Bike-Riding the Rails to Lake Cowichan

Bicycle Touring 

821 words

Title: Bike-Riding the Rails to Lake Cowichan;  by Terry Connellan

A peaceful rail-trail ride to a romantic hideaway

Finding an away-from-the-crowds cycling trail is always 
a bonus and this three day tour of the Cowichan Valley 
is a gem. For this trip I'm recommending one night of 
free camping in a lakeside Forest Service Recreation 
Site, and the other in a delightful riverside lodge that 
features an especially good dining room. 

For this first 35 km section try a noon day start from 
the Brentwood-Mill Bay Ferry, Northwest of Victoria. 
When you reach the #1 hwy. at Mill Bay there is only 
a 1km ride on the highway before a right turn onto 
Kilmalu Rd., and then left on Telegraph Rd. for about 
10kms to Cowichan Bay Rd. and onto Hwy 1 again for 
1/2km, across the Koksilah River, then left on Miller Rd. 

The abandoned Canadian National Railway bed 
is now running parallel on your left and can be entered 
off either Old Koksilah, or Glenora Roads. 
         
Enjoy the next 14kms of rail bed riding on a flat packed 
gravel surface with the rails and ties long gone, no 
hills, no traffic, no noise. At the end of this distance 
look off to the right for the sign for Sahtlam Lodge or 
the lodge itself on the other side of the river. 

You will have reserved ahead, so by the time you 
pack your bike and gear down the short switchback 
path and toot the horn you will find at the cable car, 
hosts Dave and Val will be ready to transport you across. 

This is a very romantic place. In addition to the rooms 
in the lodge, there are cabins, tent bedrooms (one up 
in a tree,) and complimentary welcoming champagne. 
Prices range from $55-$130, and the dining room has an 
exotic bill-of-fare with an extensive wine list. 

An optional night stay is to carry on down the rail bed 
another 6kms to Skutz Falls Forest Service Recreational 
Site by the Cowichan River. This is a user maintained 
site, so practice zero-impact camping and take only 
memories, leave only footprints.

For you, the rail-trail ends in Lake Cowichan Village at 
South Shore Rd., go left out of town to Mesachie Lake 
and The Ministry of Forests Cowichan Lake Research 
Station. Phone ahead to Manager Don Carson at (250) 
749-6811 to arrange for a tour. 

Established in 1929, the cook house and bunkhouse 
are designated heritage buildings, and you will see 
everything from 500 year old trees to the high-tech 
development of seedlings for tomorrow. The work 
carried on here in concert with the Forestry Industry 
is critical to perpetuating British Columbia's most 
important natural resource.

As you cycle west there is a unique opportunity to 
gather rational, logical insights into the BC forest 
industry. At Honeymoon Bay, near their mill, Western 
Forest Industries maintains a wild flower reserve that in 
late spring is magical in its beauty. 

For the past ten kms your ride has been through 
the Cowichan Valley Demonstration Forest and 
this will continue all the way around the lake, 
watch for the signs along the road, and learn. 
         
Further on is the start of heavy load bearing, gravel 
logging roads. This is mammoth 150 ton truck territory, 
when you meet, give them the right-of-way and a big 
friendly wave. They've had a bellyful of eco-terrorists 
sabotaging both their equipment and their livelihood, 
and should you have an emergency they are your radio, 
and first aid kit equipped lifeline. 
         
Caycuse Camp is thought to be the oldest logging camp in 
BC. Fletcher Challenge are consolidating their 
operations at Gordon River and Caycuse is now in the 
process of being deactivated and perhaps dismantled. It 
is worth going into the town site, and especially, to see 
the heritage blacksmith shop that hopefully will be 
preserved. 
         
At the head of the lake is the beautiful Fletcher 
Challenge Heather Campsite, kitchen shelter, nice 
beach, a good spot to stop, however I suggest another 
14kms to Maple Grove Forest Service Campsite. Shaded 
sites and a nice beach it's only 5km to pavement and a 
cyclist sized breakfast.

Mountain bike racer Rob Smith is a part owner of
Youbou's Lakeview Pub & Restaurant. Huge logger/cyclist 
sized breakfasts, or the Tuesday and Friday $2 specials 
are your choice, with a bottomless coffee pot. 

Back to Mill Bay and on to your starting point is your choice. 
The Cowichan Valley Highway is wide and smooth. If it 
gets too busy for you, cut off onto Old Cowichan Lake Rd. 
My choice, when available, is always rail bed and I'll 
retrace my path from Lake Cowichan Village.

As always advance reading, and the proper maps heighten 
the enjoyment of any tour. Richard Blier's Island 
Adventures, and Hiking Trails ll provide all the detail 
I can't cover here. The Community Map of the 
Municipality of North Cowichan, Guide to Forest Land of 
Southern Vancouver Island, the Duncan Forest District 
Recreation Map, and for peaceful sleeping in campsites 
near logging roads, a pair of foam earplugs. 


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