The “off season” throughout Vancouver Island goes roughly from October to April each year. The Cowichan Valley is no exception, experiencing mild and rainy winters much like Seattle, Vancouver, and many other locations on the Island. Snowfall does occasionally occur during winter but it makes our beautiful scenery lovelier.
The Cowichan Valley, located south Island bordering both the Nanaimo and Alberni-Clayoquot regions, is a region that consists of Cowichan Bay, Lake Cowichan, and the Cowichan River. It is approximately a 1-hour drive north from Victoria and a mere 20-minute drive south from Nanaimo.
The Cowichan Valley consists of the following locations:
- Mill Bay
- Honeymoon Bay
- Cobble Hill
- Cowichan Bay
- Genoa Bay
- Lake Cowichan
- Maple Bay
- North Cowichan
- Shawnigan Lake
- Thetis Island
Getting to the Cowichan Valley is Easy and Relaxing
- Take the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria – the trip on BC Ferries alone takes about 1.5 hours and is very relaxing. Do nothing on your trip except chill out while watching the views. Enjoy a casual meal or a gourmet coffee while sitting in comfortable chairs indoors. Get some fresh air on the open deck outdoors, and keep a sharp eye out for Pacific White-Sided dolphin pods or the majestic Killer Whale pods which call this part of BC home. For more information on the BC Ferry schedules please visit the official website: http://www.bcferries.com/schedules/mainland/hbna-current.php
- Fly into Nanaimo Airport (YCD). It is small and friendly with modern passenger facilities, and only a 10 minute drive away from Ladysmith, the starting point for the Cowichan Valley. The airport has daily flights that include Vancouver and Calgary. There are also float plane flights to the Nanaimo downtown harbour.
- Drop by on your boat or yacht. Guest moorage is available at the Ladysmith Harbour even during Vancouver Island’s off season.
- Ride the bus from Victoria or Nanaimo. A shuttle bus goes regularly to the Valley on a daily basis, and the Greyhound shuttle bus is available at BC Ferries in Nanaimo and Victoria.
- Drive up from Nanaimo or Victoria on a road trip. Some highlights worth visiting are just available by turning off from the highway, such as the Old Farm Market in Duncan which is open year-round (it is closed on Christmas, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day however).
Treat Yourself as You Visit Vancouver Island’s “Foodie Capitol”
Thanks to its fertile farmlands, the Cowichan Valley is home to several hidden gems based around everyone’s favourite things: food and drink! Annual food tours and events are held every year and there is many a distillery, winery, cidery, and craft brewery located within the Cowichan Valley. Vancouver Island’s very first winery was opened here!
- Book a table at the Farm Table Inn or stay the night at their B&B and get a delicious breakfast. The location is secluded and getting there is tricky (keep a sharp eye out for the white sign on the highway!), but spending time here is worth the effort. They offer seasonal feasts around the holidays as well as during the slower times of the year such as Spring, bringing to the table many a dish made from their farm’s ingredients. More information: https://www.farmtableinn.ca/
- Take a tour at the Westholme Tea Farm, Canada’s only commercial tea farm. Grown by an artisanal couple, there are many a seasonal tour as well as many delicious Island-grown herbal teas and flavours to explore! More information: https://www.westholmetea.com/
- Treat yourself to an ice cream cone at the Udder Guys’ ice cream parlour in Cowichan Bay. What makes this place so great is their ice cream contains no artificial additives or preservatives—just good ol’ ice cream made from their original recipe! Their ice cream is made on site daily and changes from season to season, so something you eat in late autumn will not be the same as what they feature in the spring! They also offer colouring pages on their website for kids. More info: https://www.originaludderguys.com/
- Go on a winery or cidery tour at the following venues: Merridale Ciderworks and Distillery, Averill Creek Vineyard, Rocky Creek Winery, Blue Grouse Estate Winery, Cherry Point Estate Wines, and Zanatta Vineyards, all just to name a few. Book a tour with the Cheers Tours and sample the finest wine and cider Vancouver Island has to offer visitors! More info: https://www.vancouverislandwinetours.com/cowichan-valley-wine-tours.html
- Go on a brewery tour at these craft beer hotspots: Riot Brewing Co., McBarley’s Brewing Co., and Red Arrow Brewing Company. Great food, great beer, and great company – what’s not to love?
- The Savour Cowichan Food Festival is a must if you want to really get a taste of what Cowichan Valley has to offer its visitors! This event is held annually and takes place at various restaurants and accommodations.
Enjoy Nature by Walking or Hiking
- Cowichan River Provincial Park is a great starting point for anyone who wants to go canoeing, kayaking, swimming, hiking, biking, fishing, camping, and even scuba diving and horseback riding. Be aware though that the currents of the Cowichan River fluctuate from season to season, so always stay safe if you want to venture out into the river. More info: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/cowichan_rv/
- The Kinsol Trestle is considered to be an engineering feat. Built in 1920 to transport timber via train, this is a 144-foot-high railway transformed into a crown jewel on the Cowichan Valley Trail. Visitors can run, walk, hike and cycle along the trestle at their leisure. More info: https://www.cvrd.bc.ca/1379/Kinsol-Trestle
- Chemainus River Park may not be open during the evenings, but during the day it is filled with the rugged outdoors charm you can expect to find here on Vancouver Island. You can hike along one of its rustic trails, check out the local wildlife, or go for a swim in one of the many natural deep swimming pools near the river. More info: https://www.cvrd.bc.ca/120/Chemainus-River-Park
- Explore Maple Mountain’s “Maple Syrup” Hiking Trail. Located in North Cowichan, Maple Mountain was long considered to be an unapproachable area, but now it’s treasured by joggers, hikers, and mountain bikers. Spend a day on its marked “blue” or “yellow” trails lined with arbutus trees, moss-covered rocks and landscapes, and incredible views of the mountainous terrain Vancouver Island is famous for. More info: https://www.trailforks.com/region/maple-mountain/
- The Cowichan Valley Trail consists of many other trails and is a major part of the Great Trail, or the Trans Canada Trail, that runs along southern Vancouver Island. The Kinsol Trestle is a part of this trail, as well as the Cowichan Valley Provincial Park and the Malahat. Travel along the trail in whatever way you see fit, whether it’s hiking or on a major bicycling trip. (Please note: the only trail currently unavailable to visitors on the Cowichan Valley Trail is the Holt Creek Trestle. It is closed for repairs. Closure will remain in effect until the summer of 2018.) More info: http://www.trailsbc.ca/tct/vancouver-island/cowichan-valley
The Arts & History throughout the Valley
- Chemainus’s Art Murals are an incredible peek into Vancouver Island’s past. Many talented artists in the Chemainus Festival of Murals Society have contributed to making Chemainus a must-visit as far as the Island’s arts and culture are concerned. Walk around at your own pace and see some amazing artwork such as the famous Native Heritage mural by Paul Ygartua. More info: https://muraltown.com/
- Add dinner to your show at the Chemainus Theatre, a well-known and must-visit hotspot in the Cowichan Valley. Ranging from comedy musicals to dramatic performances to concerts, there’s a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy at this venue. Their gift shop contains all kinds of locally made and beautiful art and crafts from the nearby artisans. More info: http://chemainustheatrefestival.ca/
- Get inspired with the Cowichan Artisans. Their studio offers behind-the-scenes tours of some of the most beautiful ways you can create art. More info: https://www.cowichanartisans.com/
- Catch a live show at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre in Duncan. The venue seats 731 people and features a wide range of shows created by local and national playwrights. More info: http://www.cowichanpac.ca/
- Bring your favourite maritime expert to the Ladysmith Maritime Museum, which is part of the Ladysmith Community Marina. The floating museum features several unique nautical displays and artifacts. There are also the nearby anchored heritage boats. One is the Saravan, a restored tug boat circa 1938, and the other is the C.A. Kirkegaard., which is a crew ferry boat. More info: http://www.lmsmarina.ca/welcome/museums-heritage-boats/
- The Ladysmith Waterfront Art Gallery features beautiful work made by local artists, sculptors, and artisans. There are exhibitions, workshops, and classes held regularly to those interested in honing their craftsmanship or looking to spend the day creating something beautiful and incredible. More info: http://www.ladysmithwaterfrontgallery.com/
- Maritime fans will love checking out the wooden boats at the Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre. This not-for-profit museum is dedicated to preserving, exhibiting, and demonstrating BC’s maritime heritage via the wooden boat. There is a well-equipped wood workshop available for kids and adults in addition to the museum and its exhibits. More info: https://www.classicboats.org/
Island Family Fun
- Take the kids to see nature up close and personal at the Pacific Northwest Raptors Rescue Wild birds of prey such as falcons, eagles, owls, and even ravens and crows to name a few who are discovered wounded are rescued and nursed back to health by the facility’s workers before being re-released into the wild. More info: http://pnwraptors.com/
- Bring your kids to the Island Savings Centre Arena. They have a Kidz-drop in zone where you can learn how to play pickle ball as well as other popular Canadian sports such as hockey. More info: https://www.cvrd.bc.ca/2401/Island-Savings-Centre
- Spend an afternoon at Transfer Beach in Ladysmith. You can rent a kayak or paddleboard, go swimming or have fun in their kids’ water park, or take a leisurely stroll along the Estuary Trail or the Marine Walk. More info: http://www.tourismladysmith.ca/top10/transfer-beach.php
- Events galore take place at the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds! Even after the biggest country music festival Sunfest takes place, there are all kinds of holiday fairs and a giant autumn fair in September that take place on these grounds. Drop in for a game of pickle ball on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays! More info: http://www.cowex.ca/
- Explore Duncan and find the many beautiful and historic totems. These totems are located throughout the entire city; can you find them all?
Winter Wonderland (h2)
- Catch a hockey game with the Cowichan Valley Capitals, a Junior “A” ice hockey team.
- Go ice skating or play ice hockey or curling at the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena.
- Winter farm markets take place throughout Duncan.
- Christmas wonders at the BC Forest Discovery Centre. The festive steam train takes visitors through beautiful scenery lit with many Christmas lights and decorations.
- The Ladysmith Festival of Lights is a must-see annual winter event in the Valley! Thousands of Christmas lights make for a beautiful drive or stroll through downtown Ladysmith. The official opening night is a spectacular sight to behold—there are even fireworks to cap off the evening!
Shopping in and Around the Valley
Shop till you drop at the many unique and independent shops throughout the Valley such as the following locations:
- Mary Fox Pottery. More info: http://www.maryfoxpottery.ca/
- Old Farm Market in Duncan. More info: https://oldfarmmarket.ca/
- Heartwood Studio Woodturning. More info: http://www.heartwoodstudio.ca/
- Scarletts Second Hand Boutique and Espresso Bar. More info: https://www.facebook.com/ScarlettsSecondHandBoutique%20/
- Downtown Ladysmith. More info: http://www.ladysmithdowntown.com/member-directory-list/
- Downtown Chemainus. More info: http://visitchemainus.ca/things-to-do/shopping/
Although very laid back, Cowichan Valley does have a night life. The following pubs and bars are open until late in the evening:
- The Old Firehouse Wine & Cocktail Bar. More info: http://www.theoldfirehouse.ca/
- Cowichan Bay Pub. More info: http://baypub.ca/
- Fox and Hounds. More info: http://www.foxandhoundsladysmith.com/
- CVI Restaurant + Lounge. More info: https://www.cvilounge.com/
Enjoy savouring everything that the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island has to offer during your travels!
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