For a great family camping vacation, head to Gordon Bay Provincial Park, on the south arm of Cowichan Lake on southern Vancouver Island.
In July and August, the lake is warm and the sandy beach makes for great family swimming. History buffs will find plenty to interest them in the park and the surrounding area. The park, a second-growth Douglas-fir forest, is located in a valley that forms a heat trap, and boasts the highest average annual temperature in Canada – over 24 degrees Celsius!
This large wilderness area features many walking and hiking trails, with views that are unparalleled. As you walk through the forest, look for deer, raccoons and red squirrels. Birdwatchers often see juncos, Steller’s jays and Chestnut-backed Chickadees as well as mergansers and Golden eye ducks.
The 49-hectare Gordon Bay Provincial Park has 126 vehicle accessible campsites – wilderness, backcountry or walk-in camping is not permitted. Reservations are accepted, and first-come, first-served sites are also available. However, reservations are recommended in July and August, when the sun shines brightest on this southern exposure. The lay of the land here traps heat, and daytime temperatures are hot by coastal standards. The rewards of being here in April and May, in advance of the summer crowds, include having your choice of campsites and witnessing the spectacular display of wildflowers that begin blooming in April.
There are flush and pit toilets, showers and full access for the disabled. An adventure playground has been constructed for children within the camping area. Recreational activities include boating, swimming, water-skiing, windsurfing and fishing. Fishing in Cowichan Lake in the spring, fall and winter is great, and enthusiasts catch rainbow, cutthroat trout and Dolly Varden. Chum, coho and spring salmon spawn in the lake and in its tributaries, while steelhead spawn in the Cowichan River.
Fees for full services are collected from March 15 to October 31. Off-season is from November 1 – March 13; self-contained camping allowed in boat launch area; no fee, no services. Campground gate is closed during off-season. Other provincial parks nearby are Bamberton Provincial Park and Cowichan River Provincial Park.
There is a fascinating little museum at Saywell Park and Teleglobe Canada presents guided tours of the Lake Cowichan Earth Satellite station. The forest industry has a number of displays and demonstration forests throughout the area.
Park users should always be aware of bears and other wildlife in our park environment. Never feed or approach bears or other wildlife. To avoid problems with animals such as bears, lock your food in your vehicle at night. Be sure to use the garbage containers provided and maintain a clean campsite.
Access to Gordon Bay Provincial Park is north of Duncan off Hwy 1 onto Hwy 18. Travel 16 miles (26 km) west to Lake Cowichan, then 9 miles (14 km) on South Shore Road.
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