The Trails Society of British Columbia
Vancouver Island Region
Cowichan Valley and Area
The Cowichan Valley boasts the highest mean temperatures in Canada and its rainforests are home to some of the world's tallest trees. The Trans Canada Trail travels through these forests, primarily following rail trails. The route is easy to follow and accessible to virtually all levels of physical fitness. The trail surface is mostly well packed finely crushed gravel and is easy to ride, walk or jog along. Equestrian use is permitted in many areas, but not everywhere. The trail also passes through quaint seaside villages such as Saltair, Chemainus and Ladysmith. The region's hub of activity centres around the city of Duncan.
Trail Highlights and Developments:
The trail is incomplete from the Capital Regional District (Victoria) to the south end of Shawnigan Lake. This section is being developed and we expect it to be open by 2015.
The trail elsewhere in this region utilizes CN and CP abandoned rail lines and includes several restored trestle bridges, some offering magnificent views of the rivers they cross. The most spectacular, the curved Kinsol Trestle is the crowning gem of the region. It was built in 1921 and is the largest and highest of its kind in the Commonwealth. Though closed and abandoned for many years, the Trans Canada Trail Foundation and partners throughout the region came together to oversee its restoration. Through teamwork and sheer determination, the Kinsol Trestle was opened to the public during the summer of 2011.
North of the trestle, the trail winds its way through Cowichan River Provincial Park. A favorite stop here is at the Marie Trestle with its outstanding views - you'll probably hear hoots of pleasure from people floating down the river below on inflatable tubes. An excellent trail map is offered by the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD). A new rail track link was recently established by the CVRD from Cowichan Lake to Duncan in the spring of 2011.
Additional trail segments from Duncan to Ladysmith are in the works - the regional district has about 50% of the E&N between these two communities in place, and more developments will be taking place through 2013-2015.
The award-winning mural town of Chemainus is located along the Trans Canada Trail. The town of Duncan boasts the BC Forest Discovery Center which highlights BC's logging railway heritage. Ladysmith is a great place to spend the night or to stop for lunch and supplies.
Ironically, in order to travel east (ie towards Vancouver, and ultimately Alberta) on the Cowichan Valley Trail, you'll be traveling mostly NORTH. Therefore, the following directions start at the southern boundary (Capital Regional District/Victoria) and will direct you north to the boundary with the Regional District of Nanaimo (just north of Ladysmith)
Please note, the portion of the trail from Victoria to Shawnigan Lake is a gap and cannot be travelled. There is however 13 km of well graded trail running along the western shore of Shawnigan Lake that should not be missed! Currently our interim route connects this trail to Victoria using the Trans Canada Highway (#1) but we feel this is a major safety hazard and should not be attempted. You may wish to access the trail from Shawnigan Lake Road which runs from the Mill bay ferry to the trail at the northwest corner of Shawnigan Lake.
Travelling north, after 2 km, you'll cross the Kinsol Trestle. The trail continues north, and begins to curve westward. From the trestle, it's 36 km of forested rail trail until reaching the westernmost point of the Trans Canada Trail at Lake Cowichan. At this point, the TCT separates from the Vancouver Island Spine Trail, which when complete will travel 700 km all the way to Cape Scott!
At this point, turn 180 degrees and start going east. The Cowichan Valley Trail crosses the Cowichan River and travels 27 km along the north bank of the river, roughly parallel to Highway 18 and crosses Cowichan Lake Rd several times. When approaching Duncan, the trail splits, and the TCT takes the fork to the LEFT, leaving the rail corridor and heading north, immediately crossing a small bridge. On the right, the trail continues for 800 metres, passing under Cowichan Lake Rd and ending at Sherman Rd. This route is being developed as a spur into the city centre.
We hope you took the fork to the left - and if so, the gravel trail begins to follow the gas pipeline towards Somenos. The trail ends abruptly 2.5 km later at the golf course. Turn right on Johnston and proceed to Somenos Rd. This is the start of the "Westholme Gap" - the Trans Canada Trail is incomplete from here to Chemainus.
Turn onto Highway 18 and travel east, crossing the highway. From here, there are two bypass routes which can be followed. Either turn north on Bell McKinnon Rd, which is a straightforward route to Chemainus Road. Otherwise, continue east on Herd Road, then turn north on Osbourne Bay Road, passing through Crofton, before reaching Chemainus Road. This latter route is longer but provides a wider shoulder and connects to the ferry terminal for Salt Spring Island.
Heading north on Chemainus Road, the Cowichan Valley Trail appears again along the E&N railway, starting at Crozier Road and continues for 2.2 km through Chemainus. From here, a second gap exists for 7.5 km - this is the "Chemainus Gap" - but a new section of E&N rail trail can be accessed through a forested park within 5 km on your left. Consult the map for exact directions!
From North Watts Road, the trail is a bike lane along Chemainus Road all the way to North David Road where you will cross the highway. Stay on the southbound shoulder, where a trail runs north, separated from the highway by a barrier, crossing Holland Creek using the highway bridge pedestrian walkway, then climbs uphill to the streets of Ladysmith on Bayview Ave. If stopping for lunch or hauling heavy gear on your bike, you might want to continue north on 1st Ave into town - this connects with the trail on the north side of town and is less complicated!
To stay on the TCT, turn right on Methuen St. When it ends at the highway, find the trail heading south, leading downhill to a tunnel under the highway. You will now find yourself in Transfer Beach Park on the waterfront, where the trail follows Transfer Beach Boulevard, then turn right onto Oyster Bay Drive, headed north to a car park on the right. From here, walkers can use a short stretch of quiet rail trail, but bicyclists might find it difficult to exit the trail (there are stairs at the northern end) so we recommend to ride along the quiet roads parallel to the rail trail.
At the northern edge of town, the trail leaves Rocky Creek Road, turning left
onto 1st Ave to cross the highway. Climbing uphill to the roundabout, turn right
onto Symon St, the immediately right onto 2nd Ave, continuing to Strathcona St
(turn left), then turn right onto Christie Road, which runs for 2.4 km, winding
180 degrees uphill. A blue gate on the right indicates a fomer logging road
where the Cowichan Valley Trail continues downhill, heading north past the fish
hatchery and over the Bush Creek bridge. From here, it is easy to navigate the
trail to Timberlands Road, where the Cowichan Valley Trail ends - and the
regional district of Nanaimo begins!
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The Trails Society of British Columbia
803 - 1018 Cambie Street
VANCOUVER BC V6V 6J6
Phone: (604) 899-0737