Words by Chris Istace, Canadian Travel Writer
Dense, lush forest, a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains, and the mildest weather in Canada: welcome to the Cowichan Valley. This backdrop provides the setting for one of a select few regions in BC—and Canada—that can boast year-round mountain biking.
It is no wonder the Cowichan Valley has become the go-to mountain-bike playground for many riders on Vancouver Island. Options are limitless with over 158 trails that span across 5 mountains, including the famous 122 km-long Cowichan Valley Trail.
Everyone can find a trail or route that best suits their taste and riding style. Thanks to the dedication of the CVRD Parks department, Municipality of North Cowichan, and Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society, you will find world-class trails that exist because of locals who are passionate about the sport.
Cowichan Valley Trail
Cowichan Valley Trail
The 122-km long Cowichan Valley Trail navigates through the region giving those who like to put some distance on their wheels a great option. Winding through Shawnigan Lake to Lake Cowichan and then back to Duncan, you will experience a number of historic wooden trestles along the way. From Duncan, you can head to the oceanside section of the route via Crofton, Chemainus, and ending in Ladysmith. Use the trail to explore the valley or as a way to connect the many mountain trail rides in the region.
The southern location in our round up of Cowichan Valley riding destinations is the Cobble Hill Recreation Area where you are able to experience 26 km over 28 beginner and intermediate trails. Black-diamond riders: Wolf Trail will provide you a fun challenge!
A unique feature found on Cobble Hill is the Cleasby Bike Park. The bike park allows young and new riders a fun, safe environment to practice their bike skills. The mountain also has washroom facilities and a bike wash station.
With its proximity to the City of Duncan and nearby Maple Bay and Cowichan Bay, the forest of Mt. Tzouhalem is the oldest and most developed riding area in the region. For over 25 years, locals have been building trails and riding this diverse mountain. Mt. Tzouhalem has over 40 trail segments amounting to over 36 kms of trail for you to explore. Many recent improvements have been completed under the management of the Municipality of North Cowichan and through the efforts of the Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society.
Mt. Zoo, as the locals like to call it, is a mountain-bike haven known for trails that include techy single track, flowy fast downhill trails, jumps and technical features, and carefully sculpted climbing traverse trails. The mountain also offers magnificent summit views overlooking Cowichan Bay from its craggy cliffs to the south. The “cross” is also a popular riding objective when taking in the trails. The Kaspa Road parking lot features washroom facilities and a bike wash.
We recommend taking the Danalyzer trail to the top and coming down Double D as a fun loop to experience what Mt. Tzouhalem has to offer.
Local James MacKay has created a terrific map resource on Heavy-J’s Mt Tzoo Trail Guide.
The bike trails on Maple Mountain are the result of passionate riders working with the local municipality to build a world-class riding destination. Story trails, Xylem Climbing Trail, and Maple Syrup have become go-to places to test your skills and stamina with a near-18 km loop from top to bottom, challenging even the most-skilled riders.
Boardwalks, bridges, mossy bluffs, totems, techy rocky terrain, flowing creeks, and well-maintained trails await you. The site has ample parking with easy highway access and washroom facilities. There are currently 15 trail segments spanning over 27 kms with endless route options depending on your skill, fitness, and time.
Learn more about Maple Mountain’s history and the Cowichan Trail Stewardship Society’s efforts, supported by the Municipality of North Cowichan, that have put riding here on the world stage in this FrontLines article: Maple Mountain and the Cowichan Trail Stewards.
When it comes to pushing the limits on a downhill mountain bike, most riders from Vancouver Island, across Canada, and beyond have heard of Mt. Prevost. Riders aspire to ride this free-ride mountain.
Typical access to the top of Mt. Prevost is via shuttle rides. The downhill trails offer several options from blue to double-black professional level-only trails.There are 24 trails over 30 kms with popular trails being Cleavage, 187, Mr. T, and Memphis. Big jumps, wood ramps, gaps, drops, and wood stunts are the order of the day.
Many professional videos have been filmed here and it has often been a destination for past world champions. It has become known as Steve’s mountain in memory of the late great Canadian World Cup Downhill champion from Vancouver Island, Steve Smith.
Part of this mountain is municipal forest reserve but the trails are unsanctioned; therefore, ride with common sense and be aware of the risk.
Find Your Way Around Cowichan Bike Trails
To find your way around the mountain-bike trails in the Cowichan Valley, visit the Trailforks website or download their app for real-time navigation. Trailforks is a mountain-bike trail database and management system for riders, trail builders, and associations. Users can contribute data, then local trail associations have control to approve and curate it, ensuring the most-accurate information.
Local Bike Services
Need to rent a bike? Advice, parts, or service for your own bike? You can find a number of professional shops in the region, including:
Before you set out to find your favourite trail, remember to check out our Tracks and Trails page for more bike-related information.
A special thanks to Mark Law, avid mountain biker with a long history of developing and riding many of the region’s trails. Mark is also a very talented mountain bike photographer and has provided some of his terrific images for this article.