Cowichan Valley Trail

Fav ride for all

UPDATE!

 

Since I packaged this ride page, several new Trans Canada Trail sections have been built.

There's a segment south from SW Shawnigan Lake through the Mahalat First Nation, which then connects to the Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail, allowing riders to avoid the notorious 'Malahat' riding stretch of the big (busy!) Island highway. Both new sections are well built, groomed and maintained, but the Sooke Hills section has some real steep stretches (see pics below & read more in the blog post).

OK - back now to this fav ride ....

 

Cowichan Valley Trail (CVT) is the local name for the Trans Canada Trail (TCT), and this ride takes you through the finest extended stretch of the Trail on Vancouver Island. A north leg runs from Duncan roughly parallel to Hwy18 up to Cowichan Lake, then loops back towards the east coast a little south, roughly following the Cowichan River Valley. Before Duncan, it angles SE to Shawnigan Lake and Kinsol Trestle, one of the world's most fabulous wooden trestle bridges. If you want a fantastic ride through the forests, no vehicles about, this ride's for you.

Some highlights:

  • Incredible riding on well maintained, bicycle friendly trails, mostly amidst forests, in spots alongside the scenic Cowichan River

  • Excellent camping at Stoltz Pool Provincial Park, and up on Cowichan Lake (see below)

  • A series of fantastic wooden trestle bridges (see photo below), including Kinsol Trestle near Shawnigan Lake, one of the world's largest and finest

  • Side trip options from Cowichan Lake or the SW hinterlands, or ......

Can't recall whether this was Holt Creek or Km66 Trestle along the segment of the Cowichan Valley Trail running to the SW of the Cowichan River. Great riding. 

Cowichan Valley Trail | aka Trans Canada Trail | cycle touring fav ride | south Vancouver Island

Days for Ride:  Starting & finishing in Duncan, this could be done as a good one day ride, up to Cowichan Lake & back. I'm recommending this, though, as an overnighter: up to Cowichan Lake on the segment paralleling the highway. Then you can either camp near the east end of the lake (see link here to a page with more on nearby camping), or start your return east down the more southerly leg of the Trail, and camp for the night at excellent Stoltz Pool Provincial Park. Next day, keep following the trail south, branching SW to Kinsol Trestle & the end of the trail. Note that new Trail segments have been added at the south, managed by the Malahat First Nation, and then the new Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail (see more below). 

 

Overall, this ride is ~75kms (~90kms if you take the recommended side trip to Stoltz Pool to camp). You could shorten the ride to ~55kms if you simply finished in Duncan (vs Shawnigan Lake). 

Unicyclist | Cowichan Valley Trail | cycle touring south Vancouver Island

Making it look easy .... Just when I was feeling pretty rugged along the Cowichan Valley Trail, this unicyclist (no hands, no less!) was riding his 36" 'trail wheel'

Difficulty:  Easy. Most all of this ride is on the well maintained CVT, often forested, away from vehicle traffic. Modest climbs and gradients. There are a few regular roadway sections: in the town of Cowichan Lake getting from one trailhead to another (~1 km), along Riverbottom Road to get to Stoltz Pool campground (if you camp there), and along the east shores of Cowichan Lake if you choose to find a campground there.  

 

If you tackle this trip as an overnighter, or part of a longer tour, you'll be carrying gear, so you'll get a workout. 

The 'Western Terminus' of the Trans Canada Trail in the scenic village of Cowichan Lake. Check out this link for a more info on Cowichan Lake and nearby camping options.

West end of Cowichan Valley Trail | Cowichan Lake | cycle touring south Vancouver Island
Stoltz Pool Provincial Camp | Fav campground along Cowichan River | cycle touring south Vancouver Island

Stoltz Pool Provincial Park, a favourite camping spot of mine: nothing special, but it feels like wilderness, there's good trails about, and it's good riding to reach.

Some interesting side trip options.  

  • You'll be riding up to Cowichan Lake. An obvious side trip is to do the almost 80kms loop of the lake, the western 50kms on dirt road. There's lots of camping options, and more side trip options once you're out this way (see link below for more on camping options near the town of Cowichan Lake)

  • FLASH! Now you can keep riding from the south end of Shawnigan Lake. The new Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail, which extends the Trans Canada Trail south all the way around the 'Malahat' (local name for a troublesome Island Highway hill). It's a pretty tough ride in stretches. 

  • Duncan is along the Island highway. You can easily head to nearby Crofton to take a ferry over to Saltspring Island and Ruckle Provincial Park (see favourite ride). 

Some local art along the Cowichan Valley Trail (aka Trans Canada Trail). This is somebody's backyard south of Duncan on the way to Kinsol Trestle

Local art along the Cowichan Valley Trail | Trans Canada Trail | cycle touring south Vancouver Island
 

Check out these linked pages for more local info

The link here is to the Blog page, where you'll find the post on this fabulous new Trail opened in summer 2017. The south end of the Cowichan Valley Trail now connects to a new trail segment managed by the local Malahat First Nation, SW of Shawnigan Lake, and then the new Sooke Hills Trail. This takes cyclists south around the 'Malahat' to reach near Victoria. Caution - the degree of difficulty get pretty tough on the new Sooke Hills segment.

Turns out the rides around Cowichan Lake are very popular, so I thought I'd best 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 shortcut over to the Saanich Peninsula (and the Lochside Trail) and avoid the very busy south stretches of the Island highway into Victoria

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Here's the elevation / distance view:

The left elevation scale only goes up to 250m, so things look hillier than they really are. You see the gradual starting climb up to Cowichan lake, over 200m, but over a 15km stretch. Note that when you do the side trip to Stoltz Pool Provincial Camp (included), there's a descent, then climb back as you return to the Trail. You have the option of cutting back to Duncan at ~km67 if you wish, or continuing to Kinsol Trestle and Shawnigan Lake.  

Distance/ elevation chart | Cowichan Valley Trail | cycle touring south Vancouver Island
 

Here's the distance & direction guide. You may want to skip this part unless you're planning to tackle the ride, as it gets pretty detailed. 

This is a uniquely direct route to start - just following the CVT. The map below shows several locations to get on the trail in and around Duncan.  When you reach Cowichan Lake village, there are signs with maps to guide you from one trail head to the other (~1/2 km), so you can loop back east. The map zooming in to Duncan also shows a track (blue) that can get you back into Duncan if you choose not to go south to Shawnigan Lake.

 

The track starts at the trailhead off Tansor Road in NW Duncan (~3kms west of the highway), but there are a number of points one can access the trail. It's then ~25kms up to the trailhead at the NE entrance to Cowichan Lake village. It's only ~1/2km south to the trailhead for the leg heading back east along the Cowichan River. I'd suggest, though, heading into the village first for food and drinks, or possibly to a nearby campground: Gordon Bay (~14kms, paved), or Lakeview Camp (3kms west). 

The southern leg of the trail back reaches Duncan after ~25kms, skirting the SW part of town. There are a number of road access points off the trail into town. I chose Waters & Cavin (~a block riding on each), which get you onto Marshall and Indian Roads (~6kms from Duncan town centre).

Continue below pic for more directions....

Kinsol Trestle, high above the Koksilah River, reminiscent of days of old. Grand riding in a very neat historical area, complete with some info kiosks, picnic tables and more.

CVT Directions & distances - continued from above...

If you want to camp at Stoltz Pool Provincial Park along the way back to Duncan (a favourite campsite - recommended), you need to get off the trail onto Riverbottom Road ~9kms east from Cowichan Lake, just after the junction with Skutz Falls FSR. Around the same area you should also see the trail turnoff to Horseshoe Bend Group Campsite (if you're a large group, that's the ideal place to camp, but book early in summer!). To reach Stoltz Pool campsite, you'll need to ride about 6.5kms east on Riverbottom Road (a dirt track, with little traffic). You'll then see the turnoff for the Park access road (~1/2km) into the campsite along the Cowichan River. The next morning, backtrack along this 7kms stretch, including an initial nasty little climb.

From the Water Road junction, it's ~11kms SE along the trail to Kinsol Trestle. Then, nearly 4kms further to the NW corner of Shawnigan Lake, then ~9kms south, mostly along the west shores of the lake, to the end of the trail at Sooke Road, where there's parking and toilets. If you want to return to Duncan by road, I've included several likely route options, in blue (map below). Or - if you want to continue south on the new Sooke Foothills Wilderness Trail, check out the link below. Note that this new trail is more challenging, with steep sections.

Route Maps:  Cowichan Valley Trail (aka Trans Canada Trail)

The top map shows the overall route. The 2nd map shows the start / finish in Duncan, and the bottom map shows the trail heads up in Cowichan Lake village.

Fav cycle tour route map | Cowichan Valley Trail | south Vancouver Island | map 1 of 3
Duncan town zoom map | Cowichan Valley Trail | south Vancouver Island | map 2 of 3
Cowichan Lake village zoom map | Cowichan Valley Trail | south Vancouver Island | map 1 of 3

This pic is from the CVT trail segment south from Kinsol trestle, set in from the SW shores of Shawnigan Lake. If you need a swim break, you can stop at West Shawnigan Lake Provincial Park. From the end of this stretch you can now connect new trail segments south around the Malahat highway

Cowichan Valley Trail | SW Shawnigan Lake | cycle touring south Vancouver Island

Caution - Safety First:

This website does not encourage anyone to undertake activities in the backwoods without considering fully issues of safety, access and readiness. There are no guarantees with any information provided in this website.  Please read  the FAQs, research further as appropriate, and use your judgement at all times