Our ride through the Cowichan Valley via the Swartz Bay and Departure Bay ferries was an amazing escape from Vancouver, with the majority of the route on separated rail trails including the Lockside Trail and portions of the 122km long Cowichan Valley Trail. The route took us over a number of sizable trestles, through beautiful farmland and forests, and along the Cowichan River.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.