• Distance: 147km
  • Terrain: Gravel, Pavement
  • Elevation Gain: 993m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trip Length: 2 Days
  • Cycling Time: 12 hrs

Our ride through the Cowichan Valley via the Swartz Bay and Departure Bay ferries was an amazing escape from the city, with the majority of the route on separated bike trails including the Lockside Trail (outside Victoria) and the Cowichan Valley Trail. The Cowichan Valley trail extends over 122 km of multi-use trails which were converted from an old railway line. The trail took us over a number of large trestles, through beautiful farmland, forests and along the Cowichan River. We ended our first day at the Stoltz Pool campground and had a relaxing night before completing the last leg to Nanaimo.

Our ride began in Swartz Bay after taking the ferry from Vancouver.

We started off the day bright and early from our apartment in central vancouver and made our way down to the Tsawwassen Ferry, making a very important stop along the way to pick up coffee from JJ Bean. We’ve done the ride to the ferry a few times before and opted to haul our loaded bikes onto the Canada Line (it was sunday morning, and luckily quiet) and then onto the bus which miraculously had no other cyclist.

Taking the ferry to Mill Bay.
Taking the ferry to Mill Bay.

Taking the ferry to Mill Bay.

On the other side of the ferry we hopped on the popular Lockside Trail, a divided cycling trail from Sydney to Victoria. We cut off the trail shortly after Sydney to make our way through the farm roads of Saanich to the Brentwood Bay Ferry. The ferry from brentwood bay to Mill Bay is super small and takes cash only. However the Thrifty Foods in Sydney offers discounted tickets for this route. After getting off the ferry we took a windy road to the small town of Mill Bay and loaded up on groceries. The next town we passed through after a slow climb up from the ocean was shawnigan lake. To our disappointment our favorite bakery (Oma’s Bakery) was closed since it was sunday, but we ordered a pizza for lunch from a spot across the street. We continued along Shawnigan Lake Rd, following the signs for the Kinsol Trestle.

Kinsol Trestle.
Kinsol Trestle.
Below the Kinsol Trestle.
Below the Kinsol Trestle.

Once we were on the trail it was smooth sailing, despite some muddy sections. The trail leads to the famous kinsol trestle within a few minutes, which is beautiful but can be busy. The trail was easy to ride, with fresh packed gravel and the occasional stretches of single track. After the Kinsol Trestle the crowds of walkers dissipated and the trail weaved through beautiful farmland and heavily forested sections. Nearing the end of the route we crossed a few more trestles including the Holt and the 66 mile trestle.

Cowichan Valley Trail.
Cowichan Valley Trail.

Cowichan Valley Trail.

The last part of our route crossed over the Cowichan River and onto River Bottom Rd which was a hilly gravel road before descending into Stoltz Pool Campground. We were excited to arrive at the forested campsite which included a beautiful walk in site which we chose. After doing a quick set up we poured some wine and took a short walk to the river. After enjoying the amazing evening light on the river we made a dinner of veggies, pasta and sausage. The next morning we pack up early and made coffee on the river and took a little dip in the surprisingly warm water.

Cowichan River.
Cowichan River.
Camping at Stoltz Pool Campground.
Camping at Stoltz Pool Campground.
Taking a morning dip before riding home.
Taking a morning dip before riding home.

From the campsite we continued along River Bottom Rd which followed the Cowichan River from about 10 km, before connecting to the busy Cowichan Lake Rd. We reconnected to the Cowichan Valley trail at Castley Rd. which we followed downhill into Duncan. We took a little break at the Duncan Garage to enjoy some healthy, local, organic while listening to the sounds of Duncan’s 39 day music festival.

Riding into Duncan.
Riding into Duncan.

Lunch break at the Duncan Garage.
Lunch break at the Duncan Garage.

From Duncan we were limited to taking Highway 19 to Nanaimo, which was littered with logging truck and crazy summer traffic. There are optional scenic routes through Chemainus and Cedar if you have the time spare and want a break from the highway noise. Although it’s wasn’t a very fun highway to ride, there was a decent shoulder and we were excited to see a few other cycle tourists on the road.

PHOTO GALLERY

  1. Rob
    Aug 18, 2017

    We just did this ride last week in a slightly different approach. We started in Vancouver and went first by ferry to Saltspring Island, staying at the beautiful and bike friendly Ruckle Park. We biked up island to Vesuvius and took the ferry to Crofton, and then joined the trail in Duncan and went to Cowichan, returning on the south side of the river to Shawnigan Lake. Since this article was writtent, the Cowichan trail has been extended south and links with a brand new trail, the Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail. It is beautifully engineered, wide and firm gravel packed. BUT, as it goes over the Malahat, it is steep. If you are have any kind of load, you’ll be pushing your bike over the steepest sections; some tough sections. None of them are technically challenging, just plain old steep!

    Despite the name, the trail’s southern terminus is not Sooke, it’s Langford. You can connect with the Galloping Goose from there and get to Victoria, the ferries to Vancouver or to Sooke.

    Reply
    • admin
      Aug 22, 2017

      We love Ruckle Park! We recently did the Sooke Wilderness Trail as well(still working on the story for it). I defiantly know what you mean by steep, lots of hiking the bike up those hills. We took it from langford over to Cowichan River and opted to go back on the Brentwood bay ferry rather then face the hills again. I would like to try without the big load because it is a beautiful trail system.
      Nice hearing about your trip!

      Reply