The Getaway
15 Things to do in Duncan and the Cowichan Valley

There is so much to love about Duncan and the Cowichan Valley, from the artisanal food and drink and famous totems to the sunkissed Mediterranean-like climate. Southern Vancouver Island is anything but one-note, so you can craft the itinerary of your dreams somewhere between Malahat and Ladysmith, a 45-minute drive away. Catch a show at the Chemainus Theatre Festival, take in the 360-degree views atop the Malahat Skywalk, and bring on hot girl summer in quirky sunglasses while floating down the Cowichan River.

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01 Explore Duncan's City of Totems

Thunderbird Above Killer Whale - Carver: Harold Alfred 1990. Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

Downtown Duncan is famous for its totem poles, and you can view more than 40 of these magnificent, culturally significant carvings on a self-guided tour of the city. Make like Dorothy and follow the yellow footprints toward colorful totems by various artists with different stories to tell. The Cowichan Valley Museum offers free guided tours if you're interested in a deeper dive into this project that's been going on since 1985. Virtual tours are possible, too, but nothing beats the real deal.

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02 Visit the BC Forest Discovery Centre

The BC Forest Discovery Centre is a museum all about the history of logging in British Columbia. It touches on the future of the province's forestry industry, too, and the experience isn't as dry as it sounds, we promise! This pet-friendly attraction has several educational, interactive exhibits, and you can easily spend a couple of hours here learning about the past and hopping on the train ride. Seasonal events spell fun for the whole family, but the wonderful playground keeps kids occupied throughout the year.

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03 Wine Tasting in Cowichan Valley

The Cowichan Valley is a premier wine-producing area with over a dozen wineries. Award-winning Blue Grouse Estate has a cozy patio with stellar mountain views, but it's not the only one. Cobble Hill Winery's lavender fields could pass for Provence. Pick a few places and go on a leisurely drive through the verdant countryside, or double down with a guided tour and designated driver. The latter can provide exclusive access and behind-the-scenes insights into local viticulture.

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04 Outdoor Adventures

The Historic Kinsol Trestle, Cowichan Valley Trail in the Cowichan Region, Vancouver Island, British Colombia, Canada.

The multi-use Cowichan Valley Trail in Chemainus accommodates hiking, cycling, and horseback riding. It follows a former railway line, so you can expect relatively flat terrain that works well for on-leash doggies and a family stroll with kids or older seniors. If it's paddling you're keen to do, then the Cowichan River is the place for you. Go canoeing at Stoltz Pool or white water kayaking on a heritage river known for its salmon and trout fishery. You'll find the best water conditions from October to June. Always follow safety guidelines to manage hazards.

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05 Culinary Experiences

With hundreds of farms to source produce from and passionate gourmands in spades, Cowichan's food culture is a cut above the rest. Foodies will find much to praise in the region's culinary creativity and flair. Stop for elevated comfort food at The Old Fork and sip premium teas at Westholme Tea Farm. Grab crepes at The Vine, seafood at Bridgemans Waterfront Bistro, and hearty farm-to-table fare at Alderlea Farm and Cafe.

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06 Art and Culture

Chemainus Theatre Festival building GagliardiPhotography / Shutterstock.com

The Chemainus Theatre Festival is housed in a beautiful building and gives local thespians and audiences an outstanding programming roster to look forward to. With excellent acoustics and stellar talent, you can expect top-notch productions throughout the year and show-themed dinners to round out the experience. With regards to visual art, well-curated galleries include the Cowichan Public Art Gallery and Ladysmith Gallery, and you'll find a breadth of craftsmanship at pottery, wood, and glass studios. The Chemainus Murals are a huge draw, too.

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07 Historical and Cultural Sites

Canadian Aboriginal Totem Poles in the Town of Duncan Jesse33 / Shutterstock.com

The Quw'utsun' Cultural and Conference Centre is owned and operated by Cowichan tribes and is open throughout the year. It teaches visitors about the rich heritage of the First Nation peoples. Try your hand at making a totem at the on-site Khenipsen Artisan Centre, or purchase a sweater knitted by Indigenous folks. The hourly guided tour shares stories and provides insights into the symbolism woven into arts and crafts. You may even see Tzinquaw Dancers.

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08 Lake Cowichan and River Tubing

Aerial image of Cowichan River, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Lake Cowichan is for idyllic days on the water. Slather on the sunblock and go swimming at Arbutus Park or Saywell Park. This area is fab for house boating, fishing, and, best of all, river tubing. This popular summertime activity is the perfect lazy adventure and will help you make memories to last a lifetime. You can rent whatever you need from the Tube Shack, but you can use your own tube, too. Floating down the warm, clear river takes about three hours, but paddling should cut the time on the water down to two hours. The route works up to some rapids at the end.

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09 Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre

Explore Cowichan's nautical history and maritime heritage with a visit to Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre, which opened in 1989. You can learn how to tie knots or build a wooden boat during a workshop, and kids can do some toy boat-making, too. The center is currently closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

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10 Golfing in Cowichan Valley

Aerial image of Arbutus Ridge, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

The Cowichan Golf and Country Club can be found in Duncan, so once you've swung past the totems, you can practice your swing. The 18-hole golf course here is a favorite among locals and visitors. Arbutus Ridge Golf Course in the heart of wine country is another good one, renowned for its remarkable scenery. With four other courses in the region, there are plenty of options for return visits.

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11 Seasonal Activities

The annual Cowichan Exhibition has been a staple on the calendar for, get this, over a century and a half. It's a livestock and agricultural show doubling as a carnival, and you don't want to miss it if you're traveling in September. In summer, the Islands Folk Festival at Providence Farm is a celebration of the blues, folk, and world music genres featuring local and foreign artists. Spring is all about Fine Arts. Show and Shine festivals in August give car enthusiasts something to honk about.

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12 Accommodation Options

Cowichan caters to everyone, whether you're looking to stay at a cozy bed and breakfast, a luxury resort, or a back-to-basics campsite. Villa Eeyrie Resort has one of the best views in all of Canada and is ideal for a romantic retreat. Kiwi Cove Lodge isn't run by New Zealanders but is on an actual Kiwi farm. Check out Gordon Bay and Country Maples RV Resort for two of the many camping options available, or glamp in a yurt at Merridale Cidery and Distillery.

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13 Shopping and Boutiques

Fancy spending your money on artisanal cheese? Cowichan Station Creamery has some ideas for you. Crowfoot Collective is an Indigenous-owned boutique where you'll find ethical, handmade products from candles to bangles. Dragonfly Dreaming Organics has you sorted for plant-based skincare. Spruce up a long-term Airbnb with flowers from Dancing Dandelion Farms, and stock up on hot sauce at Fat Chili Farm.

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14 Nature and Wildlife Watching

Roosevelt Bull Elk Standing in Front of Green Vines

Cowichan's turkey vultures, trumpeter swans, and herons are just some of the feathered creatures you can see when you're in the area. Go whale-watching for orcas with Ocean Ecoventures, or see marine life from a kayak. DIY your land-based wildlife viewing at Youbou, where you can spot Roosevelt Elk, which are only found on Vancouver Island.

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15 Getting Around

British Columbia transit city buses are parked in a lot Eric Buermeyer / Shutterstock.com

Cowichan's attractions are quite spread out, so for a truly flexible vacation, you'll need to drive. Alternatively, use a BC Transit Bus to make your way around. You can always call the BC Transit info line for assistance with efficient route planning. HandyDART caters to individuals with physical or cognitive disabilities.

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