This spring, social distance in nature and pick up some delicious treats in Cowichan. The region is home to so many fantastic restaurants, bakeries, cafes and coffee shops that it’s easy to pack a delightful treat for your outdoor explorations.
Whether it’s a cinnamon bun on the beach, a cookie on a mountain summit or a hot coffee on a trestle, there’s nothing better than a fresh treat in the fresh air. Here are eight eateries to grab a takeout order from as you explore the region’s parks and trails.
1) Shawnigan House Coffee + Chocolate and the Kinsol Trestle
The Kinsol Trestle is one of eight trestles along the Cowichan Valley Trail that passes through Cowichan, and it’s by far the most spectacular. Standing 44 metres tall and spanning 187 metres, the Kinsol Trestle bridged trains over the Koksilah River from 1920 to 1979. Without trains, the trestle lay dormant for almost three decades — forgotten by many and vandalized by some. In the summer of 2011, after being restored, the trestle was open to the public as part of the Cowichan Valley Trail.
The trail was built along the old rail line, making it an excellent spot to explore with the whole family. It’s a walk you can easily do with a coffee in one hand and some chocolate in the other. That’s why you should stop in at the Shawnigan House Coffee + Chocolate before you head out to the trestle. Not only do they serve locally roasted coffee (roasted just 500 metres from their front door), their chocolates are made by hand, in-house, in small batches. If you’re hoping to take some chocolates home, make sure you call ahead and place a specialty order for takeout because these small batches sell out fast! Grab a coffee or a famous ‘Shawnigan Fog’ and walk the trail out the trestle to soak in Cowichan flavours and a bit of the Island’s industrial history.
2) Little Corner Sandwich Truck & Cobble Hill Mountain
Cobble Hill Mountain Recreation area truly has something for everyone. The multi-use trails are great for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders of all experience levels. The trail system ranges in difficulty and offers single and double-track routes. The network of trails winds its way around the mountain, offering peek-a-boo views across the valley.
This park is also equipped with a bike wash station and a pump track for kids (of all ages) to practice their bike handling skills. With picnic tables and washrooms on-site, it’s the perfect place for a picnic.
Just across the street from Cobble Hill Mountain’s main parking lot is the Little Corner Sandwich Truck. This little truck packs a big menu offering hearty sandwiches, burgers, tacos and a variety of specials that will fill you up after (or before) your exploration of Cobble Hill Mountain. They serve freshly-prepared, homespun comfort food that will fuel all your adventures.
3)Stoney Hill Regional Park and Coffee on the Moon
Stoney Hill Regional Park arguably offers some of the best effort-to-view hiking ratios of any trail in the area. This roughly 3-kilometre loop travels through the west coast rainforest before trailing along the bluffs overlooking the Samsun Narrows. The trail winds its way through the salal and around the arbutus trees to many scenic lookouts. Although the trail is well-travelled, you’ll still want to bring appropriate footwear for the season as there are many roots and rocks to traverse.
Before you head out to Stoney Hill, you’ll want to pick up a coffee and a treat to go from Coffee on the Moon in downtown Duncan. Open seven days a week, they’re the perfect stop for a tasty treat, muffing, wrap or samosa. Their vast beverage menu includes an array of hot and cold options, but their Americanos make them a prime destination for coffee lovers on the island. This is a truly community-minded coffee house with comfortable ‘Covid approved’ seating for people who want to relax on their way to the trails.
4) Grove Hall Italian Kitchen and Deli & Maple Mountain
Maple Mountain is well known for its incredible mountain bike trails, but it also has many great trails for hikers and trail runners. From the parking lot on Osborne Bay Road, you can access the network of single track mountain bike trails and many hiking friendly trails. Experienced bikers can find their way to the Upper Maple Syrup to test their abilities with some technical sections and steep drops.
The other side of the mountain offers trails just for hikers that provide views of Maple Bay and Quamichan Lake (depending on the route). There are multiple access points to the mountain, so be sure to download the North Cowichan Trails app to help you navigate the many routes.
On your way to Maple Mountain, make sure if swing by the Grove Hall Italian Kitchen and Deli on Lakes Road. With a full-service coffee bar and house-made gelato, there’s a treat for every member of the family. Stop in to pick up picnic baskets, cooler bags and fully equipped backpacks with cutlery, napkins and wine glasses! The deli serves traditional Italian meats and cheeses and carries various olives, pickles, tapenades and pâtés. Hungry hikers can order up some fresh house-made pasta or pizza to go. The deli is also packed full of picnic supplies, so you’ll want to stop in to fill your backpack (or pick up a new one) with treats to enjoy on the mountain.
5) True Grain Bread & Cowichan Bay Hecate Park
The Cowichan Bay Village is perched right along the shoreline. Brightly coloured shops and restaurants dot the strip — combining the area’s natural beauty with unique businesses to make the village a prime tourism destination. However, just on the outside of the town (a walkable distance) is Hecate Park, which offers public assess to the waterfront. It is home to accessible walkways and an estuary viewing platform where you can watch various birds and wildlife.
You can learn more about the wild habitat at the Cowichan Estuary Nature Centre, which is located within Hecate Park. The park is also equipped with a covered picnic area perfect for soaking in some seaside breezes. Although it’s just around the bend, this little park feels far removed from the village’s hustle and bustle.
If you choose to mosey down to the village, stop in at True Grain Bread to pick up some treats to go. The bakery uses 100% organically farmed BC grain that is stone milled into flour. They craft delicious, fresh artisan bread and other baked goods. Swing by on a bike or on foot and pick up some treats to enjoy at the park.
6) Bald Mountain – Carmanah Pizza
Cowichan Lake is the region’s lake life destination for swimmers, boaters and river tubers. But it is also home to stunning trails that are accessible year-round. Bald Mountain trail near Youbou is a 7.6 kilometre out and back, single-track trail that winds its way to the mountain’s summit. Multiple switchbacks help minimize the climb’s grind; however, it is still a vigorous hike. The summit and various spots on the trail offer stunning views of Lake Cowichan and the surrounding mountains.
You might want to save the Carmanah Pizza for after your hike (or if you’re feeling ambitious, you can carry it up with you). Located in the heart of Lake Cowichan, Carmanah Pizza offers a variety of pizzas to choose from. Their menu is extensive, but they still give you the opportunity to build your own. Named after Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park that is home to an incredible old-growth forest, Carmanah Pizza strives to be environmentally friendly with fully compostable or recyclable packaging.
7) Owl’s Nest Bakery & Stocking Creek Waterfall
Stocking Creek Waterfall is located along the Cowichan Valley Trail between Chemainus and Ladysmith. The Stocking Creek Park is also home to winding forest trails with stairs and handrail features that lead visitors right up to the waterfall. This natural park is an easy escape from the bustling world, as once you step onto the trails, you become completely immersed in nature.
On your way to the park, pop into Owl’s Nest Bakery in Chemainus. Treat yourself to one of their delicious sandwiches (perfect to-go food) or other freshly baked treats. The Owl’s Nest finds a way to elevate standard coffee shop fare, so you’ll want to make sure you grab a snack and a hot coffee to enjoy by the waterfall.
8) Old Town Bakery & Transfer Beach
Transfer Beach is the premier Cowichan waterfront family area. In the summer, the park is buzzing by the ocean or water spray park. The swimmable waters and lush lawn make it a prime spot to spend the afternoon or launch a kayak. Although with picnic tables and a playground, Transfer beach is an excellent place for the family to enjoy year-round.
Located just up the hill from the beach is the Old Town Bakery and their ‘Island Famous’ cinnamon buns. These buns are soft, gooey, huge and come in a variety of unexpectedly delicious flavours like Orange Poppyseed, Blackberry Apricot and Ginger, Peanut Butter and Cream Cheese, not to mention their changing monthly specials. Although they don’t just do cinnamon buns, Old Town is a full-service bakery that offers an incredible range of baked goods, sandwiches and coffees. Pack some buns to go and enjoy them with your bubble down at the beach.