If you’re taking a course at VIU’s Cowichan campus and looking for something to do after class, or otherwise eager for some adventure, here is a list of just a few of the many hikes and trails available in the Cowichan Valley.
Location: Chemainus. This trail is located on River Road (on the opposite side of the highway as the town of Chemainus.) It’s about a one minute drive from the highway, near the very visible gravel parking lot.
This lovely 2.5 k loop around Chemainus Lake is complete with some pretty decently sized trees (no Avatar Grove, but nothing to sneeze at, either), and a view of the small and mildly marshy Chemainus Lake. The calm waters are very reflective, and therefore very photogenic. Several creeks and mini waterfalls also provide good photo opportunities. The trail is well-maintained, perfect for running and hiking.
Location: Lake Cowichan. Located near the end of Marble Bay Road, you’ll see a gravel parking lot on your right-hand side, along with a sign giving information on the hike.
This 2-3 hour hike is about as easy as mountain hiking comes. The trail employs switchbacks, which prevents the climb from feeling too steep. You get a fairly good view of the lake and the Woodland Shores subdivision as you begin your ascent, but the best views are further up. For a very easy hike, take the plateau loop (which boasts an extremely good view) and then head back down. If you’re up for a little more adventure, take the Summit Trail, which provides views from both sides of the mountain.
Once you hit the sign saying “end of maintained trail,” it may be tempting to turn back around. But no, press on for another twenty metres and you will come across a very large and photogenic rock you can climb for more sweeping views of the lake.
Location: Duncan. With multiple trailheads to choose from, my favourite is the access point from St. Anne’s Church off Tzouhalem Road. Follow the gravel road that leads from the church parking lot.
Mt. Tzouhalem contains several trails and provides views of Duncan, Cowichan Bay, Salt Spring Island, and even Mount Baker if the weather is clear. The most popular viewpoint is the Cross Summit lookout, which gets its name from the large cross that adorns the 180 degree viewpoint. Whichever trail you take, it’s a relatively quick hike and most of the trails are well-maintained.
Location: Youbou. This hike is located above the community hall on Hemlock Road. Park in the gravel parking lot above the hall, then head left by foot. You’ll see a water tower through the trees. Head up to the water tower, then go left again. Do not go up the trail heading to the community watershed. The Christopher Rock trail is about 10 metres past, and will be on your right.
Lucky for you, the torturous climb is fairly short (the whole route can be done in well under an hour) and gives a glorious view of Cowichan Lake. Christopher Rock is a mossy bluff that you can sit on (trust me, you will need the break) while enjoying the fact that you just climbed a mountain. Wear shoes with good grip, because the trail is almost as tough to descend as it is to ascend.
Glenora Trailshead Park
Location: Glenora. This park can be reached from Robertson Road in Glenora. There will be a dirt road on your left, which will lead you to a parking area. From there, signs at the trailheads will tell you where to go.
With several hikes to choose from, Glenora Trailshead is the perfect launchpad for further adventures. The Trans-Canada Trail passes through the park—one end heads toward Lake Cowichan, and the other toward Shawnigan Lake and the famous Kinsol Trestle. The trailhead for the Cowichan River Footpath is also located at this park, which stretches all the way to Skutz Falls for a total length of 20k. The park is surrounded by lush forests full of rushing creeks and trickling streams. Access to the Glenora Riverside Park can also be found here.
Cobble Hill Mountain
Location: Cobble Hill. If you’re travelling from Duncan or Nanaimo, turn right off the Trans-Canada Highway onto Cobble Hill Road. Then turn right into Empress Avenue. You will see a parking lot next to the train tracks.
A fairly easy mountain climb, Cobble Hill Mountain is packed with good views and shady forests full of birds and other wildlife. The trail uses switchbacks to keep the steepness in check. It’s not too long, and the views of the Cowichan Valley and the Gulf Islands are fantastic. There’s a nice picnic bench near the top you can eat lunch at while enjoying the view.