By Nigel Yonge and Zoe Millette
For most of us in Cowichan, swimming in the summer isn’t just a pleasant pastime, it’s a necessity! With temperatures that sometimes exceed 30º, we are fortunate to have about as many swimming holes to choose from as there are hot days to enjoy them. From lakes and rivers, to water parks and the Pacific Ocean, there are many places where you can take a refreshing dip and beat the heat. Here are our picks for the “Cowichan’s Top Swimming Spots”.
Fuller Lake (Chemainus area)
And now for a little Chemainus humour: Q: “Why do you go swimming at that lake in Chemainus?” A: “Because it’s Fuller.”
As hilarious as that joke is, Fuller Lake isn’t that “full” relatively speaking. Just 920 metres long, it’s among Cowichan’s smaller lakes – but no less of a playground. Here you can enjoy a number of activities including sand castle building at the sandy beach, swimming to the floating pier, (lifeguards are on duty during the summer) kayaking, tennis and pickleball. There’s even an aluminum dock from which you can cast for trout or bass. The grassy lawn above the beach is a great place for picnics.
Directions: Fuller Lake is only accessible when coming north on the Trans Canada Highway. Once you’re northbound and about 15 km past Duncan, look for the well-marked turnoff lane. That turnoff will take you on to Fuller Lake Road.
Gordon Bay Provincial Park (Cowichan Lake)
Gordon Bay Provincial Park is located on the south shore of Cowichan Lake. Not only is Gordon Bay a great place to camp, it also provides a sprawling sandy beach which makes for great beachcombing and swimming. Day trips are welcome (you don’t need to be a camper) and there’s plenty of parking too.
Directions: Gordon Bay Provincial Park is located west of the town of Lake Cowichan. Once you’re in Lake Cowichan, travel 14 kilometres west on South Shore Road. To get to Lake Cowichan, take the scenic 26 km westbound drive along Highway 18 that begins 5 km north of Duncan.
Arbutus Park (Youbou)
Located on the other side of Lake Cowichan in the town of Youbou is Arbutus Park, a hidden gem of a swimming spot. The park features a floating jetty with a slide, a sandy beach and a grassy area, complete with picnic tables. As Arbutus Park is south facing, the rays of the sun reflecting off the water can be intense, so be sure to bring sunscreen!
Directions: Once you get to Youbou, on Youbou Road, it’s just 1.7 km past Cassy’s Coffee House. Turn left on Alder Crescent and you’ll see the parking lot. To get to Youbou, take Highway 18 towards Lake Cowichan, bear right on Youbou Road.
Transfer Beach (Ladysmith)
Named for the original “transfer slip” used to transfer loaded railcars from ships to shore at the turn of the century, “Transfer Beach” is now an expansive and scenic oceanside park. Yes, you can go swimming here, but there’s much more you can do too. You can rent a kayak, toss a frisbee around, play beach volleyball or simply enjoy a picnic with a million dollar view. You can even take in a concert on summer Sunday evenings at the park’s amphitheatre. Perhaps the park’s biggest draw is the elaborate kids’ playground featuring a wonderfully wet spray park.
Directions: If you’re approaching Ladysmith from the highway, turn east on Roberts Street (which intersects the highway). The short paved road will take you to a large parking lot.
Masons Beach (Shawnigan Lake)
Masons Beach is just one of many public beaches located along the shores of Shawnigan Lake. The park features a pebble beach and a grassy play area, perfectly suited for impromptu picnics. Certainly easy to find, Masons Beach is located in the heart of the town at the crossroads of Shawnigan Lake Road and Cobble Hill Road.
Directions to Shawnigan Lake: West off the Trans-Canada Highway onto Hutchinson Road, left onto Shawnigan Lake/Cobble Hill Road, right onto Renfrew Road. The park is on the left.
Tubing down the Cowichan River (various locations along the river)
The Cowichan River extends 47 km from its source at Lake Cowichan to its mouth at Cowichan Bay. In the summer, the river is ideal for what is commonly known as “tubing”, a one-way nature trip in emerald green and (mostly) quiet waters aboard inflated inner tubes. There are many options on where to start or end the trip and there are numerous businesses that will outfit and shuttle you.
Maple Bay (east of Duncan)
There’s a reason why the hamlet of Maple Bay is home to both a yacht and rowing club: it’s because it has calm waters and it provides an idyllic panorama view of Salt Spring Island. Swimming and beach combing is possible all along the pebbled foreshore and at the northern end is a public park with a floating jetty and picnic tables.
Directions: 5 km north of Duncan, turn right on Herd Road. Continue on that road for another 8 km until you reach Maple Bay Road. Turn left, and left again on Beaumont Avenue.