Words and photos by Chris Istace, Canadian Travel Writer
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” — John Muir
If one were to describe the Cowichan Valley in one sentence for it’s natural offerings I think they would be hard pressed to accomplish it or even succeed. Tall trees, mighty flowing rivers, mountain vistas, craggy cliffs, ocean coastlines and waterfalls are but a few of what would need to be included.
We have put together a small list of some of the favorite hikes in the Cowichan Valley that give a little taste of what the region has to offer.
As with all hikes make sure you set out on your adventure prepared with a good knowledge of the trail. Wear adequate clothing and footwear. Take a small backpack with extra food, water and prepare for the unexpected. Lastly practice Leave No Trace ethics to keep our wild places natural and beautiful.
Maple Mountain Coastal Trail
Whenever I think of Maple Mountain the first thing that comes to mind is the moss covered rock bluffs, unique Arbutus trees and a forest floor covered in dense sword ferns.
One of the best ways to experience this yourself is to spend a day on the “yellow” and “blue” trail loop. This 10km trail skirts the east flanks of the mountain providing stunning views of the Sansum Narrows that flows between Vancouver Island and Salt Spring Island.
Be prepared to experience flora and fauna that will fascinate any hiker. Keep your eyes open especially for the Bald Eagles that sit atop the coastal trees watching for a quick snack. Then in the water you might be treated by a visit from a playful seal or if you are lucky enough a pod of Orcas swimming by.
The trailhead for the Blue Yellow loop is best accessed at the cul de sac at the end of Maple Mountain RD in Maple Bay.
Mt Tzouhalem Viewpoint Trail
Mt Tzouhalem or “Mt Zoo” as the locals like to call it is likely the most active and frequented hiking destination in the region. The mountain is sought out for it’s unique shape of sheer cliffs on the southern flanks that overlook Cowichan Bay and beyond.
Foremost, it should be noted that this location is very popular with the mountain bike community sharing many mixed-use trails with hikers. Always be aware of riders that may be coming down the mountain at fast speeds or coming up behind you. The mountain is a very friendly place between the different user groups and people are always very helpful to offer trail advice and directions.
Hiking on the mountain has many options for one to explore. Most hikers are determined to head right to the top to get to the Chase Woods Nature Conservancy of Canada Sanctuary. The goal is to visit the large cross perched on the edge of the cliffs that overlook the valley below.
Other hikers head to the mountain to visit the BC Parks Ecological reserve established in 1984. This ecological area was created to protect the endangered Gary Oak stand that is on the mountainside in this spot. This species of tree has but only 5% of its original natural habitat remaining in Canada. Also notable is the beautiful wildflowers that grow throughout the stand.
Mt Tzouhalem is a very trail dense area so plan your route, take a map and don’t be afraid to ask the always friendly locals for directions and even their favorite spot to explore.
Stocking Creek Waterfall Trail
This hidden little gem is located in the Oceanside community of Saltair between the towns of Chemainus and Ladysmith. Tucked off Chemainus Rd you drive down into the Stocking Creek River parking area where your short hike suitable for all ages awaits you.
You will hike down the trail and shortly thereafter cross the bridge over Stocking Creek. Once over the creek make a right hand turn following the path to the well built stairs and boardwalk that overlook these amazing falls.
Best experienced in Spring when rivers are full from recent rain and mountain snow runoff has begun. Although anytime of year is fun to enjoy the falls.
Chemainus Lake Loop
A short hike is sometimes all you need to get that relaxation and escape you need. The well-maintained gravel based 2.5km trail that loops around Chemainus Lake is great for little ones, strollers, dogs on leashes and the whole family.
Small creeks crisscross the far side of the trail creating natural wonder for little ones. Benches alongside the trail in several places allow for those that need a break somewhere comfortable to do so.
Once you are done the trail and get back to the start don’t forget to walk out to the fishing pier and enjoy the views of the lake. If you have a fishing license consider bringing you rod to test your luck in this well stocked lake.
Stoney Hill Trail
This short but rewarding trail provides amazing views from high on top of the bluffs of Sansum Narrows nestled between Maple Bay and Cowichan Bay.
Heading south from Maple Bay on Genoa Bay road you will turn left onto the newly built Stoney Hill road. Follow the road up until you reach the parking lot on the right and the trailhead begins immediately from the roadside.
The trail is just under 3.5km and is a spectacular loop. Views that showcase the beauty of the Pacific Northwest await you along the craggy hillside. With the waters of the ocean far below, gulf island in distance and mountainous terrain all around you will be at ease in the embrace of nature.
As with the Maple Mountain trail watch for all types of wildlife especially whales that navigate the narrows below.
For more information on these and other trails and maps as well as detailed overview checkout the following websites.