I have missed travel SO much during this pandemic. Not just going places (though that’s obviously part of it), but also the possibility of travel. The idea in the back of my mind that – regardless of whether I have actual plans or the money to fund them – I could just pop down to Seattle for a weekend… then maybe hop on a train down the coast. Or that I could take off for a month in the summer! A huge part of my passion/obsession for travel is tangled up in dreaming about it and researching the destination. I’m talking starry-eyed, can’t-get-a-place-out-of-my-mind kind of infatuation here. (Good thing Kyla’s a very understanding member of this throuple.)
So my biggest wish for my birthday this year was that I’d be able to satisfy that wanderlust, even just a tiny bit. The requirements: I wanted to go somewhere I’d never been, that I could do a little research about (and still leave room for flexibility cause, ya know, I can be chill too), and it had to be close enough for a day trip.
Shawnigan Lake checked all the boxes! It’s about 45 minutes from Victoria, and while you could easily spend more time in the area, it had the right kind of activities for a fun and fulfilling day. Here are my suggestions for a day trip to the Shawnigan Lake/southern Cowichan Valley area:
Check Out Historic (and Photogenic) Kinsol Trestle:
Kinsol, originally used to transport timber over the Koksilah River as part of the Canadian National Railway, is one of the tallest wooden rail trestles in the world. At 44 metres above the river and 187 metres across, it’s impressive whether or not you know anything about engineering! Plus, there are railings, so checking out the views is way less terrifying than it could be (unlike scary Goldstream Trestle :P). You can also walk down to the river to see it from below. The trestle is about a 20 minute walk from the parking lot, along a flat, crushed gravel path (good for wheels, on foot, or even on horseback). The trail is part of the 108 km Cowichan Valley Trail, so if you feel like walking a little further (8 hours or so), you could hike all the way to Lake Cowichan!
Climb Old Mount Baldy and Swing at the Summit:
Ok, I confess: part of my wanting to hike Old Mt. Baldy was because of the Instragrammable swing at the top. That wasn’t the only reason though; I love a good hike! And was it ever a good hike; the incredible views make all the huffing and puffing and scrambling worth it!
To get to the trailhead: We followed our Google Maps directions to a spot on Strathcona Heights Rd across from a yellow gate, which is where you’ll start. It sounds like there’s also another trail that starts at a red gate, not quite as far down the road. If you start at one and end up at the other, you could always hike back along the road.
The first section is up a steep gravel service road, but once you get to the first of many sweeping views over Shawnigan Lake, it becomes more of a trail over rocks and through arbutus trees. There are some areas where you’ll need to scramble over rocks and grab onto roots to get up. I found it harder going down; there was one spot where I was fully on my bum to slide down a steep section of dirt. We saw kids on the trail too; it’s not that it was super challenging (remember, we’re fairweather, average shape, occasional hikers here), but I did have to use my hands (and my bum) more than anticipated! The views are just fabulous; Shawnigan Lake on one side, and once you get to the summit, Saanich Peninsula, the Gulf Islands on the other.
The swing was hard to find! I expected to just see it at the top, but the summit is open and rocky with no swing in sight. We looked around for a while and were almost ready to give up when we saw someone swinging on it! To get there: the path continues past the summit (and eventually down to the other trailhead, I think), so if you keep walking a little further, staying on the Shawnigan Lake side, you’ll get to it just a minute or 2 past the summit.
According to my Strava app, our hike was 1.22 km up, 179 m elevation, and just about 30 minutes to the top with some photo stops. Going down only took 18 minutes.
Reward Yourself with Flights at Merridale Cidery:
You just climbed a little mountain! You deserve cider! Merridale has a beautiful orchard with a self-guided tour, and tasty ciders. I like how they set ups their flight options: you can choose between “old world” (European-style), “new world” (North American-style), “your world” (choose your own adventure), sweet or dry flights. They also do craft brandies and gin. They even have a couple of glamping yurts, if you want to stay over (between April and November)!
If wine is your drink of choice, Unsworth Vineyards is right around the corner!
Bonus: Lunch in Shawnigan Lake town. We brought a picnic lunch, but if you want to eat out, Shawnigan Lake is a a cute, tiny town with a few restaurants and a bakery. They even have a little museum!
Extend your trip: there are lots of options for spending more time in the region! Hike/bike part of the expansive Cowichan Valley Trail network; drink your way through the Cowichan Valley wine region or, in warmer weather, go tubing on the Cowichan River.