We spent 4 nights in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island in August 2020 as a quick getaway from Vancouver. The Cowichan Valley is located between the cities of Victoria and Nanaimo. The name derives from an Indigenous word meaning The Warm Land due to the year-round warmer temperatures. Due to the mild temperatures and the fertile land of the valley, the area is known for wineries and artisanal food producers.
Things to Do:
The Kinsol Trestle was a must-see in the Cowichan Valley. It is about a 20 minute mainly flat walk from the parking lot to the Trestle and it is part of the Cowichan Valley Trail which is popular with cyclists. There are actually 8 trestles as part of the Cowichan Valley Trail but the Kinsol Trestle is the largest and most impressive. The trestle was original built in 1920 but it was abandoned as a rail line in the 1970s only to be restored and reopened in 2011.
You can cross the trestle as well as follow a few trails below the trestle for additional pictures. We also found a nice quiet swimming hole below the trestle for a refreshing dip.
Nearby: The Kinsol Trestle is not far from Shawnigan Lake which is popular for swimming and fishing.
Tubing down the Cowichan River
One of the best ways to beat the heat of a hot summer day is to float down the Cowichan River in an inner tube. We rented tubes from The Tube Shack in Lake Cowichan for $20 which includes a shuttle back to the starting point. This was a great way to cool off from the mid-day heat while enjoying a relaxing ride down the river. Tubing down the river takes about 2 to 3 hours and will take you past beautiful vacation homes set amongst the forest. We say plenty of people sitting on their private docks and gardens watching people float down the river. We also saw a few people diving into the river from the bridge.
Be sure to bring a dry bag to keep your personal items dry and don’t forget to bring water (the tubes had a drink holder!).
Nearby: There are several small communities around Cowichan Lake including Honeymoon Bay and Youbou. Cowichan Lake is the largest freshwater lake on Vancouver Island which provides plenty of opportunities for water activities as well as hiking and camping nearby.
Wine Tasting at a Winery
There are several family run wineries in the Cowichan Valley which was recently recognized as a new wine producing region. For the entire month of August, the Cowichan Valley Wine Festival allows you to visit 13 of the wineries in a self-guided tour for $20.
We didn’t partake in the Cowichan Valley Wine Festival while we were there but we did enjoy dinner at the restaurant at Unsworth Vineyards along with a bottle of their 2018 Sauvignette. The dinner we had at Unsworth Vineyards was by far the best meals we had while in the Cowichan Valley. We particularly enjoyed the Lamb Croquettes and the Tre Carne Pizza baked in the outdoor pizza oven.
Other Wineries in the Cowichan Valley:
- Enrico Winery
- Venturi-Schulze Vineyards
Enjoy a Brewery, Cidery and Distillery
Not only does the Cowichan Valley have a number of award winning wineries, it also has breweries, cideries and distilleries. Duncan is home to the Red Arrow Brewing Company, nearby Small Block Brewing Co. and Stillhead Distillery, while Riot Brewing Co is further north in the town of Chemainus. Many of these breweries are part of the Vancouver Island’s BC Ale Trail, which celebrates the microbreweries all around BC.
We visited the Merridale Cidery & Distillery near the town of Mill Bay. In addition to tours of the cidery and distillery, you can do a self-guided tour of the apple orchards, stay in a yurt and have lunch or dinner at the Eatery along with a tasting of cider or cocktails. To go with our pizzas, we enjoyed a flight of local BC ciders and a flight of cider inspired cocktails using gin and vodka from the distillery.
Other Breweries, Cideries and Distilleries:
- Ampersand Distilling Company
Hiking in the Cowichan Valley
The Cowichan Valley offers plenty of opportunities for scenic hikes to pretty viewpoints where you will be surrounded by nature. We did two hikes during our short trip to the Cowichan Valley, a hike to the top of Mount Tzouhalem and to the Upper Goldstream Falls. Mount Tzouhalem is located just outside of Duncan and offers incredible views over the Cowichan Valley. The Upper Goldstream Falls is located in Goldstream Provincial Park and is a hiking trail with lush vegetation leading to a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole.
Other hikes in the Cowichan Valley:
- Stoney Hill Regional Park
- Maple Mountain Coastal Trail
- Old Baldy Mountain
Visit the Quaint Seaside Town of Cowichan Bay
After our hike to the top of Mount Tzouhalem, we stopped in the little seaside town of Cowichan Bay for lunch. There were a lot of little shops and restaurants in this cute town. We ate our seafood lunch at the Rock Cod Cafe while overlooking the marina. If it had been a warmer day, we would have grabbed an ice cream at Original Udder Guys Ice Cream.
Other Highlights in Cowichan Bay:
- True Grain Bakery
Fruits and Vegetables at a Local Market
The Cowichan Valley is known for its fertile farmland, orchards and wineries as well as its artisan producers. The Sweet Meadows Market in Mill Bay was just a few minutes from our AirBnb where we picked up some local blueberries and delicious strawberries for our breakfast. As we decided to have a quiet first night in, we also bought a mini chicken pot pie and a beef pot pie for dinner. This market also had many other locally made treats, fresh local fruits and vegetables, as well as ice cream!
Other Local Markets:
- Duncan Farmer’s Market – Saturdays from 9am to 2pm
- Keating Farm
How to Get There:
We took the ferry from the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal just outside Vancouver to Swartz Bay and drove around the peninsula to Mill Bay where our AirBnb was located. Depending on where you are staying, you can also reach the Cowichan Valley from the north by taking the ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo.
Where to Eat:
- Unsworth Vineyards
- Bridgeman’s Bistro in Mill Bay
- Lee’s Famous Recipe in Duncan
- Jake’s at the Lake in Lake Cowichan
Where to Stay:
We stayed in a cute little AirBnb in Mill Bay with a pretty view of the water. We chose Mill Bay because it was fairly central to all of the activities we wanted to experience while in the Cowichan Valley. We also wanted an AirBnb that was a bit secluded and this AirBnb delivered as we even had a visit from a baby deer and its mom just steps from our kitchen window.