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  Category   Cowichan River Footpath, Vancouver Island, BC
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Cowichan River viewed from
the bridge below Skutz Falls
The Cowichan River Footpath in the Cowichan Valley is an historic 20-km trail that winds its way along the north and south sides of the scenic Cowichan River, from Glenora to Skutz Falls. Although originally constructed and used by anglers, the Cowichan River Footpath connects all the river's parks and makes for an excellent scenic hike along the meanders of the Cowichan River, providing a pleasant ramble through Cowichan River Provincial Park.

Hikers, naturalists and spectators of canoeing and kayaking also enjoy the use of the path. Highlights include salmon runs in fall and the large, open recreation site at Skutz Falls. The Swinging Bridge at Skutz Falls is quite a feature, linking the tow sections of the Footpath. The Cowichan River footpath was developed by the Cowichan Fish and Game Association between 1960 and 1969, with the co-operation of government, industry and private individuals. Their clubhouse is at the eastern trailhead of the Cowichan River Footpath.


Cowichan River Footpath
The lower stretch of the footpath, from the clubhouse to Skutz Falls, is well-defined (blue and white markers) and brushed out seasonally. The bridges are in good repair, and there are some steep sections. This is the more frequented section of the footpath, beautiful at any time of the year, with many excellent picnicking spots.

The up-river section from Skutz Falls to Old Cowichan Lake Road receives less maintenance, but it is regularly used by anglers. In some places erosion of the river bank, winter flooding and obliteration by logging forces hikers to detour by road or along the old railway right-of-way. This section is on level ground and fairly close to the river, with several good swimming spots en route.

In summer the trail can be rather overgrown in places, and a little south of the Mile 71 CNR trestle the route becomes less distinct. Some spawning channels have been built close to the old railway bridge. Trail users should note that no emergency aid is readily available over much of the path.

Access to start of footpath at Clubhouse: To find the trailhead, head west of Highway 1 in Duncan on Allenby Road, then south on Indian Road, then make three successive right turns onto Glenora, Vaux, and Robertson Roads. The trail begins from the parking lot of the Cowichan Fish and Game Association, (250) 746-1070. There is ample parking and camping space, toilet facilities, water and an emergency telephone.

Access to Skutz Falls: There aren't many waterfalls as easily approached as Skutz Falls. To reach the falls, head west of Highway 1 on Highway 18 for almost 12 miles (19 km) to Skutz Falls Road. Drive south along this winding gravel road for almost 2 miles (3 km) to the Mile 12 section of the footpath, the fish ladders, parking and camping area. Another 500 metres will bring you to the bridge. Additional parking, minimal camping facilities, and toilets are nearby. From Skutz Falls many short hikes are possible; some hikers prefer to hike the whole footpath and camp along the way.

Access to the footpath at Cowichan Lake end: From the Skutz Falls turn-off on Highway 18, drive 4 km west on the Old Cowichan Lake Road. At the corner, close to the end of the houses in the 7400 block, look for the Ministry of the Environment fishing notice and a ribboned strut on a hydro pole next to a limited parking area on the road shoulder.

Hiking Distances:
From Clubhouse to Holt Creek return on circle route: 1.5 miles/2.4 km
From Clubhouse to Mile 2 return on circle route: 4 miles/6.4 km (good picnic spots)
From Clubhouse to Skutz Falls one way: 12.5 miles/20 km (allow 6-1/2 hours)
From Skutz Falls to Old Cowichan Lake Road trailhead one way: 9 miles/14 km (4.5 hrs)

Fishing along the Cowichan River Footpath

Cowichan River Footpath between Mile 66 Trestle and the bridge below Skutz Falls
Vancouver Island waterways are characterized by relatively short watersheds. The Cowichan River is an exception to this general rule. Anglers can cover much of the Cowichan River Footpath's 12 miles (19 km) of trails beside one of Vancouver Island's most popular fly-fishing locales in one of British Columbia's best fishing rivers and, according to knowledgeable sources, one of the world's best salmon and trout rivers. Brown, rainbow, and steelhead trout, as well as vigorous salmon runs, make fishing here legendary. Brown trout were successfully introduced here about a century ago and coexist with the native stocks.

Altogether, the oxygen-rich water supports ten species of trout, salmon, and char. A controversial weir controls the outflow of water from Cowichan Lake into the river and guarantees stable streamflow conditions for most of the year. Big rainbow trout come down out of the lake to feed on salmon roe and overwinter in the river before returning to the lake by June. Chinook, coho, and steelhead that school in Cowichan Bay enter the river to spawn in November and December. There's also a steelhead run in March.

Notes:
The Cowichan River is treacherous. Swimmers, canoeists and kayakers should beware.
No vehicles are allowed on the footpath. Observe all notices about private property, the lighting of fires and camp only on crown land.
Do not litter the footpath. All maintenance is done by volunteers and there are no garbage cans or toilets along the way, except in the Skutz Falls area.
The word "skutz" is from the Indian word "Skwetz" meaning "falls"
The Cowichan River is one of BC's top ten endangered rivers. Its wilderness character and wildlife are threatened by logging, water extraction, development and overuse.
Maps for the Cowichan River Footpath can be obtained from the Visitor Information Centre in Duncan.

Click for companies that offer Hiking & Backpacking services, or visit our Recreation section for more information on Hiking and Backpacking in British Columbia.

Trail information for Vancouver Island is provided in three superb Hiking Trails guides by the Vancouver Island Trails Information Society.

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