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near Bamberton, British Columbia (Canada)
For big-tire adventure bikes, mountain bikes, or gravel/cross/touring bikes with sturdy fat tires!
Recorded at the beginning of July as the second of a two-stage Adventure or cross-country cycling route from the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal to Shawnigan Lake, the Kinsol Trestle, and the small town of Lake Cowichan on Vancouver Island. The total of both stages is 91 km.
This first stage is a good road bike route of approx 22 km (see separate Wikiloc starting at Swartz Bay).
This second stage is the most difficult bike route from Bamberton to Lake Cowichan. It might be best to go during long summer hours and get the 11 AM or earlier departure from Brentwood Bay, to arrive at Lake Cowichan before sunset.
The road section from Bamberton to the the Cowichan Valley Rail Trail is mostly paved and hilly, with two very steep hills, and includes a section of hard-pack narrow forest path.
Despite the railway grade, the Cowichan Valley Rail Trail is best done with big-tire adventure bikes, mountain bikes, or gravel/cross/touring bikes with sturdy fat tires. There are isolated forest intervals, extremely varied surfaces, and some narrow, rough, and mud sections. Plan a tool kit, spares, lights, food-drink, warmth, communication, and safety equipment accordingly. Be bear and cougar aware.
The entire Rail Trail remains almost free of ATV damage; only a few 10's of meters are churned-up around some road and power line crossings.
Best to wait for the traffic and exhaust to clear before proceeding along road in direction of Mill Bay.
A long, very steep climb. Continuing west, the Trans Canada highway crossing can be difficult; its best to wait for some cars to come along, trip the traffic light signal, and stop Trans Canada Highway traffic (bikes wont do that, and there's no pedestrian crossing push buttons here).
Enter a maze of narrow trails with hard packed dirt surface, heavily shaded, through west coast forest. A live, sufficiently detailed e-map will help to emerge at the correct location.
Dog walkers may appear around any corner and might be slow to get their dogs in hand, so go slow enough, maybe stop and say hi, and enjoy the forest.
Navigation skill and a good detailed map will help to emerge from the network of forest trails at the right location.
Photo of typical road conditions. When arriving at Shawnigan Lake there is a popular bakery with great take-away sandwiches, outdoor tables, etc. on the right, just before the major crossroads.
As mentioned, the bakery at the main crossroads of Shawnigan lake has good sandwiches, coffee, etc. and that area might be the last stop for quick and very-good takeaway provisions.
Although the view dining here looks enticing, if planning this entire track it's probably best not to sit down (for long) until safely reaching the upper riverside deck of the Riverside Inn Pub at Lake Cowichan. Continuing south, stay to the smaller road along the lakeside, passing many beautiful cottages and lake views. Caution - Friendly dogs may be on the loose.
There is a steep winding climb up to this point on the Sooke Lake Road. Access a small (drop-off and pick-up only) parking lot on the Cowichan Valley Rail Trail system.
Scenes like this occur frequently along the trail
An historic railway trestle restoration. There is a short walk to the valley bottom where the river and the original base of the trestle can be viewed.
The trail follows a light to medium gravel road here. Trail conditions are constantly varying.
typical trail conditions.
The forest path is more remote and generally rougher to the north of the Kinsol Trestle. The forest is often changing in nature, sometimes dark, sometimes open with views. Some intervals are favoured by ravens, which have a tremendous vocal range and are a pleasure to encounter. The trail passes a few working farms.
There are occasional road crossings, which link to the paved highway between Duncan and Lake Cowichan, on the north side of the valley. This is reassuring in the event of a serious breakdown or mishap.
A road crossing and sign to the nearest services and provisions.
More open and light-filled forest section. The trail passes some farms in this general area.
There are four other trestles to the north of Kinsol. All are straight rather than curved, some are steel rather than wood base, none are as famous or spectacular as Kinsol, however they have much better river views and are more enclosed in the forest.
This mud section is around 15 meters long, and can be ridden by fat tire bikes, or walked easily.
The trail becomes progressively narrower and more overgrown to the NW, with some short rougher intervals. Watch for protruding branches and bramble shoots.
Excited youth can be heard shouting down by the Cowichan River, they presumably access it from the North side. It would be possible to do a short walk to the south bank of the river here, however it was not explored on the day, so it is unknown if it is safe for swimming at this location.
Another high trestle with good Cowichan River views.
It's a short walk to the Cowichan River bank from a small park along the trail.
The last trestle before reaching Lake Cowichan village.
Fishermen use mountain bikes along the trail in this area, some seen heading north along a minor path along the Cowichan River below this trestle.
Enter the residential street network and head downhill to the river and town center. The upper outdoor deck at the Riverside Inn Pub seems to be the spot, directly overlooking the Cowichan River.