Cowichan Lake, Kinsol Trestle, Port Renfrew Loop

Fav ride for all

There's 2 partly overlapping big riding loops taking riders from Cowichan Lake south around the grand SW coast. This ride is entirely on paved roads and well groomed sections of the Vancouver Island Trans Canada Trail - the Cowichan Valley Trail and the new  Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail. The other ride is a challenging backroads ride and can be found here.

This a great ride that can be tackled by any cycle tourists who are comfortable with multi-day rides, through an incredible variety of terrain and top-notch camping options.

Some highlights:​

  • Riding the Cowichan Valley Trail, including over the stunning, recently rebuilt, Kinsol Trestle (see pic below). Continue south on the new Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail (some tough climbing), getting riders around the busy Malahat highway stretch

  • Riding the scenic West Coast Road from Sooke to Port Renfrew

  • Riding the remote, sparsely trafficked Pacific Marine Road (paved) from Port Renfrew north to Cowichan Lake

  • Camping at Jordan River (SW Coast) among a hardy colony of (insane) year-round surfers, and summer time beach people

Kinsol Trestle & Cowichan Valley Trail | south Vancouver Island | cycle touring Vancouver Island

Kinsol Trestle is one of the tallest, most spectacular timber rail trestle structures in the world (187 metres in length and standing 44 metres above the salmon bearing Koksilah River below)

I've set up the route to start heading south from Duncan along the Cowichan Valley Trail to Kinsol Trestle, then onwards south to Sooke.  There's some hilly riding, particularly on the new Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail, getting you around the busy highway 'Malahat' stretch. Click here to see more in a July 11, 2017 blog post on this new Trail.

Days for Ride: At 235kms (minimum) this is a pretty long ride, and some cycle tourists may prefer to tackle portions - for example to ride south from Duncan to Victoria. I recommend you plan for 4 days and 3 nights for the complete ride, although you could shave a day or two off if you want to put in long hours. There's some sidetrips - e.g. to Gordon Bay Provincial Camp along south Cowichan Lake - that make my trip route a little longer.

A section of the new Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail, close to the north end near SW Shawnigan Lake & the connection to the Cowichan Valley Trail. Some fabulous riding (including steep little hills).

I'd suggest camping the first night in Goldstream Provincial Park (reservations needed in summer), the second night at the looong beach at the Pacheedaht First Nations Camp in Port Renfrew. Your final night could be at Gordon Bay Provincial Park (recommended) or Lakeview Park Camp, just SW of Cowichan Lake Village (see more on Cowichan Lake camping options at linked page below).

 

Difficulty:  The difficulty is medium. The trip is long enough you would be advised to do some seasoning (bike training & camping familiarization) before attempting this. The Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail is only 13 kms (22 kms including the new north end connector managed by the Malahat 1st Nation), but includes little hills steep enough you should be prepared to do some pushing of the bike. There are also some hills along the SW coast, particularly as you near Port Renfrew. And then, the almost 60kms north from Port Renfrew along the Pacific Marine Hwy to Cowichan Lake climbs up to ~400m, and is remote ... zero services along the way.

Note - if you choose not to ride the new Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail, your alternative will be to ride the wide shoulder of the busy Island highway south to Goldstream Park, where you can branch onto Humpback Road. The shoulder is wide enough that riding this section is safe. But there is a lot of traffic, and the Malahat is a climb up over 300m. 

Fav ride Cowichan SW Island | cycle touring SW Vancouver Island coast

From the gorgeous SW coast, east of Port Renfrew

There are excellent side trip options.  

  • You'll be riding along Cowichan Lake, and a popular option is to circumnavigate the lake. Most of your way (the west end) will be on a dirt track, but well maintained and used regularly by the public (if it's hot & dry summer, it gets dusty)

  • If you have the time, ride up to Sooke Potholes Regional Campground, 7 kms north of Sooke along the wonderful Galloping Goose Trail. There's fine summer swimming.

  • There's lots of backroads options, but see the Kinsol Trestle SW Coast Loop backroads ride for more on these

Harris Creek along Pacific Rim Highway | Port Renfrw north to Cowichan Lake | cycle touring

You'll ride a good stretch of Pacific Marine Road alongside Harris Creek, which gets fierce in spots. Great remote riding.

There some excellent formal provincial campgrounds along the SW coast highway (French Beach, China Beach). For those who prefer it a little rougher, there are also a bunch of remote hiker camp sites along the Juan de Fuca Trail by the seaside.

Pacheedaht 1st Nations Campground, outside Port Renfrew. Beautiful stretch of beach. The main camping areas are at the south & north, where you can get water and register. They allow tenters to walk in and set up along the beach, so there's always room for another cycle tenter. 

Pacheedaht First Nations Campground | Port Renfrew SW Vancouver Isdland | Fav cycle tour
 

Check out these linked pages for more local info

The link is to the Blog page, where you'll find the post on this fabulous new Trail opened in early summer 2017. The new Trail connects to the south end of the Cowichan Valley Trail via another new trail segment managed by the local Malahat First Nation, SW of Shawnigan Lake. The trails take cyclists south around the 'Malahat' to reach near Victoria. Caution - the degree of difficulty is significantly higher than the CVT

Turns out the rides around Cowichan Lake are very popular, so I thought I'd link in a little more local info on the town of Cowichan Lake as well as nearby camping options I like. 

​This page gives details on the Lochside Regional trail (and other trail connections like the Galloping Goose) to get cyclists from Victoria to Swartz Bay ferry terminal. There's a 2nd section on the Mill Bay to Brentwood Bay ferry connector that allows riders coming down the Island to take a short cut over to the Saanich Peninsula (and the Lochside Trail) and avoid the frenzied south stretches of the Island highway into Victoria

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Here's the distance / elevation chart.

Things looks steeper than they are due to the long distance (~260kms) along the bottom axis. As commented above, the route below includes a 20km side trip to camp at Gordon Bay Campground on South Cowichan Lake, as well as a few extra kms of poking around.

That said, there's a fair piece of climbing on this trip. The steepest portions are along the new Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail. I also have a few painful memories of some of the hills riding the West Coast Road to Port Renfrew - though there's a great descent into town. On the Pacific Marine Road (paved, but remote) north to Cowichan Lake, there's a long, steady climb up to ~400m. Then you get a fine descent to Cowichan Lake, and another sweet descent to finish as you head back to Duncan.

Jordan River Regional Camp |  Cycle touring SW Vancouver Island | winter surfers

Not the best photo here, but ....Here's  some of the crazy surfers at Jordan River Regional Campground. This was December. Even at dawn, there were a few hardheads already out to catch the perfect wave.

Here's the distance & direction guide. Unless you're planning a ride, you'll want to skip this section, or risk getting put to sleep.

Exit Duncan town SW along Indian Rd ~7kms to intersect Waters Road & the Trans Canada Trail (known locally as Cowichan Valley Trail). Alternatively, you can branch right on Vaux Road a little earlier and connect to the Trail a little further west at Glenora Trail Head Park.

 

11 kms of wonderful riding south to Kinsol trestle, then 1km to the Trailhead parking area. Continue on the trail, with some road crossings. After 2+kms you'll see the NW corner of Shawnigan Lake. The trail will follow the west shores, set back a little from the lakeshore road, for ~10kms to the Sooke Road trailhead and parking lot (about 1km south of the lake). From here you'll get onto Sooke Lake Road for a very short stretch (50m; signed), then another 150m south on Shawnigan Lake FSR, where you'll see signs on your left directing you back onto the new trail section built by the Malahat 1st Nation.  After 4kms the winding trail will reach Stebbings Road where there's a trail parking lot. Then, another 5kms takes you to Finalyson Road where it seems you are now into the Capital Regional District and onto the Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail. Ride Finalyson (paved) south for under a km, until signs direct you right onto Trail Way for 1/4km where you'll see the signed and gated Trail again on your left. 

Then another dozen kms along the well signed Trail, some fine riding winding up and down to the south trailhead at Humpback Reservoir.  

If you're planning to camp at Goldstream Park, it's~1.5kms north from the reservoir.

Continued after pic below....

From Bear Lake Park in Mesachie, off the SE shores of Cowichan Lake  A fine place to stop for lunch or a swim.

I suggest following Humpback Road to get to Sooke & the SW coast. From the reservoir you'll branch right/south onto Humpback for approx 3kms to connect with Sooke Road. Humpback Road is paved, hilly, with no shoulders, and goes through a nicely forested park. A nice ride, though I suspect there could be traffic at start and end of working day.  

 

Sooke Road is a highway, with good shoulders. You can ride this straight through to Sooke and then the West Coast Road, but I suggest getting off onto the Galloping Goose Trail as soon as possible (there are a number of access options). After 3.5kms riding SW you'll see Manzer Road down to the seaside on your left. Follow it for ~1/2km and then branch right/west onto the fantastic world class Galloping Goose. You'll be right along the shores of Juan de Fuca Strait. After 2.5kms you'll cross Sooke road to the inland side. After ~3kms you'll be into Sooke proper, and after another km the trail starts to angle north to head up alongside the Sooke River into Sooke Potholes Park (fine ride with nice campground - recommended). 

Heading west on West Coast Road from the junction with Sooke River Road, it's ~76kms to Port Renfrew. Jordan River, with a recommended Regional Campground along the seaside, is ~35 kms. In Port Renfrew, I suggest camping along the grand beach at the Pacheedaht 1st Nations Campground just west of town across the San Juan River. It's a big, spread out campground, not always maintained as nicely as one might like - but the natural setting is just tremendous.

You'll see signs heading north to the Pacific Marine Road. Once you're off and running there's no turns (or services) until you reach the south shores of Cowichan Lake at Mesachie 54kms north. From here, I suggest taking a 10km side trip (20kms round trip) west to camp at Gordon Bay campground - great swimming (see more at the linked page above). From Mesachie it's ~7kms to head east to the town of Cowichan Lake.

 

From Cowichan Lake, you'll be getting ready to finish your ride. At the NE end of town where Highway 18 heads east, you'll see the north Trailhead for the Cowichan Valley Trail. There's another trailhead in town (the 'Western Terminus') for the part of the CVT that follows the Cowichan River south - this is the more interesting leg, but is longer, and does not go directly into Duncan. Assuming you ride the north leg, it's 27kms of fine, hard pack, mostly forested, to get back to Duncan, the latter stretches a sweet gradual descent.

Route map for Cowichan SW Island fav ride | cycle touring south Vancouver Island

I like this example of local community art, along the Cowichan Valley Trail south of Duncan on the way to Kinsol Trestle. 

Local art along Cowichan Valley Trail | south of Duncan | cyle touring

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