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10 Best Things to Do in Cowichan Valley 

Located between Victoria and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, the Trans-Canada Highway offers access to a region begging to be discovered, it’s called the Cowichan Valley, also known as the Warm Land. 

Without a doubt, the Cowichan Valley is a top destination on Vancouver Island, providing many different types of activities. I had the great pleasure to live in right in the middle of this glorious region while housesitting near Duncan, Bc for three months and am thrilled to share the 10 best things to do in the Cowichan Valley. 

The following activities are perfect for a day trip from Victoria, a couple’s romantic weekend or even a Vancouver getaway with friends. Whether you like celebrating the outdoors on a hike while spotting bald eagles or enjoying some wine tasting and organic tea rituals, these 10 best things to do around Duncan in the Cowichan Valley will surprise and delight all your senses.

Regarding the region:


The actual name Cowichan is said to be an anglicized version of the tribal name of Quw’utsun, which translates in the local Hul’q’umi’num language: Sun Warming the Back. The Cowichan Valley boasts this saying at large, with recent claims of being the new “Provence” of Canada. We can attest to that as the valley benefits from Canada’s only maritime Mediterranean climate, a rare occurrence in this vast country of ours. 

In addition, this part of British Columbia is home to the biggest First Nations population, the Cowichan Tribes, which have inhabited these parts for as long as their oral tradition can recall. Furthermore, as it’s situated in a pleasant and comfortable climate, the area also offers a true communion with nature through the diverse ecosystem this incredible environment provides.

Here’s what you will get from this post

Table of contents

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1) Duncan’s Farmers Market: Allow 1-2 hours 


The Cowichan’s Valley is privileged by its warm and temperate climate, so it comes as no surprise that Duncan’s farmers’ market is the biggest gathering of its kind in the province. It runs every Saturday throughout the year, well almost year round, with only a short 2-week hiatus during the Christmas holiday season.

On-site, you’ll find a wide selection of organic, locally grown produce, grass-fed meats and free-range poultry and eggs. Browse the many vendors’ kiosks and stock up on artisan cheeses from the Happy Goat farm or locally produced Gin & Vodka from the award-winning distiller, Ampersand, the range of available products at the market is far and wide.
Didn’t have time for breakfast or lunch before visiting the Duncan’s market? Don’t fret. Food trucks on site offer many different tasty treats with vegetarian options which are also available. 

Live entertainment every Saturday (April to October), including singers, bands, choirs, magicians, and other performers.

Hours & Parking info: https://www.duncanfarmersmarket.ca/visitor-info

2) Totem Tour Self Guided Walk – Allow 1 hour


Already in the Duncan area for the Saturday’s Farmers Market? Take the time to visit the many totem poles erected throughout the easy to navigate downtown core. The Totem Pole project was aimed at celebrating the City and the Cowichan Tribes communities, it was started in 1985. Designed to attract visitors and help beautify Duncan’s Center, it has provided the town with a claim to fame of having the world’s largest outdoor collection of publicly displayed totem poles, hence its denomination the City of Totems.

With clearly marked yellow footprints on the sidewalks, you can easily follow the totem tour walking path, on a self-guided leisurely pace. Every totem pole is unique and carved by a different artist and each one tells a different story which is explained by a dedicated plaque.

One of the most impressive ones is most certainly the 34 feet tall (yes, you read that right – 34 FEET!!!) Centennial Pole whose story is represented by carvings of a Thunderbird and a Killer Whale amongst other things. The mythology of the carvings is somewhat mysterious and while we, as visitors, may not capture all of their significance, we understand that the depictions of the iconic salmon and grizzly bear are important symbolic figures to the native people.

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3) The Raptors Center – Birds of Prey – Allow 2 hours

It would be hard to imagine a better-suited environment for viewing birds of prey. Duncan is privileged as an area, offering a large natural population of owls, bald eagles, hawks, kites and falcons. This provides a venue which is ideally located for a rescue and educational centre for a wide variety of Pacific Northwest Raptors.

The Raptors centre is an incredible place to visit for any person wishing to spend some quality time with amazing feathered predators. You can visit the centre and view the wide variety of birds of prey and even the large marabou stork named Gaston. A flight show is included with your entrance, it’s a not to be missed event.

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The Raptor’s centre also gives you opportunities that very few places can, a chance to get real close to the birds as they offer several hands-on experience packages. The encounters can vary from a Hawk Walk in the woods with “your own bird” to a full-blown Raptor day program. In addition, they even offer apprenticeships and falconry courses for those looking for in-depth immersion.

Phil indulged in a Close Encounter package, providing him with hands-on pleasure, holding a perched hawk and an owl on his thick leathered falconry glove. This package included a walk in the woods, as the hawk was free to follow us at will, culminating in a clearing where we were treated to a private flight show with the bird of prey landing on the paying guests’ gloved arm – Awesome!

The Raptors is truly a special place to learn about and see birds of prey in action and in their natural habitat, all right here in Duncan, BC. During the flight show, there was a wild bald eagle settling atop a nearby tree, an unexpected visitor which the trainers had to gently hush away so that the presentation could carry on with the show’s resident predators, as both don’t mix very well we were told.

We’ve witnessed comparable falconry demonstrations during our recent visit to Scotland a place where the demonstrated hunting techniques go back centuries. We can’t recommend enough, spending some time at the Raptors if you enjoy birds of prey which can be appreciated in all of their splendour

4) Westholme Tea afternoon – Allow 1-2 hours

8350 Richards Trail, Westholme, BC


Make sure to mark down this address and put in your GPS because not many signs show the way to this unique place. Owned by Victor, the tea grower, and Margit, the artist potter, this unpretentious yet extraordinary
tearoom & gallery will amaze you. By its simplicity and also by its devotion to pure elements of creation and the passion that goes into it.

Proudly first of its kind in Canada, the farm has over 800 Camellia Sinensis plants which Victor cultivates and curates into exclusive Canadian “terroir” teas, while also blending imported and sourced organic and biodynamic teas from around the world.

The whole experience couldn’t be more authentic than how the tea is served in an original clay vessel, hand shaped by the extremely talented potter Margit. You can purchase “teacups’’, gorgeous teapots and also other handmade items such as tea light holders and bird nest vessels. No need to resist buying some fine art pieces as they ship internationally. With such a unique offering we couldn’t resist putting together a gift package of Canadian organic teas and pottery as a gift for some privileged friends to enjoy.

The tearoom offers a short menu of sweets, with vegan and gluten-free options, which are all done to perfection. As a matter of fact, like the rest of the elements in the gallery and shop, nothing is left to chance. If God is in the details, this place is set in heaven.

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5) Enjoy an afternoon in Cowichan Bay – Allow 2 hours


Journey a few kilometres South from Duncan, and you’’’ discover the small, but quaint village of Cowichan Bay. Amongst its many floating houseboats, you’ll find a great bakery, cute shops and a few restaurants. Stroll up the wharf to visit the tiny maritime museum where you’ll see vintage nautical paraphernalia including sepia pictures depicting past seafaring life. It’s interesting to know that the Cowichan Bay was the regional socialite’s playground at the turn of the century, many would come to enjoy the fresh air, fish for salmon and even hunt.

The Cowichan Bay has a vast estuary where one can spot a wide array of wildlife such as eagles, ducks, herons and geese. You can also rent kayaks to enjoy the bay up close and personal, or even enjoy an organized outing during a full moon.

Tip: Try the Rock Cod Cafe for some amazing fish tacos that can be enjoyed with many a local beer.

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Planning to visit the Cowichan Valley and wondering where to stay?

There are a few lodging options right here in Cowichan Bay, it’s a perfect setting, right in nature while still remaining very close to Duncan and most local attractions.

6) Trans Canada Trail from Walking to Hiking – Allow 2 – 4 hours or as much as your heart desires


British Columbia is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and the Cowichan Valley is no different. With the Trans Canada Trail which runs between Victoria and Nanaimo going right through the valley, you can walk, jog and hike to your heart’s content. Enjoy the rainforest and its magnificent tall trees, which happen to be renowned as some of the tallest in the world!

The trail which often uses abandoned rail tracks and wooden bridges, such as the Kinsol Trestle, is fairly flat and provides a well packed and sometimes paved terrain. Covering over 132 km in the Cowichan Valley, the trail also traverses some villages like Chemainus and Ladysmith. If you plan on using the trail, make sure to bring appropriate footwear as the West Coast climate often makes for slippery terrain.

View the trail details here: http://www.trailsbc.ca/tct/vancouver-island/cowichan-valley

Get more ideas on what to do on Vancouver Island 

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7) Kinsol Trestle – Allow 1 hour 


A great testimony to a human engineering feat, this structure doesn’t leave anyone indifferent. Many locals had mentioned the Kinsol as a point of interest but we kept putting it off, somewhat feeling uninterested by the whole affair. Then one fine afternoon, we aimed to find the trestle and managed to access it from the back roads, following somewhat unclear signage from Duncan, venturing through Mountain Road. Make sure to have a GPS if you choose this route, we almost missed it twice! From the road, you’ll park right in front of the Trans Canada Trail and after only a short walk towards the left, the amazing wooden railway trestle will appear, it’s a really incredible sight to see from a top and also from below as you can explore at will from all angles.

The Kinsol Trestle
was used for transporting timber for logging, a very prominent industry in the region, in times past. Standing at 44 meters tall and 187 meters in length, it’s one of the tallest free-standing timber trestles in the world. The easiest way to access the site by car is from the Shawnigan Lake area, just follow the governmental blue signs from the Trans-Canada. The area is open from dawn to dusk, has toilet facilities and is accessible to wheelchairs. Pack a lunch and make use of the picnic tables on site, enjoy the day and take in the glorious scenery which abounds. Make your way to this spectacular structure, which is indeed an incredible viewing opportunity while in the Cowichan Valley.

Did you know? The Kinsol Trestle was scheduled to be demolished in 2006, to be replaced by an imitation engineered timber bridge? Read the whole story of the man who saved the Kinsol Trestle  

Marquestra Things to Do in Cowichan Valley
Marquestra Things to Do in Cowichan Valley

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Want to see more of Vancouver Island? Grab a road trip itinerary from Nanaimo to Tofino here 

8) Chemainus Murals Allow 1-2 hours


Had enough of the woods, head over to
Chemainus, the city that would not be forgotten or put away. It’s known as “The Little Town That Could”. There was a time when this small town benefited from the top resources that Vancouver Island provided: fishing, logging and mining. But when all of those resources declined, and industry ceased to produce, the town struggled. As a result of resilient thinking and creativity, the mural project was born.


The concept was to depict Chemainus’s history via large murals painted on the town’s walls. This community-driven art tourism project now has over 44 artistic re-creations that can be viewed throughout the area of the town. The tour is free and is easily viewed by following clearly marked yellow footsteps painted on the sidewalk as you follow the designated route. If you come during off season, be advised that most businesses will be closed on Sundays, so plan accordingly. Chemainus is about 20 km north of Duncan.

 

Just a few of the many murals

Want more things to do in Cowichan Valley? How about some wine or cider tasting?

9) Wineries & Cidery – Allow 2-4 hours 

 
With its many award-winning wineries, the Cowichan Valley will delight most discerning of wine enthusiasts. Admittedly, we were sceptical about going wine tasting in the region, our judgment was somewhat clouded by the wines produced in our home province of Quebec. Wrong assumptions we’d preconceived as we were in for some tasty surprises. The Warm Land’s dry summers and mild and rainy winters create the perfect setting for vines to grow, providing close to ideal conditions for many “cepages”, especially Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and some adapted varietals that do well in this region. 

Here are the wine venues we strongly recommend you visit while in the Cowichan Valley.


Unsworth Vineyards 

Not only does this vineyard have a spectacular Pinot Noir that is absolutely divine and worth writing home about, it also houses a fabulous bistro. The artisanal spirit comes across in wine naming, with such names as Tim Buck Two – the owners’ names it Tim or also with the whimsy chicken caboose set amongst the vines.
Inquire about visiting hours and directions here: https://www.unsworthvineyards.com/visit-us/ 
Address: 2915 Cameron Taggart Rd #1 Mill Bay, BC V0R 2P2

Tip: It’s worth getting a glass of their Pinot Noir at the bistro if they’ve run out or aren’t pouring at the tasting room!
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Blue Grouse

Architecture and design await at this freshly renovated tasting room. Brilliantly done, this family-owned vineyard has evidently learned a lot from their 20 years of winemaking. Crisp whites and delightful reds are ready for tasting. Why not plan to eat on the premise, as they offer a special combo over the weekend, which consists of homemade soup, perogies or a charcuterie platter with a glass of wine. Outside picnic areas are available on site.

Adress: 2182 Lakeside Road, Duncan, BC V9L 6M3

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Emandare

Simple yet elegant, this tiny vineyard is worth the detour. The minute you’re greeted by the owner Mike, his passion for wine is clear and obvious. A passion he shares with his beloved partner and wife, Robin. This couple has established themselves to a new life in Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley, dedicated to producing wine which is 100% organically grown on their estate without commercial yeast or additives. An endeavour that has proven successful as the results are impressive and fully merit ageing in the worthiest of cellars. 

Address:  6798 Norcross Road. Duncan BC, Canada, V9L 6C3

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Country charm at its best, come for a pleasant stroll amongst the orchards, stop at the distillery and head to the bar for a taste of the fruit of their labour. You’ll find more than just ciders to sample as they also produce a number of spirits, such as brandy on site. 
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10) Find the perfect patio in and around one of the many bays – Allow 2-4 hours


If you enjoy taking it easy on an outside patio while surrounded by gorgeous scenery, heading to any of the Cowichan Valley’s bays is a must do. With the region’s coastline offering loads of sheltered bays, you’ll find a wide selection to choose from, all of which are the perfect place to spend a leisurely afternoon with a drink and a view. 

Bridgeman’s Bistro in Mill Bay Come for the food, stay for the view!
740 Handy Road, Mill Bay, BC, V0R 2P1 
 
The Bridgeman’s Bistro is a bistro pub, set right over the water, at the end of a wharf in Mill Bay. With outstanding views of the Saanich Inlet and Mt. Baker, you might even get a glimpse of the local swans. Rain or shine, this outside patio has got you covered.
Lunch, dinner & weekend brunch // Mon – Fri 11:30am – 8pm // Sat-Sun 10am – 8pm. 
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Photo Credit ~ The Bridgeman’s Bistro 

Genoa Bay Café in Genoa Bay:
We’re almost tempted not to divulge this place and keep it all to ourselves. Genoa Bay is one of those rare spots on the planet where you get the sensation that you’ve just discovered your own secret place. Peace and tranquillity are on the menu, relax amongst the tall giants of the forest which encircle this calm bay. Local friends highly recommended Genoa Café. With its somewhat random schedule and opening hours, reservations are highly recommended.
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Genoa Bay’s idyllic view

The Lion Rampant in Maple Bay:
This casual Scottish pub has one of the most impressive views of the valley. The food is good and the prices are reasonable, all the while, offering very friendly service. Watch the local float planes go by and forget about your troubles. Stick around for a happy hour and listen to live music on Friday nights. Good times assured.
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Maple Bay ~ Best View in town from the Lion’s Rampant 

This rounds up our list of fun things to do in the Cowichan Valley. We hope we’ve convinced you to make it a destination of choice while exploring Vancouver Island.


As for us, we can’t wait to return and explore some more…

Pressed for time, why not hire a local guide to take you around the Cowichan Valley.
Local “VIE/ Vancouver Island Expeditions” will take good care of you…

Have you been to the Cowichan Valley?
Please share your experiences, comments or questions below…

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