There isn’t much distance between Seattle and Cowichan, British Columbia, yet arrival among its rolling hills and mild sea air feels anything but ordinary. Home to Canada’s warmest year-round temperatures, Cowichan is ideal for active getaways where nature plays more than a background role and farm-to-table dining isn’t just a fashionable movement. This southern span of Vancouver Island is known for its abundant harvests and craft beverages, thriving cultural communities and extensive trails. It’s regarded even by locals as a picturesque escape from the day to day.
Snow-topped mountains may be visible in the distance, but closer to sea level Cowichan shows off its lush foliage. Along trails, hikers can spot eagles and hawks. Along the coast, transient orcas and sea lions play peekaboo with onlookers. Immersed within this natural playground are small towns and intimate communities, occupied by strolling pedestrians and culture-seekers.
Duncan may be Canada’s smallest city by area, yet it’s known for one of the largest outdoor collections of totem poles. During a self-guided Totem Tour Walk, visitors take in stories carved into red cedar, rich histories shared throughout generations of the Coast Salish people. More local lore is housed at the Cowichan Valley Museum in a repurposed heritage train station, while a five-minute walk introduces visitors to more of what Duncan is known for: Canada’s only year-round outdoor market. The Duncan Farmers Market is one of the largest in the country, with more than 150 vendors offering locally grown produce, artisanal baked goods and handmade crafts.
Nearby, The Ainslie caters to diners in search of artfully prepared fresh, local ingredients. Small plates, salads, pastas and seafood make up the dinner menu with daily offerings based on the harvest. A short drive from The Ainslie, Canada’s only tea farm is home to a cozy tearoom and garden patio perfect for a relaxing break in between sightseeing. Westholme Tea Farm focuses on small batch organic teas, with their single origin Cowichan Valley teas drawing a loyal fan base.
Farther north, Chemainus is home to dozens of murals commissioned by local artists, making it the largest community-driven art tourism project in the world. This seaside arts hub is also host to a variety of B.C.-crafted sculptures, professional productions at the Chemainus Theatre, and a wealth of local restaurants and cafes featuring fresh, unique dishes and cocktails.
The Cowichan Valley Trail runs through the center of Chemainus, and spans more than 110 miles. Access points throughout town reveal an easy path for family strolls, while terrain variations farther out offer adventure-seekers endless options. The trail is part of the national Great Trail system and provides alternating tree-lined, mountain and seaside views throughout its length, from the top of the Malahat to Shawnigan Lake and the Kinsol Trestle, westward to Lake Cowichan and northward to Nanaimo.
The Kinsol trestle is the largest free-standing trestle in the world, and the former wooden railway provides stunning views over the Koksilah River, accessible with a moderate hike from neighboring parking lots. Mild year-round temperatures in Cowichan Valley make this a great journey no matter the season. The abundance of connected trails gives hikers and cyclists plenty of routes to explore, from the waterfalls at Stocking Creek Falls to the panoramic views atop Maple Mountain. For sea level views, kayaks and canoes are popular activities throughout Cowichan’s riverways, lakes and ocean bays.
Thanks to this topographical diversity, Cowichan is home to 14 wineries and an exclusive sparkling wine found only in this region. Dry, with citrus notes, Charme De’ L’île attracts visitors far and wide. Blue Grouse Estate Winery offers a prized pinot noir, and visitors to Unsworth Vineyards can enjoy the rose Charme De’ L’île and a beautiful restaurant overlooking the vineyard. Whatever your palate preference, you’ll find it here in the valley, from the award-winning pinot gris at Rocky Creek Winery to the subtle spiced citrus of gewurztraminer at Glenterra Vineyards. Cowichan is also part of the B.C. Ale Trail with three breweries to explore, alongside two cideries and artisan distilleries.
At its heart, Cowichan is an artistic oasis with a vibrant Indigenous culture and welcoming community spirit. From local harvest tasting menus to adventurous trails and stunning scenery, Cowichan is an easily accessible getaway with a welcome change of pace.
As soon as you arrive in Cowichan you feel it. Life slows down. You discover something new or rediscover something you forgot. Craft goods and farm-to-table fare, breathtaking scenery and a rich cultural history — you’ll discover it all in Cowichan.