Explore Cowichan: Cowichan River

Cowichan River

This is a major recreational hub for the Cowichan Valley region, with uses shared between cycling, walking and enjoying the water, but heavily weighted towards tubing on hot summer days. A good option is cycling, as Cowichan Valley has done such a wonderful job with the Cowichan Valley Trail, which meanders alongside the Cowichan River in a forest setting to points such as the Kinsol Trestle.
Cowichan River Provincial Park: This is a great hub for camping, fishing, swimming, paddling, hiking, cycling or simply enjoying a forested river setting. A half-dozen waterfront sites allow a variety of ways to access the 27 km of protected riverfront parkland. In the fall spawning salmon can be viewed at the Skutz Falls and Marie Canyon areas. The park protects 1,414 hectares with its Garry oak meadow believed to be the most westerly stand found in Canada. Rare wildflowers found here include the cup-clover near Skutz Falls, blue-eyed-Mary and fawn lily. At Stoltz Pool is the Burma Star Memorial Cairn, a half-size replica of the Kohima Monument in Myamar (Burma) is a commemoration of Duncan’s Victoria Cross recipient Major Charles Ferguson.
Camping: There are three campgrounds in the park. The Stoltz Pool campground has 39 vehicle-accessible sites and four walk-in sites. It is open year-round. The Skutz Falls campground has 33 sites and is closed during the winter. Group campsites are located at the Stoltz Pool and Horseshoe Bend sites, and can be reserved.
Short Walks: The shortest loop trail is the Stoltz Pool Loop, reached from the Stoltz Pool day-use area. It follows the river then turns back inland through the forest to return to the campsite. Other short loops are possible from the Holt Creek Trailhead. For the motivated, the Skutz/66-Mile Loop Trail is an 8-km outing along both sides of the river using the Skutz Falls forest service bridge and the 66-Mile Trestle to cross the river. For those considering walking a portion of the Cowichan River Footpath, scenic viewpoints are at the 66-Mile and Holt Creek trestles, while a short trail leads from the Marie Canyon parking lot to the waterfront.
Hiking: The Cowichan River Footpath travels 20 km along the Cowichan River from Skutz Falls to Glenora. BC Parks recommends 6.5 hours to complete the trail.
Cycling: The Cowichan Valley Trail Trail starts in the village of Lake Cowichan at Saywell Park and runs generally parallel to the Cowichan River. It is not often adjacent to the river, though, plus it runs through immature forest and has few viewpoints. This makes it less appealing than foot trails within the park, but bikes are prohibited on those routes and the forest route is actually quite wonderful and a good opportunity to cycle a fair distance without the worry of traffic. For that alone it deserves high praise.
Paddling: Canoeing and kayaking the Cowichan River are both popular, with whitewater rapids between Skutz Falls and Marie Canyon. A river pullout is located at the Skutz Falls day-use area and a boat launch for non-motorized vehicle is at the Stoltz Pool day-use area. An option for casual recreational tubers is to begin at Marie Canyon and pull out at Sandy Pool. It is about an hour down-river, with some strong currents, particularly at the Marie Canyon put-in.
Fishing: Cowichan River is known for its coho, chinook and chum salmon, as well as for rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout; it is one of just two Vancouver Island rivers with brown trout. Fishing is closed October to mid-December, with other possible fishing restrictions posted at the park.
Skutz Falls: This is the entry for the Skutz Falls campground and day-use area, the Horseshoe Bend group campsite and the Marie Canyon day-use area.
Glenora Trailhead: From south Duncan take Miller Road west to Glenora Road, to Vaux Road, then onto Robertson Road.
Mount Prevost: A trail north of Cowichan River heads up Mount Prevost. The trailhead is off Mount Prevost Road, which may or may not be drivable. Hiking Hill 60, north of Cowichan River Provincial Park, is possible; ongoing logging is always a problem for casual trails here.
Chemainus River Provincial Park: This small (103-hectare) park protects part of the Chemainus River and a few key recreational spots popular for swimming, fishing and viewing the summer steelhead and coho runs. Steelhead are found in the deep pools above Copper Canyon. Casual trails follow the river but mostly just to water holes. Old access roads provide level terrain for walking while dirt bike trails criss-cross the area. Camping is not allowed.