, so the amount of vendors has been reduced from 250 to 80, with additional sanitizing stations in place. The wealth of fresh food and craft goods is worth a trip up itself!
Head in any direction from the Duncan Farmers’ Market and you’ll find endless farm stands nestled off the main roads. With the rise in popularity of small-scale agriculture, these spots can get quite busy on the weekends. If you’re looking to plan a trip, Cowichan Green Community has a map of all the farm stands and working farms you can visit during your stay.
Want to Grab a Drink?
Remember that rich soil we mentioned? Aside from providing great growing conditions for food, it provides great growing conditions for cider apples, wine grapes, and more. This industry is helmed by dedicated owners committed to the tenets of Cowichan: locally owned, locally grown, and locally made.
Cowichan is home to 14 wineries that boast unique flavours that have steadily become a staple in any household. In fact, Cowichan wines are so unique, that the region has been recognized as a new sub-geographical region of wine. This is the first time in B.C. that a region outside of the Okanagan was given such a distinction.
Wines labelled with sub-GIs commit that the wines were made with at least 95% of grapes grown in the region, a testament to the local-first commitment Cowichan wineries have had for years.
Take a tour
You can sample all or a few of these wineries on a self-guided tour, or with local companies like Island Time Tours, MyGo Tours, and Tesla Tours.
In fall, you can visit the wineries to see the harvest in action as acres of grapes are taken in to be “crushed” and turned into new batches. Stop by Blue Grouse Estate Winery and you may even catch winemaker Bailey Williamson crushing grapes the old fashioned way.
Cowichan is also home to three incredible craft breweries – featuring seasonal brews with unique flavours like cranberries and lemongrass -, one brew pub, two top-tier cideries, and three distilleries.
The apple orchards at Merridale Cidery and Distillery and Valley Cider are favourite spots to spend an afternoon for lunch and a glass of local, seasonal cider, as the sun hits the plump red apples that hang from the acres of trees.
Kid-friendly breweries? Yes; it’s a thing. Stop in at local favourite Riot Brewing in Chemainus and take in a game of Pinball as you enjoy a pint.
A natural extension of the abundance of local produce in the region is the many family-owned restaurants that call Cowichan home. Here, you’ll find dedicated and passionate chefs who build seasonally-inspired menus around local offerings. Look for The Lakehouse at Shawnigan in Shawnigan Lake, where chef Ryan Bissell constantly updates his menu specials based on what’s available from local farms. Each dish is made from scratch often using local ingredients.
At Ma Maison in Chemainus, chef Lauren Cartmel serves baked goods and lighter, deli-style meals inspired by the region’s fresh ingredients, mixing flavours like peaches and corn to create one of a kind dishes.
Head out to picturesque Genoa Bay to visit the Genoa Bay Café for their signature calamari, made with local Humboldt squid. Rare in B.C. waters, Humboldt squid call the warmer waters around Cowichan Bay home. In the colder weather, warm up with a cup of their famous seafood chowder, made from scratch in a simple, yet elegant style. Comfort food done right!
After lunch, take some time to walk the docks at Genoa Bay Marina and look across to Cowichan Bay. The fall colours along the adjacent hillside are a must-see.
Take in the Fall Colours
Experience the reds, yellows and oranges of fall through Cowichan’s stunning scenery. In autumn, the valley lights up with deep shades that reflect the low fall sun and glow a golden hue.
Cowichan is home to over 170 hiking and biking trails that cover 180 kilometres across five mountains. From even-terrain trails like the Chemainus Lake Loop trail or the Holland Creek Trail in Ladysmith, to the more steep trek up Mt Tzouhalem, that offers breathtaking views of Cowichan Bay below. Be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife and the rare and protected Garry oak trees!
If you are after a relaxing drive, take a winding cruise through Cowichan’s farmland to see the stunning colours with a pastoral backdrop. Stop in at Cowichan Bay and pick up some warm, freshly-baked treats from True Grain Bread. Or, continue up to Cobble Hill to visit the many farm stands and bakeries that dot the countryside.
Sea of Cranberries, Anyone?
In mid September, one of Cowichan’s gems opens at Yellow Point Cranberries in Ladysmith, where you can buy any number of items made with local cranberries grown right on the farm. From chutneys and marmalade to cranberry and orange cookies. Getting hungry yet?
Harvesting is scheduled this year for early October, and you can witness the process when the fields are covered by a sea of deep crimson.
Harvest season is a unique time in Cowichan, when the best of what makes the region so special is on full display. Just 45 minutes north of Victoria, you can find new favourite spots, locally owned, locally grown, and locally made.