Cowichan Valley 8
118 Mi.(190 KM)
% Rideable (time)
Ride and Report
Vancouver Island, located off Canada’s Pacific Coast, is a four-season playground for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. Its mild climate and diverse terrain open up endless opportunities for year-round adventures. The Cowichan Valley 8 seeks to introduce these opportunities as a two- to three-day bikepacking route, sure to be appreciated by locals and visitors alike.
The route, roughly following the shape of a figure-eight, starts and ends in British Columbia’s capital, the city of Victoria. Not only is Victoria easily accessible for visitors, this vibrant city makes an ideal place to spend time before or after the ride. The Cowichan Valley 8 follows several popular, multi-use trails along the way, including the Galloping Goose Trail, Sooke Wilderness Trail, Cowichan Valley Trail, and Lochside Trail. Shortly after navigating Victoria’s urban pathways, you’re soon immersed in a scenic tour of what’s known as the South Island, eventually skirting alongside the Cowichan River before the return journey back to Victoria.
The Cowichan Valley lies within the Coast Salish First Nations territory, extending throughout British Columbia and northern Washington State. The route passes through several smaller parcels of First Nation land, including Songhees, Esquimalt, Malahat (MÁLEXEȽ), and Cowichan, the largest single First Nations Band in British Columbia. Along the way you’ll also see evidence of settler history, in the form of old railway, logging, and mining infrastructure.
The Cowichan Valley 8 makes for a perfect weekend escape for locals and visitors alike, and its diverse terrain and lush rainforests will have you wishing for more by the time you’re done.
DifficultyHaving a route start and finish in the downtown core of a large city centre like Victoria means the route is accessible to a lot of people. This is exactly what we wanted, and we think that’s a good thing. That being said, the route is not without its challenges. The biggest climb is early in the route, just after passing Goldstream Provincial Park at about kilometre 24, topping out at about 1,480′. The majority of the route follows gravel doubletrack, and is non-technical. However, after heavy rainfall there are sections in the Sooke Hills Wilderness that can become rutted and soft due to runoff, which may be more enjoyable on a mountain bike with wide tires. When the trails are dry, the entire route can be comfortably ridden on most gravel bikes, assuming you’ve got proper climbing gears and the ability to tackle steep climbs and descents.
Route Development: The Cowichan Valley 8 was inspired first and foremost by the good folks of the B.C Bikepacking Facebook Group, who assisted with the initial concept of a route starting and ending in downtown Victoria. Julian Brooks, a longtime Vancouver Island local, joined me to ride the route in its entirety, and was crucial to the development of the route and educating me on the history of the region.
- The Galloping Goose Regional Trail serves as a fantastic start to the ride, and a quick escape from the city.
- Sooke Hills Wilderness offers views of the ocean, city, and mountains.
- The Great Trail, the longest recreational path in the world.
- Cowichan River Provincial Park provides great camping opportunities on the edge of the Cowichan River.
- The Mill Bay Ferry. Who doesn’t love a ferry ride?
- We scouted the route during the last week of December, as there was no snow yet. The route can be ridden during the spring, summer, fall, and into the winter depending on snowfall.
- Respect private land signage. Although the land surrounding the route might look like public land, the vast majority of it isn’t. Don’t stray off trail unless you are certain it’s allowed.
- The First Nations Territory plays a massive role throughout the entire route. Take some time to learn about, and respect their people. Head over to the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations website to learn more.
- No wilderness camping is available along the route, no matter how tempting it may be.
- Provincial Park Campgrounds are your best bet for where to spend a night or two. Save some cash, beat the crowds, and explore the route during the off-season!
- Private campgrounds also exist in the area.
- Cabin rentals on Shawnigan Lake could be a great option if the weather is wearing you down.
- Resupply in Victoria, Shawnigan Lake, Cowichan Lake, and Duncan.
- Plenty of natural water sources on route. Bring a way to purify.
- Provincial Park Campgrounds and some day-use areas will have taps or water pumps on site.
Starting in the heart of downtown Victoria, the route begins at the steps of British Columbia’s Parliament Buildings. Right away, you’ll link up with the Vancouver Island portion of The Great Trail, also part of Vancouver Island’s Galloping Goose Trail. This multi-use trail is 60km long, providing a safe bicycle route from Victoria to Sooke. However, the route veers north in Langford, continuing along The Great Trail and onto the Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail. The climb up is steep and challenging, but on a clear day you’ll be greeted with views of the ocean and mountains in the distance.
The Cowichan Valley Trail, which is primarily a wide gravel path, passes on the west side of Shawnigan Lake, crossing several smaller bridges and the popular Kinsol Trestle along the way. This trail continues north to Cowichan River, following its banks to the town of Lake Cowichan. During the summer, this is a popular spot to access river tubing, swim, and cool off. The Cowichan Valley Trail turns back eastward, passing by Cowichan River Provincial Park and great camping opportunities at Stoltz Pool Campground, passing through the town of Duncan before joining the top loop of the route’s figure-eight shape.
After a short backtrack along the Cowichan Valley Trail, the route heads east along the Northern edge of Shawnigan Lake. Don’t forget to stop at the Shawnigan House café for a warm drink and baked goods. After passing by Bamberton Provincial Park, a potential camping spot along the route, the Mill Bay Ferry provides safe crossing to Brentwood Bay. This offers quick access to Lochside Regional Trail, a well-trafficked multi-use trail that eventually leads right back to the Galloping Goose Trail and downtown Victoria.