Super 8 – Cowichan Valley Bikepacking

The Vitals

Date: April 14-17, 2022

Location: Lower Vancouver Island

Distance: ~250 km

Photos: Brittany


The Trip

It’s been a long winter and an even longer break since we had gone camping or done a bike trip longer than one night. Easter weekend was looking okay in terms of weather and it seemed like a good time to try out a modified version of the very convenient Cowichan Valley 8 route on

Coming from the lower mainland, it made more sense to bypass Victoria and ride the Lochside Trail from the Swartz Bay ferry terminal at the northern tip of the Saanich Peninsula straight into the Galloping Goose trail that leads towards Sooke. These trails we have all ridden before on various trips to Victoria and beyond and are easy to follow with pleasant riding off main roads.

By about 6:00 we were in Langford and ate dinner in a restaurant before riding the last couple of kilometers to Goldstream Provincial Park. We had wanted to reserve sites for the weekend but frustratingly BC Parks requires a minimum reservation of 3 nights for long weekends – even those in April. Spoiler alert: we had no issue getting a site on any of the 3 nights but it’s a little bit of stress you don’t need at the end of the day.

Packing up at Goldstream Provincial Park

With plenty to choose from, our site ended up being large with just a bit of morning sunshine. The park also has hot showers. I tried one out in the morning as a way to warm up after a few lost hours of sleep due to an insufficient sleeping bag. Being colder than expected ended up being a theme of the weekend.

Heading out in the sun.

Right out of the Provincial Park we made a few wrong turns before discovering a new gate and rerouted up a short, steep hill. As we arrived at the entrance to the Sooke Foothills Wilderness trail, it began to hail. We huddled next to the maps and waited it out for around 20 minutes and met Ryder Hesjedal’s dad. Once on the trail, it didn’t take long to reach the most major climb of the route up to an elevation of around 400 meters.

For a few hours we didn’t make impressive progress as the hail had turned to sun, then snow, then rain. We ate lunch at another signpost and left when we began to get too cold. Luckily, the weather improved for the afternoon as we dropped back to lower elevations. The trail in this section was mostly very smooth gravel with a couple of downed trees to climb over.

Lower elevations further north stayed a bit nicer

By mid-afternoon we reached the Kinsol Trestle – a 188 meter long rail bridge completed in 1920 and refurbished in 2011. This was the busiest section of trail but it was exciting to see it after looking at pictures for years.

Beyond the trestle we continued on rail trails for the rest of the day until Cowichan River Provincial Park. This section of trail was the most rugged. While most of the more heavily-used sections are composed of compact gravel that is as smooth as asphalt (many sections had recently been resurfaced when we were there), the section south of the Cowichan River further from roads began to get a bit softer with puddles and some larger rocks. Everything was still easily rideable but our pace slowed a bit though some fatigue from being out in the cold weather all day certainly contributed.

We camped our second night at the Stoltz Pool Campground of the Cowichan River Provincial Park which has a few walk-in sites that filled up with other cyclists by late in the evening. This was the coldest night with a thin layer of ice forming in our water bottles over night.

Kinsol Trestle near Duncan, BC

A sunny morning ride to Cowichan Lake was a bit of an anti-climax as we didn’t do much in the town other than turn around and rejoin the northern rail trail leading back to Duncan. The weather turned around at the same time and Brittany and I fixed my flat tire in another bout of hail that turned to rain. Still, with wind at our backs and a slight downhill grade, we averaged a speed in the high 20’s save for a couple of sections of washout (we should have heeded the detour signs).

Barred Owl along the rail trail north of Shawnigan Lake

We were in Duncan in time for a late lunch and resupply at the grocery store before joining a rough track that popped us out on the Cowichan Valley trail a few kilometers north of the Kinsol Trestle. We had just completed the upper loop of the figure 8. We headed south now on the same trail as the previous day, back over the Kinsol Trestle, and 1.5 kilometers later we turned east to pass Shawnigan Lake on the north side towards Bamberton. This section had some unpleasant road riding but didn’t last long before taking a curious shortcut through a forest and on to a private road that was gated at the end. The gate was easily bypassed on foot before coasting downhill for a few minutes directly into the provincial park.

As with the two previous campsites, this park is entirely sheltered inside a forest. We could have used some sunshine to warm up but it was very peaceful in the forest with almost no wind. We set up our last camp of the trip and ate our last dinner.

Third night camp at Bamberton Provincial Park

In the morning we were up ahead of schedule and decided to head down to the Mill Bay/Brentwood Bay ferry to catch an earlier crossing. We chatted with a local cyclist while waiting to board and she ended up paying our fares. She had a lot to tell us during the crossing and we parted at the ramp on the far side so we could head north and she could head south.

Instead of crossing the narrow width of the peninsula and returning to Swartz Bay via the Lochside Trail, we rode on the road up the east side of the Saanich Inlet passing a few small towns (Patricia Bay was particularly cute) with views of Saltspring Island. At the north end of the peninsula we reached Land’s End Road, passing many cyclists and runners along the way.

We were early for our ferry crossing back to Vancouver and had lunch at Stonehouse Pub just outside of the ferry terminal. The pub is operated out of a gorgeous house built in the 1930’s and was quiet, but open, at 11:00 am on Easter Sunday.

After our celebratory lunch, we hopped on an early afternoon ferry and were back home a few hours later in brilliant sunshine. Plenty of time to dry out our gear, clean ourselves up, and enjoy the last couple hours of the long weekend with a rest.

It’s been a long winter…