Cowichan Valley Trail on Vancouvers Island

On our “weekend” Tom and I headed over to Vancouvers Island, British Columbia, to ride the Cowichan Valley Trail.  We have wanted to ride this trail all summer and finally knew we had to do it before we leave San Juan Island.

At the beginning of the ride

The Cowichan Valley Trail is 122 km long (76 miles for those of us who are metrically challenged).  It runs from Shawnigan Lake, around Lake Cowichan, to Duncan.  You can see a map here.  We expected to ride about 25 miles on Monday and then do another 25 on Tuesday.

Turns out that the Cowichan Valley has the highest mean temperatures in Canada.  Because Vancouvers Island is in the Pacific Ocean, it doesn’t get the low temperatures that a lot of Canada receives.  The Cowichan Valley, however, in the interior of the island, doesn’t benefit from the temperate ocean breezes in the summer.  So Monday the temperature was in the 90’s.

We started our ride at Glenora Trails Head Park, near Duncan.  From there, the ride was mostly uphill, although being a rail-trail, the grade was generally less than 1%.  So it didn’t look uphill, but after 13 miles it certainly felt uphill.  The ride was beautiful.  The shaded trail ran through old-growth forest and criss-crossed the Cowichan River on old railroad trestles.

Quite a bit of the trail traveled through the Cowichan River Provincial Park.  We saw people tubing on the river and enjoyed a brief stop at Skutz Falls.  There were very few road crossings – less than one per mile – and even less traffic on them.

End of the trail

We pedaled uphill over two hours to reach Lake Cowichan, our destination and mile 0 on the Trans Canada Trail (The Great Trail).  If I was younger, the Great Trail would be on my life list.  It is 22,000 miles of recreational trail stretching all across Canada with a big loop going into the northern provinces.  Much of it is rail-trail, our favorite kind of ride.

Most of the trail was beautiful and pleasant with a surface of crushed limestone.  There was a short section of cobbled rock which was challenging for Tom, who had to steer, and me as we bounced.  There were also several really muddy sections:  amazing considering the drought we are in.

When we got to Lake Cowichan most of the people in the small town were swimming or floating on the lake.  The parking lots were jammed.  We checked out an ice cream place but decided the 10 flavors of ice cream weren’t worth the calories.  Most of the businesses were closed for Labor Day (yes, they do celebrate that in Canada).  So we ended up getting some cold stuff to drink and a cookie at Subway.

Then we got back on the bike and headed the 13 miles back to the truck.  We were a little concerned because we were hot and tired.  But it turns out the trip back was a lot faster and almost all downhill.  That 1% grade is much more pleasant going downhill!  We did the first eight miles in less than 30 minutes.

One of the muddy sections
Most of the trail looked like this
Lots of signs
Tom preferred this sign
We were both a little nervous about this sign
One of the trestle bridges
One section of the river
Some of the trail was wider
Tom glad for a break
A sign we are seeing all over the Pacific Northwest

The Cowichan Valley Trail is a gorgeous lightly used rail-trail.  If you ever get to Vancouvers Island, you should check it out.  We enjoyed the ride – and the Pan Pizza from Pizza Hut we shared after we got to our hotel room.  And we both agreed that Tuesday we would find something else to do.