“Kaatza” or “The Big Lake”, as it’s known by its native inhabitants, is over 30 km long, and one of the largest bodies of freshwater on Vancouver Island.
Regularly visited by angling aficionado King Edward VIII, the lake was soon heralded as Canada’s Fly-Fishing Capital. To that distinction, modern outdoor enthusiasts add boating, water-skiing and windsurfing.
Whether your are coming to enjoy the pristine waters of Lake Cowichan, Nitinat Lake and the Cowichan River, or whether you visit the ancient forest of the Carmanah Walbran, hike the West Coast Trail or Juan de Fuca Trail, you will find it easy to satisfy your desire for adventure.
The town of Lake Cowichan is the gateway to some of the most spectacular camping and hiking available on Vancouver Island. Other communities such as Honeymoon Bay, Mesachie Lake, Skutz Falls, and Youbou are within easy reach by road. All have access to scenic Cowichan Lake, one of the largest fresh-water lakes on the island. The south arm of the lake is a heat trap, boasting the highest average summer maximum temperatures in Canada – over 24 degrees Celsius!
Visit the Kaatza Station Museum & Archives, a community heritage museum housed in an old E&N Railway Station. Displays include a store, post office, mine shaft, logging display, and a 12′ high mural depicting pioneer life at Lake Cowichan in the 1920s. Also on site is a renovated 1925 school house with a 1940s era classroom display. The museum is located in the village directly behind the Visitor Centre.
Visit a working forest and learn about forest management at the Cowichan Lake Forest Research Station on Forestry Road in Mesachie Lake, established in 1929 by the BC Forest Service. Over 200 examples of “international” trees imported from all over the world are studied here, and the experimental station has become renown for its work in forest genetics and tree physiology.
Cowichan River Provincial Park is a 750-hectare area stretching almost 20 kilometres, from the village of Lake Cowichan to Glenora, just south of Duncan. This spectacular 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 Cowichan River Footpath in Cowichan River Provincial Park, a sensational 20-km hiking trail following the scenic Cowichan River from Glenora to Skutz Falls. Originally built for anglers, the Cowichan River Footpath is now a popular spot for hikers and naturalists.
Gordon Bay Provincial Park: The rewards for visiting Gordon Bay Park in April and May, in advance of the summer crowds, include having your choice of campsites and witnessing the spectacular display of wildflowers that begin blooming in April.
Fishing: One of the best places to launch a boat when fishing in Cowichan Lake is at Gordan Bay Provincial Park. There are dozens of parking places next to the ramps from which anglers pursue rainbow and cutthroat trout and dolly varden char. Springtime is best for trout fishing, before the lake really warms up.
Paddling & Windsurfing: Experienced wilderness paddlers and windsurfers can explore Nitinat Lake and the smaller lakes in the Nitinat Triangle. Follow the road along Cowichan Lake’s northern shore to this outdoor adventureland.
The Trans Canada Trail starts in the heart of the town of Lake Cowichan and continues down the river, winding its way to Duncan. This is one of many hiking trails that visitors can take. From easy to difficult, there is a trail for every level and interest.
Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park is home to some of the world’s largest spruce trees. Take a side trip to this old-growth forest, located southwest of Lake Cowichan, and view first hand the pristine wilderness that has made British Columbia so famous. The Carmanah Valley is accessed from various directions via the Caycuse River Bridge, and can be reached by vehicle from Lake Cowichan.
East of Lake Cowichan is the town of Duncan, the civic centre of the Cowichan Valley. Since 1985, Duncan has transformed itself into the “City of Totems”, a unique urban forest with distinctive hand-carved cedar poles from local native artisans on public display in parks and downtown streets.
The nearby small community of Mesachie Lake was a mill town from 1942 to 1968, and has since been transformed into a tranquil place to live or escape to.
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.
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.