I0 Unmissable Things
Rarely do visitors ask, “What can we do in Cowichan?” More often, the question is “What can’t we leave out?” If that occurs to you, we understand and we have you covered. What follows is a “bucket list” of sorts that includes 10 “unmissable” things that you simply can’t, well, miss. Of course, it’s possible to do everything on this list, it’s just a matter of how much time you spend here. Have a read and we think you might want to book a longer vacation.
#1 Experiencing Vancouver Island's wildlife up close
Catching a glimpse of our local wildlife is a must in Cowichan. To do this, consider booking a trip with Ocean Ecoventures in Cowichan Bay. They can get you up close and personal with orcas, humpback whales, grey whales, minke whales, porpoises, sea lions and many species of seabirds. To witness land-based birds of prey up close, be sure to visit Pacific Northwest Raptors just north of Duncan. They can introduce you to our local feathered friends, including eagles, hawks, owls, falcons and vultures.
#2 Walking the Kinsol Trestle
“This fabulous living history artifact is part of the Cowichan Valley Trail and the most spectacular and impressive of the eight trestles along the trail.”
Broader Horizons, Nanaimo, Trip Advisor
Although Cowichan has always been ideally suited for growing timber, its rugged topography has made hauling logs particularly difficult. In order to transport timber by rail, wooden trestles were built to span the area’s massive chasms.By far the largest of those found on Vancouver Island is the 144-foot high Kinsol Trestle that spans the Koksilah River just north of Shawnigan Lake. Completed in 1920 and named for the short-lived “King Solomon Mine,” it is an impressive engineering feat even by today’s standards and remains one of the loftiest wooden railway trestles in the world. The Kinsol Trestle is part of the Trans Canada Trail network that skirts Shawnigan Lake and winds its way to Cowichan Lake, North Cowichan and Ladysmith. Glen Eagles Road Shawnigan Lake, BC V0R 2W0 website
#3 Shopping at the Duncan Farmers Market
“The Duncan Farmers Market is a small window into the delicious soul of the Cowichan Valley… the market was recently named the best in B.C. Association of Farmers’ Markets, a sign of the area’s plenty.”
Mia Stainsby, The Vancouver Sun
If you find yourself in Duncan on any given Saturday, you simply can’t miss the Duncan Farmers Market. One of the largest markets of its kind in B.C., it is spread out over several city blocks in downtown Duncan and subscribes to a “you make it, you bake it, you grow it, you sell it” philosophy. Here, you’ll find the freshest local fruits, vegetables, baking, jams and jellies, honey, crafts, clothing, pet treats and more! The market is open year-round with a short two-week closure over the winter holiday season, reopening the middle of January. Summer: Saturdays 9am to 2pm Fall: Saturdays 10am to 2pm Duncan Street & Ingram Street Downtown Duncan www.duncanfarmersmarket.ca
#4 Tasting wine, spirits, ciders and beers
“Where do you find an ex-barrister who is now a brew master making award-winning craft cider; a young chef who is reinventing comfort food; and a ground breaking zen tea farmer? In the Cowichan Valley of course!”
Raj Thandhi, Blogger, Pink Chai
There’s no exact date when Cowichan realized its renaissance from outpost fruit and grain producer to becoming “Napa of the North,” but it’s safe to say that in the last two decades the region has given rise to dozens of upstart operations that have capitalized on the region’s favourable climate and soil to create world-class potent potables. Among these are wines of every description, cider, craft beer and, more recently, spirits. Most are relatively small operations (relative to world producers), but just about all of them either grow what they need or source it locally. In every case, each operation welcomes you to swing by, explore their technique and sample the fruits of their labour. If wine, spirit and beer tasting are your cup of tea, you’ll find Cowichan Valley eminently accommodating, with a “wine route” that extends from Mill Bay right the way through to Ladysmith.
#5 If you have a liking for mountain biking
“Like turning sap into syrup, Maple Syrup trail will make you work, but it is absolutely worth the effort.”
Terry McKall, Blogger, Cycling Magazine
Even before mountain bikers referred to rides as “sweet” there was “Maple Syrup,” a breathtaking 9 km mountain bike trail that’s part of a network of hiking and biking trails on Maple Mountain, located on the northern side of Maple Bay in North Cowichan. Access to all of Maple Mountain’s trails is by way of a well-marked trailhead on the east side of Osborne Bay Road, midway between Herd Road and the town of Crofton. Whether you hike or bike to the summit, you’ll be afforded stunning views of the Salish Sea, Salt Spring Island and the Saanich Peninsula
#6 Setting out to sea
“This is the kind of place that sailors, wooden boaters, romantics and intelligent sentimentalists hold close to their hearts.”
Ference Máté, Travel Writer
The magnificent Cowichan coastline and its surrounding inlets, harbours and secluded bays are a boater’s paradise, and whether you’re fishing, cruising, sailing or kayaking, there are ample opportunities to enjoy the Cowichan coast. With more than 20 marinas, small boat harbours and government docks along the shore, you’ll be able to find all the provisions to tie-up and refuel both you and your vessel. If you’re looking to move at a quieter pace, the region also provides a stunning backdrop for ocean kayakers and standup paddle-boarders. A sunrise (or sunset) paddle is the perfect way to slow down and connect with nature. If you’re lucky enough to anchor offshore overnight, don’t be surprised if you hear families of otters or orcas chatting to each other as they slip by in the waters around you. www.bluedogkayaking.com www.sealegskayaking.com www.coastalbliss.ca www.wilderness-kayaking.com
#7 Taking in an evening at the theatre
With no pun intended, theatre plays a big part in Cowichan. As a prime example, the Chemainus Theatre Festival is an established professional theatre based in the seaside community of Chemainus. Their unique venue is renowned for staging sold-out, world class productions. And although actors from around the world beat a path to their door, all of the costumes, props and sets are handmade locally in Chemainus. Make sure you book in advance: last year, the Theatre’s production of Grease sold out all 98 performances!
#8 Exploring the BC Forest Discovery Centre.
“A high point of our four day trip through coastal B.C. The displays cover every aspect of the historical B.C. logging industry starting with locomotives and running the gamut to tools, tractors and a plethora of logging artifacts.”
Sungron, Washington, Trip Advisor Review
BC Forest Discovery Centre is a 100-acre, open air museum with an operational railway in Duncan, British Columbia. The Centre features forest and marsh trails with excellent bird watching opportunities. In July 2018, the Centre will launch its brand new Forests Forever Exhibit, providing an immersive and interactive experience that will enhance visitors’ understanding of BC’s forests. 2892 Drinkwater Rd Duncan, BC V9L 6C2 website
#9 Park your RV or get out the tent, old school
No matter how you intend to spend your days in Cowichan, there’s always an ideal place to spend the night – for every taste and every budget. If your heart is set on camping or RVing, your options are many. Public and private campgrounds can be found close to many of the region’s spectacular parks – just about all of which are close to a lake, river or beach (often all three). There are three outstanding provincial campsites located in Cowichan: Bamberton Campsite (located just south of Mill Bay on the shores of Saanich Inlet), Cowichan River Provincial Park (just east of Skutz Falls), and Gordon Bay Provincial Park (located west of Honeymoon Bay on the south shore of Lake Cowichan).
#10 Embarking on a self-guided tour
“I will never get tired of seeing the Chemainus murals. What beautiful works of art. Chemainus is such a beautiful spot, and these murals are lovely to look at while exploring all the quaint shops.”
Little Gnome, Trip Advisor
At one time, the village of Chemainus was fortunate enough to benefit from three of Vancouver Island’s biggest resources: fishing, mining and forestry. Chemainus’ history is now captured in a series of large, striking murals painted on the walls of the town. Today, there are 44, plus various sculptures, which can all be viewed by following the footprints along the walking tour through town. In Duncan, “The City of Totems”, you can tour a collection of 38 colourful totem poles created by First Nations master carvers in a free, self-guided tour. Each totem pole tells a story that can be retold if you know what to look for. Along the way, you’ll encounter the world’s widest totem pole and “Quench,” a brass totem pole that serves as a public water fountain. www.muraltown.com www.duncan.ca/visitors/totems-tour
Tell us what you think! Vote for your favourite Cowichan experience.
Have you paddled Cowichan Bay in the moonlight? Perhaps you’ve mountain biked Maple Syrup, tubed the Cowichan River or been on a wine tour. If you’ve visited our region, we’d love to know what you feel were the best experiences. There’s no deadline and you can be a visitor from far away or a local resident–we just want to know your most unique and enjoyable experience. Of course, if you feel we’ve missed the boat somewhere or there’s an experience you’d like to nominate, we’d like to hear about that too.
Pacific Northwest Raptors