Cowichan Valley Trail

New logoThe main trailhead of the Cowichan Valley Trail ( is located at  a well-marked kiosk at Sooke Lake Road, near the south end of Shawnigan Lake (officially, the Cowichan Valley Trail starts further south at the southern boundary of Cowichan Valley Regional District).  From Sooke Lake Road, the Trail heads north along the west side of Shawnigan Lake, following a well-graded natural gas pipeline right-of-way and the abandoned rail grade of the 1913 Canadian Northern Pacific Railway, which now carries both the Trans Canada Trail and the Vancouver Island Trail all the way to the town of Lake Cowichan.

The trail is typically 2-4 m wide with a gravel surface. It crosses Renfrew Road before approaching the Kinsol Trestle from the south. The Kinsol Trestle ( over the Koksilah River is a timber railway bridge built in the early 1900’s and recently reconstructed after a community fund-raising effort. It is one of the highest (at 44 m) and longest (188 m) timber railway trestles still in existence and traces a graceful curve across the river. Visitors are impressed not only by its size but also by its height above the Koksilah River. North of the Kinsol Trestle, the trail joins Riverside Road, crosses Mountain Road and proceeds northwest to the Glenora farming area – mostly pastures and hay land but also some vineyards.

Past the Glenora area, the Vancouver Island Trail (and TCT) heads more or less to the west along the Cowichan River on the 1913 rail grade and over several old wooden trestles such as the Holt Trestle, and eventually crosses over to the north side of the Cowichan River at Marie Canyon via the 66 Mile Bridge.  Since this section too is part of the old CNPR railroad grade, the surface is level and packed  gravel at least two metres wide in most places but much more grown-in compared to the first part of the trail.  It passes through maturing second-growth forests and as to the south is suited to a range of users – not only hikers but also cyclists and equestrians. Most of the Glenora to Lake Cowichan section is within Cowichan River Provincial Park, where short side trips can also be made along a number of trails that more closely follow the south bank of the Cowichan River, as shown in the map below.  Riverside trails continue west all the way to the Mile 66 Trestle.

In the past, hikers have found suitable spots to camp near the Holt Creek – Cowichan River confluence.  Further west, Skutz Falls is a great spot to stop for a snack and a cool-down on a hot summer day.   When you reach Lake Cowichan, you will find it is a natural “re-supply” town, with post office, stores, restaurants, pubs, motels and other facilities for trail users. While the basis of the local economy is forestry, tourism is also important and the town has developed in an an aesthetic, park-like setting along the lake and river.

Here is a GPS track in gpx format:   Download

Total distance: 49358 m
Max elevation: 207 m
Min elevation: 84 m
Total climbing: 373 m
Total descent: -397 m

Updated May 2022