The charming and picturesque seaside village of Cowichan Bay is located on the east coast of southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The Cowichan Bay settlement started in the 1850s as a Hudson’s Bay Company fort. The original site was located at the flats at the top of Cowichan Bay. Cowichan Bay was the earliest development north of Victoria, with Europeans settling on the secluded Cowichan Bay to farm and trap, and eventually moving into fishing and logging. In 1862 the HMS Hecate arrived with a boatload of settlers. A store and hotel soon followed, and by 1900 Cowichan Bay was a tourist mecca with steamboats calling regularly at the government dock.
Cowichan Bay draws its name from an Island Halkomelem word meaning warm country or land warmed by the sun. The name originated because of a large rock formation on the side of Mount Tzuhalem that supposedly resembled a frog basking in the sun. Originally both Cowichan Lake and the settlement were known as Kaatza, the Cowichan word for big lake. The Cowichan Bay area and much of the southern Strait of Georgia is the traditional land of the Cowichan First Nation.
Today, the village of Cowichan Bay and the surrounding area is home to historic buildings and a host of artists, craftspeople, unique shops, and cottage industries – including some fine local wineries and organic farms. Take a step back in time to enjoy the slower pace of life in this community that embraces the values of local resources and sustainability.
Drive up for the afternoon, moor your boat for the day, or settle into a hotel or bed and breakfast for a few days to unwind and take in all that there is to do in the Cowichan Bay and Cowichan Valley area. Explore the natural environment while whale watching, kayaking, fishing, hiking, or wandering along the beach, estuary, and marinas.
Location: Cowichan Bay is located in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, a 30-minute scenic drive from both Victoria in the south and Nanaimo in the north.
Birdwatching: Spring and fall present remarkable opportunities to view birds as they travel along the Pacific Flyway. Some of the protected areas where they pause and refresh themselves include Hecate Regional Park in Cowichan Bay. Over 200 species of birds are attracted to the feeding grounds at the mouth of the Koksilah River and Cowichan River.
At Pier 66, join a fishing, boating, diving, whale watching, or sightseeing charter, or rent a kayak and explore on your own. Sailing tours are also available for a relaxing sail through the protected waters around Saltspring Island and the other Gulf Islands.
Lawn Tennis Courts: The South Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club features one of the oldest lawn tennis courts in the world, second only to Wimbledon.
Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre: The Wooden Boat Society displays hands-on exhibits at the Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre and provides the facilities and equipment for wooden boat building, restoration and maintenance. The centre offers hands-on courses in traditional boat building techniques and restorations.
Cowichan Estuary Nature Centre is an interpretive centre providing interactive opportunities for all ages to learn about the Cowichan Estuary, its watershed, marine life, and the natural and cultural history of the area. Visitors can see and touch marine and intertidal creatures in our aquarium and touch tank, use our microscopes, telescopes and interactive displays, and enjoy wildlife and bird watching from our viewing tower and along our oceanfront interpretive trail. The Centre is located in Hecate Park at 1845 Cowichan Bay Road, and is managed by the Cowichan Land Trust and kept open to the public by a team of volunteers.
The spectacular Cowichan River Provincial Park protects significant stretches of the Cowichan River, known as a first class recreational corridor. The park is internationally recognized for its wild salmon and steelhead trout, and for the historic Cowichan River footpath that winds through dense Douglas-fir and Western Hemlock forest. Stroll along the footpath – a sensational 20 km hiking trail following the river to Skutz Falls.
Mount Tzouhalem: Hike or mountain bike up Mount Tzouhalem for a spectacular view of the region. The moderate hiking trail follows the ridge of Mt. Tzouhalem, providing 180 degree views of Cowichan Bay and Duncan. You’ll be able to see Mt. Whymper, Mt. Prevost and the Malahat. Access to the trail is from the St Ann’s Church parking lot, down the gravel road on the east side on the parking lot.
Hecate Park, located on Cowichan Bay Road, serves as a popular picnic and beach area for locals. The park’s boat launch provides an ideal location to launch for day fishing or cruising on pristine Cowichan Bay.
Events: The Cowichan Bay Regatta is the second largest regatta on Canada’s West Coast, and don’t miss the annual Boat Festival in June.
Golf: Golf courses in the area include the Cowichan Golf and Country Club and Duncan Meadows Golf and Country Club in Duncan, and Arbutus Ridge Golf Club in nearby Cobble Hill. Vancouver Island Golf Vacations.
Canoeing & Kayaking: Discover nature’s treasures by sea kayak – come eye to eye with an array of fascinating marine life. Relax your mind and soul on a leisurely tour over emerald waters among seals, cormorants and kingfishers. For those wishing to immerse themselves in the power and majestic beauty of the West Coast, guides will lead on a multi-day excursion.
Fishing: Fish along the Cowichan River, one of the most consistent fishing rivers on the Island; a fishing/hiking path stretches 31 kilometres (19 miles) along the riverbank. Brown, rainbow, and steelhead trout, as well as vigorous salmon runs, make fishing here legendary. Chinook, coho, and steelhead that school in Cowichan Bay enter the river to spawn in November and December. There’s also a steelhead run in March.
North of Cowichan Bay is Duncan, the civic centre of the Cowichan Valley and the traditional home of the Coast Salish First nation. Known as the City of Totems, Duncan boasts over 41 distinctive hand-carved cedar poles on public display in parks and downtown streets.
South of Cowichan Bay is Mill Bay, located at the south end of the Cowichan Valley. Travellers on the Island Highway can stop in at Mill Bay and enjoy the village’s quiet waterfront streets and wonderful Gulf Island views.