Cowichan Lake & Duncan
Local Bike Maps & Off-Highway Paved Route Options
Cowichan Lake is one of Vancouver Island's major riding hubs (see area view). Duncan is the main community halfway roughly between Victoria to the south and Nanaimo to the north. The big Island Highway passes right through Duncan. In places, the shoulders completely disappear, with 4 lane traffic still whistling by, so this is one of my least favourite mini-stretches of highway.
Here's the sections you'll find below, with links should you want to jump straight into a section:
Downtown Duncan, sometimes known as the city of totem poles, for good reason. There are a few places around town where you can access the trail network to get onto the Cowichan Valley Trail
I found this fabulous map on the Bicycle Maps resource page of the well known Greater Nanaimo Cycling Coalition webpage. You can click on the section title above, or smaller map below to get to their actual map, which you can zoom into to check out the map details properly.
This Victoria to Nanaimo is actually a route tackled by many cycle tourists, and thus one the website had been missing. It's also a route through some of the busiest traffic on Vancouver Island, so getting off the big highway will be something some cyclists should appreciate. I've also linked this map off the Victoria and Nanaimo area pages.
If you follow the link then zoom in to the map, you'll see that their default route in purple is largely off-highway wherever possible. You'll also see some blue/green alternate routes.
Close to Duncan, you can see that the alternate route follows closer to the east coast than big Highway 1: it is much more interesting, passing by Cowichan Bay to the south and then Maple Bay (and on to Crofton) to the north.
Thanks to Rotary, and all who put this very useful resource together (I'll be trying to contact them to find out how best they might like to be properly credited).
From the big Island Highway (Hwy1) just to the north of Duncan, secondary Highway 18 branches west inland for 30 kms up to Cowichan Lake, with countless camping, swimming and cycling options to be found (mostly, but not all, backroads routes). The shoulder up Hwy 18 is pretty bumpy, so cyclists love having the option to get off the highway onto the Cowichan Valley Trail, the local name for this segment of the Trans Canada Trail; in my opinion, hands-down the best cycle touring stretch of the TCT on Vancouver Island.
And it's not just that you can ride the fine CVT up to Cowichan Lake - you can ride back along another segment a little to the north or south, depending on which way you start off. The northern leg roughly parallels and stays close to Hwy 18. The southern leg roughly follows the Cowichan River. Both legs make for excellent riding, suitable for all cycle tourists. If you want to get away from all vehicles, and also like getting into real forest, this is a route for you. Check out the Fav ride page.
If you're heading south, you can now take the TCT all the way south to Goldstream Park just outside Victoria (though the trail gets steep and tough). Check out the page on South Island alternate routes for more details on this.
A little local whimsy along the Cowichan Valley Trail, south of Duncan. The trail here skirts along the backside of some farmland. You can see the trail to the left: well groomed with room to pass oncoming cyclists.
Duncan Community Cycling Maps
I don't have much here, and am hoping some residents of Duncan or the wider Cowichan Valley will be able to clue me into some better options. I've noted that I don't much care for the big highway route directly through Duncan.
The map below is from a website called Nature Cowichan. It shows the map below with a bunch of useful routes (including routes that void the highway) on top of Google Maps, so you can zoom in and get all sorts of details. Here's the link for this routes page.
More to come here.
Trans Canada Trail (Great Trail) - Duncan north to Nanaimo
UPDATE: Thanks to Don of Victoria for this Nov 2021 update: Apparently the TCT north from Ladysmith to Nanaimo is not well maintained or signed, is real rough in places, and has some stretches through industrial areas. In spots, the trail is even hard to discern. Don found the ride "interesting and enjoyable", but not at all what he'd expected. Be forewarned.
There's work happening on this stretch of the TCT. I've not been too keen as the route has largely, to date, been simply identifying secondary roads off the highway that they are designating as part of the TCT route. That said, 2 things:
1. off highway alternate routes are exactly what we are all about in this section!
2. they've been building, and have now started to open up new trail segments. The map below shows the Haslam Creek Trail, from south Nanaimo south to north of Ladysmith. They highlight that this is more a hiking and mountain biking trail, though I've heard of bikepackers doing the trail (in other words, not for most cycle tourists). Here's a PDF map of this new section. This link is to the TCT page on the new Haslam trail. You'll see some sections along the left of the page, so you can jump to other nearby TCT segments (e.g. CVT). A great advantage of this TCT site is that you can download *.GPX track files for your GPS device.
However, the work around Haslam Creek shows they are serious and making headway. I've downloaded and joined together all the TCT segments from Duncan to Nanaimo. You can see them in the map pic below. Major stretches of the off-highway route - eg via Crofton and Saltair to Ladysmith - follow the same route as the Rotary Route above. I have not yet ridden this, and depending on the bike and gear I have, may not attempt the rougher Haslam Creek segment. I'd encourage you to check the TCT page your selves, and see what might be useful to planning off-highway routes.