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.
River viewed from
the bridge below Skutz Falls
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.
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.
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.
From Clubhouse to Holt Creek return on circle route: 1.5 miles/2.4
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
From Skutz Falls to Old Cowichan Lake Road trailhead one way: 9
miles/14 km (4.5 hrs)
Fishing along the Cowichan River Footpath
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.
River Footpath between Mile 66 Trestle and the bridge below
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.
Cowichan River is treacherous. Swimmers, canoeists and kayakers
vehicles are allowed on the footpath. Observe all notices about
private property, the lighting of fires and camp only on crown
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.
word "skutz" is from the Indian word "Skwetz"
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.
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
Trail information for Vancouver Island is provided in three superb
Hiking Trails guides by the Vancouver
Island Trails Information Society.