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 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
#2 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
#3 Tubing on the Cowichan River
“The Cowichan River is tame and fun for the whole family.”
Michaela Ludwig, Canadian Traveller
The Cowichan River extends 47 km from its source at Lake Cowichan to its mouth at Cowichan Bay. Designated as a Canadian Heritage River in 2003, it serves as a home to many animal species and a viaduct for several species of fish.In the summer, the river is a spectacular venue for what is commonly known as “tubing.” The jury is out on whether “tubing” is a sport, pastime or simply a leisure activity, but in essence, tubing on the Cowichan River involves a one-way, downriver trip in emerald green and (mostly) quiet waters aboard a large, inflatable inner tube. There are many variations on where to start or end the trip, and there are even businesses that
will outfit and shuttle you.
#4 Riding or hiking “Maple Syrup”
“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
#5 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
#6 Wandering Canada’s “Great Street”.
“First Avenue exhibits all of the qualities one would expect from a great street: visually-interesting building facades, generous sidewalks, attractive landscaping and artistic details, places to rest, and places to gather.”
Canadian Institute of Planners
Ladysmith’s First Avenue is the quintessential Cowichan experience and a truly special place. Recently named Canada’s Great Street by the Canadian Institute of Planners, this charming and historic avenue at the heart of Ladysmith is straight out of a storybook. An afternoon discovering First Avenue’s boutique shops and unique eateries is time well spent.
#7 Visiting wineries, distilleries, cideries and breweries
“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.
#8 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.
#9 Experiencing birds of prey up close
“There he was with his talons holding tightly onto my glove, eyeball to eyeball we were. A real live hawk just landed on my hand! Now, that doesn’t happen every day.”
Jay Kennedy, TravellingIslanders.com
Cowichan is home to many species of birds,
large and small. Arguably, the most regal of these are the raptors. You can see them in their natural setting here, but nowhere will you get to see them as close up as you will at Pacific Northwest Raptors in Duncan. Here you can meet eagles, hawks, owls, falcons and vultures (among other birds)
and watch them fly above and around you, free of all constraints. At the same time, you’ll learn about their personalities, ecology, habitat and hunting techniques. Flying demonstrations are offered daily from March through December.
1877 Herd Road
#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.
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