The Cowichan Valley ranges north across the Malahat Ridge from Victoria through the Cowichan and Chemainus Valleys to Nanaimo, including a cross-island trip to Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park.
This slice of southern Vancouver Island covers the country between Port Renfrew and near Bamfield on the west coast, and Malahat and Nanaimo on the east side of Vancouver Island.
Most of the population lives along the east coast, where farming in the lush, rolling Cowichan and Chemainus Valleys has gone hand in hand with logging since Vancouver Island was an independent Crown colony. The heart of agriculture lies south of Nanaimo, the Hub City, and this pastoral atmosphere persists as you make you way north towards Parksville. However, it’s hard to ignore the slopes of the Vancouver Island Mountains that begin to nudge travellers closer to the coastline for wont of wide valley bottoms. Most roads west peter out quickly in the face of this granitic tour de force. The exception is the cross-island melange of paved highway and gravel logging roads that link the sheltered Cowichan Valley with the storm-battered community of Bamfield on the west coast.
A greater contrast is hard to find, which is what makes exploring this region so fascinating. There’s plenty of easygoing adventuring to be found by sticking to the main routes, although everyone should treat themselves to a backroad or two where the valleys meet the Strait of Georgia.
There are beaches here the likes of which are found nowhere else on the coast, with views that engender intimacy with the landscape, yet emphasize its isolation.
Whether it’s adrenaline or unwinding you crave, you’ll find it here. Enjoy world-class kayaking, the best flyfishing anywhere, hiking through ancient rainforests, championship year-round golf or cruising our spectacular coastline. Follow all of that with a gourmet meal at the vineyard, a stroll through seaside shops, an evening of live theatre and you’ll start to see the world differently.
The Pacific Marine Circle Tour is an excellent way to explore the historic West Coast of Vancouver Island. The wilderness route traces the coastline from Victoria through Sooke and Port Renfrew, continuing onto the Cowichan Valley and looping back down the Trans-Canada Highway via Duncan to Victoria.
Location: The Cowichan Valley is located on southern Vancouver Island, on the north side of the Malahat mountain north of Victoria. Trans Canada Highway 1 connects Victoria to the Cowichan Valley. The most westerly section of the 4,850-mile (7809-km) Trans-Canada Highway 1 runs north-south through southern Vancouver Island between Victoria and Nanaimo, a distance of 70 miles (113 km). Highway 19 runs 22 miles (35 km) north of Nanaimo to Parksville, and beyond to the northern end of Vancouver Island. Highway 18 is an 18-mile (29-km) stretch of blacktop that runs east-west from Highway 1 through the Cowichan Valley between Duncan and Youbou. From Youbou a series of logging roads leads 67 miles (108 km) west to Bamfield on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
A ferry service from Brentwood Bay on the Saanich Peninsula to Mill Bay at the north end of Malahat Drive also connects with Highway 1 (Brentwood Bay/Mill Bay Ferry). BC Ferries connects the Lower Mainland with Nanaimo’s Departure Bay from the Horseshoe Bay terminal in West Vancouver, and Duke Point from the Tsawwassen terminal in Delta.
The following towns are located in the Cowichan Valley:
The former coastal mill town of Chemainus transformed itself into the world’s largest outdoor art gallery, capturing and expressing its history, its people and its future on huge heritage murals painted on the sides of buildings, attracting visitors from around the world.
Surrounded by a picturesque landscape, the tiny farming village of Cobble Hill is a creative community boasting galleries run by local artists, including painters, sculptors, potters and totem pole carvers.
The village of Cowichan Bay and the surrounding area is home to a host of artists, craftspeople, and cottage industries – including some fine local wineries.
Cowichan Station is a small community located west of the Island Highway, near Whippletree Junction, established in 1885 as a stop-off for the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway. Cowichan Station was built to service settlers living in the area, as well as the logging and copper mine operations located on Mount Sicker and Mount Prevost.
Cradled by verdant hillsides and surrounding mountains, the active community of Crofton is situated on the calm waters of Osborne Bay, with great views of Saltspring Island a short ferry ride across the channel.
Duncan is the civic centre of the Cowichan Valley and the traditional home of the Coast Salish First nation. Known as the City of Totems, Duncan boasts over 41 distinctive hand-carved cedar poles on public display in parks and downtown streets.
Genoa Bay is a quiet and picturesque bay on the north side of Cowichan Bay, at the south end of Sansum Narrows. The Genoa Bay Marina is a rustic hideaway full of old wooden sailboats – an interesting place to visit and relax.
The small farming community of Glenora is nestled in the Cowichan Valley, near Duncan. About two-thirds of Glenora is devoted to vineyards and farming, while the remainder supports rural and residential lifestyles. There are approximately 250 homes and businesses in Glenora.
Honeymoon Bay is a quaint little town on the southeastern shore of Cowichan Lake. The town offers beautiful views of Bald Mountain, RV campsites, and the popular Gordon Bay Provincial Park.
Ladysmith is a spirited and picturesque community with many of its original heritage buildings recently restored. Visitors travelling the Island Highway can stop at Ladysmith and take a stroll along First Avenue for a look at the turn-of-the century buildings.
Cowichan Lake is one of the largest bodies of freshwater on Vancouver Island, at over 30km long. The town of Lake Cowichan is the gateway to some of the most spectacular camping and hiking available on the island. The south arm of the lake is a heat trap, boasting the highest average summer maximum temperatures in Canada – over 24 degrees Celsius!
Travelling north from Victoria, Malahat Drive climbs through imposing mature forests and over rugged mountainside before dropping down into the Cowichan Valley. The Malahat is of great ceremonial significance to the Malahat First Nation, whose ancestors used the caves for spiritual enchancement. The mountain is one of the most sacred sites on southern Vancouver Island.
Maple Bay is a pretty seaside community that bustles with marine activity all year round. Located in a narrow inlet and surrounded by smooth, pebbled beaches, Maple Bay offers one of the finest natural harbours on the West Coast.
The small community of Mesachie Lake is located on the south shore of Cowichan Lake. Mesachie Lake was a mill town from 1942 to 1968, and has since been transformed into a tranquil country lifestyle community, surrounded by mountains, waterways, and rural woodlands.
Located at the south end of the Cowichan Valley, travellers on the Island Highway can stop in at Mill Bay and enjoy the village’s quiet waterfront streets and wonderful Gulf Island views.
Shawnigan Lake is a fashionable summer recreation and cottage area, and a favourite weekend getaway spot. The Village is a well-known venue for arts and craft shows, and hosts a small but excellent museum.
The small community of Westholme is located alongside the Island Highway, between Chemainus and Duncan, offering beautiful farmlands and mountain landscapes.
The beautiful little community of Youbou is located on the north shore of Cowichan Lake, west of Duncan and a 25-minute drive west of the community of Lake Cowichan. The former mill town provides a good public beach and extensive recreational opportunities, including fishing, boating and hiking.