1. A Breathtaking Panorama
Take a scenic drive along Genoa Bay Road, on your way to the recently improved parking lot and trail system at Stoney Hill Regional Park. This 3.4km loop is a quick and easily accessible hike for all ability levels (about 45 minutes round trip), and rewards you with spectacular views of the Samsun Narrows and neighbouring Salt Spring Island. Switch your camera phone to panorama mode for this expansive view!
The picturesque bluffs are the perfect place for a sunset picnic, or time it right, and enjoy a wood-fired pizza made with farm-grown ingredients at the nearby Bird’s Eye Cove Farm, or head to the Genoa Bay Café for a dining experience with a view!
2. Shop Local, Shop Often
Every Saturday, year-round, the heart of downtown Duncan transforms into one of Vancouver Island’s most renowned farmer’s markets. Don’t leave your camera, market basket or furry friend behind, as you sample and shop the tastes of Cowichan.
The Duncan Farmer’s Market boasts locally grown and produced goods. Browse the bountiful selection of wine and spirits, cheeses, pasture raised meats, baking, vibrant fruits and vegetables, and beautifully crafted artisan wares. Be sure to leave room for lunch, and grab a bite (or two) at one of the deliciously diverse food trucks!
Be sure not to miss out on all the other small-town farmer’s markets with big personality around Cowichan! Continue your Saturday cruise out to the Honeymoon Bay Outdoor Market, take a rural Sunday drive to the Cobble Hill Farmer’s Market, or check out the fresh midweek offerings at the charming Chemainus Farmer’s Market in Waterwheel park every Wednesday.
3. Snap a Colourful Selfie!
Take a stroll across Duncan’s freshly painted rainbow crosswalk, the perfect spot for a vibrant snapshot! The colourful project (complete with sparkles!), was made possible by a handful of passionate locals.
While you’re in the area, take a self-guided totem tour (see #7 on this list!), or grab something to nibble on at the Duncan Garage Café & Bakery, a fantastic place to meet and relax with friends! They offer a selection of healthy local and organic, freshly made food and beverages that cater to a wide variety of dietary needs.
If it’s rainbows you’re chasing, then head up to Ladysmith to check out their multi-coloured crossing, or stop for a selfie on their camera-ready rainbow park bench on First Avenue, Ladysmith’s iconic main street!
It wouldn’t be a ‘Top 10 Instagrammable Spots in Cowichan’ list without a food post! From their artfully crafted cocktails, to the beautiful and locally sourced dishes, The Old Firehouse Wine & Cocktail Bar is the perfect place to gather and share with friends.
Enjoy the views of downtown Duncan’s market square from the newly opened patio, or visit the knowledgeable staff inside, and savour the candlelit ambience and live music as you watch the world go by.
Or, meander along one Cowichan’s many rural backroads, and find yourself at Bridgemans Bistro, which rests above the water, atop the pier at the scenic Mill Bay Marina. You can indulge in a sip and west coast inspired snack, and contemplate the expansive oceanside vista, showcasing the Saanich Inlet and distant views of Mt. Baker.
5. Take Aroma-Round
Cowichan is bursting with lavender, from Cowichan Valley Lavender Labyrinth’s quaint 2-acre farm to the sprawling fields of blooms on display at Damali Lavender & Winery in Cobble Hill. Both farms offer the perfect spot to get lost among the flowers, immersing yourself in the relaxing environment and aromatic scents.
After taking a leisurely stroll through either of the farms’ lavender labyrinths, visit the onsite farm stand or gift shop to sample and enjoy a variety of lavender infused products, including live plants, dried bouquets, home, bath and culinary products, and even Damali’s lavender wine, made from farm grown lavender and grapes from their estate vineyard.
6. A Healthy Dose of Vitamin Sea
The charming seaside community of Ladysmith is a must-see when visiting the valley! Get your picture taken on the 49thparallel, between the recently erected red cedar markers that frame that perfect shot. Grab a tasty nibble from the Old Town Bakery (a local favourite), while you browse the many unique shops, local artisans and galleries that occupy First Avenue. The town’s historic and picturesque main street was aptly named one of ‘Canada’s Great Streets’!
Whether it’s for an hour or the whole day, Transfer beach is a fantastic place to entertain the entire family! Kids (and adults alike!) will enjoy the sprawling playground and interactive splash park, or building sandcastles and enjoying the beach. Bring a picnic from one of the local eateries to share on the shore, or grab a bite from the onsite Transfer Beach Food Truck Concession.
If it’s the ocean you’re craving, take some time to wander the pristine docks of the Ladysmith Marina, find yourself nestled amongst the eclectic boats and iconic float homes in Cowichan Bay, or visit the waterfront marinas in Mill Bay, Maple Bay, or the quaint and scenic village of Genoa Bay. With so much to do by the water, make sure to have your camera handy to capture your next stand-up paddle board adventure, kayaking tour, or breathtaking sunset!
7. Two Feet & A Heartbeat
Aptly named ‘The City of Totems’, downtown Duncan offers a diverse and concentrated collection of these stoic installations located within a 3-block radius. Embark on a historical, informative and free self-guided walking tour of these amazing totems by following the yellow footprints that dot the sidewalks.
The thoughtfully planned tour, which can be enjoyed year-round, offers plaques along with each totem, detailing the story behind the work of art, as well as a short artist bio. While admiring the grandeur of every piece, remember to zoom-in and appreciate every hand carved detail.
Take another walking tour through the artfully infused town of Chemainus, this time to appreciate one of BC’s largest outdoor art exhibits, the famous ‘Chemainus Murals’! There are over three dozen murals in the downtown area, depicting real historical situations and people. Pick up a map, your camera and find your own point-of-view!
8. Farm to Fork (or Cup!)
Nestled in the sprawling farmlands between Duncan and Chemainus, you’ll find Westholme Tea Company, the home of tea and tea culture here in Cowichan. Take time out of your busy day to tour Canada’s first and only commercial tea garden, enjoy the ceramics gallery, or shop the selection of over 100 varieties of carefully sourced loose-leaf teas from around the world, all housed in a beautifully converted 1950’s dairy barn. Stop to sip farm grown tea from hand-built creations, immerse yourself in the authentic experience, and get “Steeped in Nature”.
For another homegrown culinary excursion, visit nearbySaison Market Vineyard to enjoy the casual atmosphere, and savour a fresh baked treat, along with the vineyard views. Boasting their own organic/biodynamic produce (available via the CSA vegetable box program), Alderlea Farm Café also offers a tasteful selection of sustainably grown farm-grown fare, in an environment where everyone feels welcome.
As Vancouver Island’s first estate winery, Zanatta still creates wines using only their own farm grown grapes. You can appreciate the captivating scenery, and enjoy the estate from the converted farmhouse which is now Vinoteca, the vineyards tasting room and restaurant. that sources gorgeous local ingredients from around the Valley.
9. Beaches & Bevvies
Don’t forget your beach blanket and camera, and grab a bottle of something local as you head to one of the many tree-lined beaches surrounding Lake Cowichan, or dotting the banks of the Cowichan River. Take a dip when the weather’s warm, or enjoy camping, fishing and hiking the lush trail systems year-round. If you’re not from the area, head to one of the helpful and accommodating Cowichan Visitor Centres for more information, or to grab a map of the region.
When sourcing that perfect beverage for your river adventure, why not support local and explore the amazing wineries, breweries and distilleries that the Cowichan has to offer by booking one of the wine tours available in the Valley.
Drop by Riot Brewing or Red Arrow Brewing Company for some handcrafted local brews and an ever-changing array of food trucks. From their award-winning wines, to the fresh and local ingredients utilized in their estate restaurant, Unsworth Vineyards is a sophisticated place to stop for a sip.
10. Adventure Awaits
Easily accessible and well maintained throughout the year, the Glenora Trails Head Park offers a diverse outdoor experience, with a variety of activities suitable for all members of the family. Pack a lunch to enjoy in the covered picnic pavilion provided, while the kids play on the modern playground, complete with a zip line!
Whether you’re enjoying the views from the trestle, hiking the multiple trails, taking a dip in the Cowichan River, or biking the Trans Canada Trail, this park has a photo-op around every bend.
Words and imagery by Henhouse Photo Co.