The Cowichan Valley ranges north across the Malahat Ridge from Victoria through the Cowichan and Chemainus Valleys to Nanaimo, including a cross-island trip to Carmanah-Walbran Provincial Park.
This slice of southern Vancouver Island covers the country between Port Renfrew and near Bamfield on the west coast, and Malahat and Nanaimo on the east side of Vancouver Island.
Most of the population lives along the east coast, where farming in the lush, rolling Cowichan and Chemainus Valleys has gone hand in hand with logging since Vancouver Island was an independent Crown colony. The heart of agriculture lies south of Nanaimo, the Hub City, and this pastoral atmosphere persists as you make you way north towards Parksville. However, it’s hard to ignore the slopes of the Vancouver Island Mountains that begin to nudge travellers closer to the coastline for wont of wide valley bottoms. Most roads west peter out quickly in the face of this granitic tour de force. The exception is the cross-island melange of paved highway and gravel logging roads that link the sheltered Cowichan Valley with the storm-battered community of Bamfield on the west coast.
A greater contrast is hard to find, which is what makes exploring this region so fascinating. There’s plenty of easygoing adventuring to be found by sticking to the main routes, although everyone should treat themselves to a backroad or two where the valleys meet the Strait of Georgia.
There are beaches here the likes of which are found nowhere else on the coast, with views that engender intimacy with the landscape, yet emphasize its isolation.
Whether it’s adrenaline or unwinding you crave, you’ll find it here. Enjoy world-class kayaking, the best flyfishing anywhere, hiking through ancient rainforests, championship year-round golf or cruising our spectacular coastline. Follow all of that with a gourmet meal at the vineyard, a stroll through seaside shops, an evening of live theatre and you’ll start to see the world differently.
The Pacific Marine Circle Tour is an excellent way to explore the historic West Coast of Vancouver Island. The wilderness route traces the coastline from Victoria through Sooke and Port Renfrew, continuing onto the Cowichan Valley and looping back down the Trans-Canada Highway via Duncan to Victoria.
Location: The most westerly section of the 4,850-mile (7809-km) Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) runs north-south through southern Vancouver Island between Victoria and Nanaimo, a distance of 70 miles (113 km). Highway 14 runs 22 miles (35 km) north of Nanaimo to Parksville, and beyond to the northern end of Vancouver Island. Highway 4 links Parksville with Port Alberni, Ucluelet, and Tofino on the west side of Vancouver Island. Highway 18 is an 18-mile (29-km) stretch of blacktop that runs east-west from Highway 1 through the Cowichan Valley between Duncan and Youbou. From Youbou a series of logging roads leads 67 miles (108 km) west to Bamfield on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
A ferry service from Brentwood Bay on the Saanich Peninsula to Mill Bay at the north end of Malahat Drive also connects with Highway 1. BC Ferries connects the Lower Mainland with Nanaimo’s Departure Bay from the Horseshoe Bay terminal in West Vancouver, and Duke Point from the Tsawwassen terminal in Delta. BC Ferries also connects with southern Vancouver Island at Crofton from Vesuvius Bay on Salt Spring Island, and with Chemainus from Thetis and Kuper Islands.