Fun Things to Do in the Cowichan Valley, BC

“That big boss walked around me, looked me up and down and said, ‘Mister, I believe that boy’s made outta second growth timber…”

~ Johnny Cash

Imagine the days when the logger and the miner roamed the dusty streets of Ladysmith or Chemainus. When the hard-working men of the late 1800s and early 1900s sidled up to the bar, had a cold one at the end of a long shift with the smells of either cedar or coal still clinging to their sweaty shirts. When everyone became part of the towns and cities that quickly developed around them. Or imagine the days when the First Nations people lived entirely off the land and its resources. (“Cowichan” comes from the First Nations’ word meaning “Warmed Lands” because of the temperate climate and the long growing season.)

cowichan valley bc
Wherever you turn in the Cowichan Valley, there is a reminder of this past prosperity. You can see it in the museums at Lake Cowichan and Cowichan Bay, or in the totem poles and the Quw’utsun Cultural Centre in Duncan. Or the heritage buildings in Ladysmith.

There are also signs that people are moving forward, despite the decline in the lumber and mining industries which had brought so many people to the area years ago.

The Cowichan Valley is the place to work the land. As Margaret Mitchell said in Gone With The Wind, “The land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.” The Cowichan Valley is the place where grapevines and orchards grow in abundance (there are approximately 17 cideries and wineries in the area), where crops are plentiful, where people are fed—and fed well—and where artisans create. Visit Chemainus for their famous murals. Stop in at Providence Farm in Duncan or Jollity Farm on Thetis Island to see working, organic farms in action. Or go to The Tea Farm where they’re growing their own Camellia sinensis to make tea blends.

And it’s not just the land that’s worth working and fighting for. It’s the resources around it. The Raptors Centre and the Cowichan Estuary Nature Centre educate about stewardship while teaching the enjoyment and the science of the natural world, and the Stz’uminus and Cowichan First Nations bands are working to restore their fishing grounds to a healthier place. The Cowichan Valley is a place of progress, a place of enjoyment, and a place of plenty.

For lists and descriptions of local events and attractions and some great ideas on fun things to do in the Cowichan Valley, check out the following links:

Fun Things To Do for Kids

Take in a summer camp at the Estuary

“What the scallop?” Yes, you too can do plankton studies. (Psst, that’s slightly different than studies of Plankton… and no, these little guys won’t try to do mind control on you. You can tell Sponge Bob it’s safe!). Learn about beach seines, and mud digs (nope, not homes in the mud). Do bird surveys and have fun with science.

BC Forest Discovery Centre

Go meet Sandy and Samson, Susie, The Green Hornet, and Old One Spot – the historic trains at the museum. Take in a summer camp and learn how to survive in the forest, or play games like the kids did back before TV.   Ride The Green Hornet around the 100-acre woods. Show up at Christmas, Halloween, Easter, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day—I could go on—and find something extra special. Check out the First Nations Exhibits, the outdoor displays, the tractors, and the old buildings. Learn about tin pants and monkey hammers!

bc forest christmas express

Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre

What’s the worst vegetable to serve on a boat? A Leek, of course!

Walk through the bright red doors into a world of ships and boats, engines and oars. Kids can build their own little wooden boat, and dollars-to-donuts, they’ll be itching to get their hands on the seventeen scale replicas in the Main Building. Check out the HMS Victory and the beautiful scale West Coast fishing boats built from one piece of wood. (Sorry kids: Display only. No setting these babies adrift.) Enjoy the beautiful displays and learn more about the West Coast Maritime heritage and about wooden boats.

Fun Things To Do for Teens

The Raptors

There’s something about a raptor that is terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Learn about these tremendous birds of prey, the art and skill of falconry, and why the raptor is so important to our ecosystems. Take a course and maybe you’ll even get to put on a glove and get even closer.

Set up a Treasure Hunt … aka – go geocaching

Treasure hunts don’t need to be for just little kids. Have you heard of geocaching? Grab your phone or GPS and go on a treasure hunt! The Cowichan Valley is a great place to discover that hidden cache. Find some along the Cowichan Valley Trail or take the game up a notch and try the “60 Vancouver Island Caches Challenge.”

Mountain Biking

The Cowichan Valley is renowned for its amazing mountain bike trails and now, with its officially sanctioned trail on Maple Mountain – the Maple Syrup trail – it is definitely the place to ride. With its low amount of rain fall, its proximity to the coast, and its long riding season, the Cowichan Valley is where it’s at for riders. Enjoy the trails on nearby Mt. Tzouhalem, and Mt. Prevost as well.

Fun Things To Do for Families

Totem Pole Walk

The Totem is a monumental sculpture carved from the Red Cedar tree by the First Nations people of the Pacific North West. Usually holding meaning as a signboard, a record of genealogy or as a memorial, the totem is a magnificent symbol of the peoples who lived—and live—here. Duncan has forty totem poles throughout the city. Visit the website for the individual stories, download the brochure, and then walk amongst them.

Quw’utsun Cultural Centre and the Riverwalk Café

Visit the QCC for a unique opportunity to learn about the heritage and history of the Cowichan people. Witness their gifts for knitting, carving, and jewelry-making on a beautiful six acre riverside location, and then grab the opportunity for a tour. Get enough friends and family together and have a traditional salmon barbeque and a live dance performance, or settle in at the Riverwalk Café for an authentic contemporary West Coast First Nations meal.


Providence Farm & The Farm Table

There’s something incredibly rewarding about planting a small seed and then watching it burst up and begin to grow. At Providence Farm, small seeds are constantly being planted, both in the ground and in the lives of the people who work there. Providence Farm is a “working organic farm dedicated to restoring the spirit and skills of those with physical, mental and emotional challenges.” Visit the General Store, dine at The Farm Table, check out the Nursery, attend the Farm Dance or the festival, or volunteer.

Fun Things To Do for Grown-Ups

Ladysmith Heritage Building Tour

Our old buildings and homes tell stories if you listen to them. Stories of men with coal dust in their hair and the business and town that was built around them. Once a bustling coal mining town in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Ladysmith now proudly displays the buildings and homes that were a part of its development. See the old Convent School, the Agricultural Hall, the historic residences, the Ladysmith Inn and others.

WhippleTree Junction

Do you love whimsy? Bright cheery colours?

How about historic buildings?

How about rescued-from-being-demolished historic buildings? Go visit the eclectic WhippleTree Junction and the over twenty shops that have set up home there. Antiques, textiles, natural foods – those are just a few. And, just a point of interest as you stroll – the Wickertree building was from Duncan’s historic Chinatown, WagonWheel Antiques was a fish cannery building in Sooke, and Black Coffee House was a bank and post office in Cobble Hill. Check out the Market on Sundays, April through October.

Fancy a cuppa?

It’s the cure-all for stress and an afternoon tradition for the Brits. It’s a sacred ceremony for the Japanese. It’s the act of hospitality for the Moroccans.

Tea. It’s the beautiful beverage. Go meet the good folks at The Tea Farm and see what’s brewing. They are, in their own words, “purveyors of organic loose tea, designers of artful tea blends, and growers of Camellia sinensis.”   Grown fresh right on their farm. And while you’re there, check out their gallery of Margit Nellemann’s ceramics (which obviously includes teapots).

Take a tour

With the breath-taking and inspiring location, the wineries, and the incredible history, the Cowichan Valley is an ideal place to tour. Try a wine tour. You can take in three stops, four stops, more stops, and not have to worry about how much tasting of the local flavours that you’ve done. Or take a Mindfulness Tour, one that will inspire and engage you. (There’s a reason artists and soul-searchers are drawn to Vancouver Island and its neighboring islands, after all. Explore the natural harmony around you.) How about an Eco Tour? Or even an Ancient Civilizations and West Coast Wilderness Tour – aboard a schooner, no less!

Cheers Cowichan

Vancouver Island Expeditions

Island Time Tours

Off the Beaten Path: Alternate Things To Do

Day trip to Thetis

Just two miles wide and three miles long, Thetis Island is proof that you don’t have to be big to have a lot to offer. Located in the Gulf Islands and a short thirty-minute ferry ride from Chemainus, Thetis is a great island to cycle or drive on. Stay at Jollity Farm, an organic working farm, or have a visit and a taste at Domaine Jasmin, a small family-owned winery. Finally, stop in at the marina restaurant or the pub for a waterfront meal.

thetis island

Historic Kinsol Trestle

Not that you want to brag or honk your own horn or anything, but it needs to be said when you can honestly add “-est” to the end of the adjectives describing you: the Kinsol Trestle is the largest and most amazing of the eight trestles along the Cowichan Valley Trail. At 614 feet long and, gulp, standing 145 feet above the Koksilah River (don’t even try to lean over the edge to see the salmon!), the Kinsol was completed in 1920 with the idea being to connect Victoria to Nootka Sound on the west coast of the island. Bring your camera and walk the trestle.

Kaatza Station Museum

What do you do when “a dominant presence fades away as logging did for Lake Cowichan?” I’m quoting a Trip Advisor commenter here, as it probably most aptly sums up the museum: “…and how, if at all, do you remember it?”
Visit the Kaatza Station Museum and find out how they did it…. See their displays, the old steam locomotive, a boxcar, and the Bell Tower School, among other things. The reviewer goes on to say, “It was scenic, it was informative and it certainly conjured up a few shivers of past ghosts as if some historic figure would present itself round the next corner you turned.”

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