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Lake Cowichan is the perfect holiday destination on Vancouver Island. This town is aptly named after its stunning lake, which is surrounded by breathtaking scenery and plenty of relaxing and fun things to do. It’s one of my favorite spots to visit on the island.
In the summer, the town explodes with visitors who come to enjoy the lake in awesome weather. It gets busier than you might expect – which is what happened on our last visit. Thankfully, we have tons of info on the best things to do as well as places to stay. That way, you can sit back and enjoy your holiday.
So keep reading for the best things to do in Lake Cowichan as well as our other tips about visiting!
Things to do in Lake Cowichan, Vancouver Island
1. Go river tubing
Considered a hidden gem on Vancouver Island, tubing on the Cowichan River will be a remarkable experience you can’t miss. You can conveniently rent everything you need at the Tube Shack right in town, although I would book rentals ahead of time since they are only open during the summer and it gets pretty busy.
Rental prices at the Tube Shack include transportation back to your car (the shuttle runs every 10 to 15 minutes). A single tube is $20 CAD (for 2.5 hours). The family pass includes 4 tubes for 2 adults and 2 children and it’s $60 CAD (also 2.5 hours). If you bring your own tubes, you can simply get the shuttle pass for $10 CAD per person (which should also be booked in advance).
For more information about pricing and availability, visit the Rentals section on the Cowichan River website.
Tubing is one of those activities I recommend to everyone because it’s really fun, relaxing, and one of the easiest ways to form great memories with family and friends while traveling. It starts right in town and it takes around 3 hours to tube down the river. The company has a free parking lot for tubers and it’s only a 5-minute walk from the shop.
2. Visit Gordon Bay, Provincial Park
Gordon Bay Provincial Park is only a 15-minute drive from Lake Cowichan town and it’s one of the most popular destinations in the area. The park is absolutely beautiful with amazing views of the lake and an incredibly peaceful atmosphere year-round.
This is a fantastic place to spend the whole day and maybe even catch a sunset during the summer. However, this park is most famous for being one of the best camping spots on Vancouver Island.
The Gordon Bay Campsite is very spacious and it has well-maintained facilities. They do turn off the water from the showers during winter, but the flush toilets work year-round. They sell firewood right there in the camping area for campers. Campsites are only $13 CAD per night in the off season, but $34 per night in high season when it’s best to reserve a spot in advance.
The warm lake draws many tourists to Cowichan every year, and you can swim in several places nearby. However, at Gordon Bay, you’ll get some of the best views from the water. It has a lovely beach and is a highly recommended stop for anyone visiting the area.
Related Read: If stunning views and beaches are your thing, you might also like these fun things to do in Qualicum Beach.
3. Enjoy a meal by the water at Jake’s at the Lake
If you’re looking for a restaurant with a tasty, diverse menu and a lovely deck overlooking the water, Jake’s at the Lake is the place to go. The very attentive and warm staff made us feel welcome right away and made sure we got a table outside to enjoy the view.
Jake’s is located at 109 South Shore Road and is open Sunday through Monday 11:30 am – 8 pm, and Fridays and Saturdays from 11:30 am – 9 pm. However, it’s best to check their website for current hours as they sometimes change.
We’ve tried most things on the menu and I have to say this is the best restaurant in Cowichan Lake. They change the specials every week, so you’ll probably get to try something new every time you’re in town. The popcorn prawns are one of their most popular appetizers and I can personally vouch for them. very tasty!). Their fries and onion rings are super crispy and the wings are spectacular (we’ve tried the blueberry BBQ and the honey garlic).
This is also a nice place to have a drink, especially a sundowner. Their cocktails are also pretty famous, and the overall drinks selection is phenomenal. We’ve got nothing but nice things to say about Jake’s At The Lake!
Lake Cowichan and its surroundings have some of the best fishing spots on Vancouver Island. There are private tours you can book every season to catch all sorts of fish in the lake or river. The most common and easiest fish to catch in this area are trout and bass.
Kenzie’s Fishing Adventure offers private tours for 2 people starting at $500 CAD and they include all the equipment, drinks, snacks, and lunch, not to mention the guidance of local professional fishers. This tour along the Cowichan River takes around 6 hours and starts early in the morning.
For fly fishing enthusiasts, you can visit several fishing spots in the Cowichan River. From March to June, you’ll be able to catch different species of trout, and there’s steelhead fishing during winter.
5. Go for a swim at Arbutus Park
Arbutus Park has the best beach for swimming during the summer. With clear water, lifeguards, and comfortable facilities, this is one of the favorite places for locals and tourists year-round. It’s only a 15-minute drive from Lake Cowichan town along Youbou Rd, and parking is easy once you arrive.
There’s a lot of shade throughout the park, some lovely picnic areas, and beautiful pathways to walk around and enjoy the fresh air.
Kids absolutely love this park and the floating dock at the beach. Just like most community parks in Vancouver Island, it’s in great shape and the locals take excellent care of it. The bathrooms and changing rooms are always clean!
6. Explore Honeymoon Bay
Honeymoon Bay is a small cozy town about 10 minutes from Cowichan Lake town. There’s a Saturday Market that is quite famous in the area, with live music and various stands. You can find many things, from local produce, pastries, and spices to clothing, artisanal jewelry, candles, and even furniture made by local carpenters.
Everyone is welcome, including dogs (on leash) and they are open Saturdays from 10 am to 2 pm. It’s a fantastic way to start your morning if you are visiting Cowichan Lake, and you’ll probably end up getting a bunch of souvenirs (like we did!)
The Saturday market isn’t the only thing to do in Honeymoon Bay. You can go swimming in the bay or stop by LuMi Cafe for lunch. The salads and sandwiches are amazing, and the espresso and gelato make this stop almost mandatory.
7. Grab a coffee at Ed’s Coffeehouse
Stop by Ed’s Coffeehouse for delicious baked goodies, hot and cold drinks, and a cozy atmosphere. They are open from 10 am to 4 pm, but some nights they host outdoor family movie nights where you can bring chairs, blankets, and snacks. These movie nights are getting increasingly popular, and if you have the chance to go, it’s something you shouldn’t miss, especially if you’re traveling with children!
Every single coffee on the menu is fantastic. I always end up ordering an iced mocha if it’s a warm day. While it has lovely vibe, we normally get our Ed’s Coffeehouse to go since there’s plenty to do nearby.
8. Get a to-go coffee and walk through Ohtaki Park and the Duck Pond Bridge
What we usually do is grab a coffee at Ed’s Coffehouse and walk over the Duck Pond Bridge. The views of the river are spectacular. We took some of the best pictures of our trip on this bridge. It connects Ohtaki Park (south) to the Kinsmen Duck Pond (north of the river).
This whole area is fantastic for a walk at any hour of the day, it doesn’t matter the season. The tall trees, views of the mountains and beautiful river make it a magical place. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy a coffee in the morning before a fun-filled day in Lake Cowichan.
9. Go houseboating
At Cowichan Lake, you can rent a floating house to spend the night. They are called houseboats and are fully equipped like a standard house – the only difference being these houseboats float on water. You can’t imagine how relaxing it is to wake up surrounded by calm water, have breakfast, drink coffee, and maybe even go for an energizing swim.
The cost of renting these houseboats varies depending on the size and amenities. The great news is that they are quite large and can fit between 12 to 16 people comfortably! Prices range from $1300 CAD to $2000 CAD. You can also rent kayaks or dinghies for $25 CAD a day.
This was our first time having a BBQ while floating on the lake. The houseboats include a grill with all necessary utensils, and the showers have hot water, of course. This was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us! So if you want to learn more about houseboating and check availability, you can visit the Island Houseboats’ website.
10. Step back in time at JV’s Diner
I love restaurants that make you feel like you are stepping back in time, and JV’s Diner has the vibe of a classic American Diner. You can find it going down Saywell Park at 162 S Shore Road, and it’s open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:30 am – 7 pm. It’s a local favorite and a very popular stop for tourists.
JV’s Diner doesn’t just look like a ’50s diner – the menu is exactly what you would expect from a classic American joint, starting with their delicious milkshakes. It truly seems like this place got stuck in the 1950s with its vintage signs, kids’ candy machines, delicious hamburgers and wraps, as well as pizza and sandwiches.
To me, this is one of the more unique things to do in Lake Cowichan!
11. Kaatza Station Museum
In Lake Cowichan, the Kaatza Station Museum has a magnificent collection of photographs, artifacts, trinkets, and machinery from over a century ago. This little museum is the best place to learn about the town’s history.
Like most museums in Vancouver Island, there’s no entrance fee, but there’s a donation box and a souvenir shop where you can contribute. The museum is open every day from 10 am – 4 pm July through August, and Monday through Friday 10 am – 4 pm in winter. It’s located at 125 B S Shore Road, near JVs Diner and the Lake Shack.
On our visit, we learned about Lake Cowichan’s logging history and everyday life in the communities around town decades ago. The outdoor exhibits are in great shape and kids love them. It’s a nice place to go for a couple of hours, walk around, and soak in the history of this lovely town.
12. Cowichan River Provincial Park
Cowichan River Provincial Park is right in the middle of Lake Cowichan and Duncan (a small town west). It’s huge park with tons of different trails, places to swim, and even a few campsites hidden in the woods. It’s another famous vacation spot for families and also a popular park where locals exercise.
The hiking trails aren’t difficult, it’s pet-friendly, and very well maintained.
There’s a parking lot near Skutz Falls with easy access to the small waterfall and some nice places to fish if your bring your own line. If you’re hoping to hike and camp, there are walk-in camping options at Stolz Campground.
On the highest points of the trails, you’ll find some lookouts where you can see the whole valley and smaller, shallow creeks. There’s also a wooden stairs to climb some of the steeper points along the trail.
13. Hike part of the Cowichan Valley Trail
You can hike at least part of the Cowichan Valley Trail. We say “part” because it’s over 122 km (62 mi) long in total! It takes you from Duncan to Lake Cowichan and back. There are picnic areas where families gather for a break along the hike as well as horseback riding. Since it’s so extensive, it’s also very popular among cyclists.
There are several entrances to the trail and many beautiful places to rest and take amazing pictures. You may encounter a lot of people walking and running with their dogs. There are only a few signs throughout the trail, so try to familiarize yourself with the route beforehand, especially since you won’t be getting much signal on your phone either.
14. Spring Beach Recreational Site
A short drive from town, you’ll find Spring Beach Recreation Site. It features some of the best views of the mountain, but remember to bring your beach shoes since this beach can be a bit rocky. However, it’s still one of my favorite beaches near Lake Cowichan, and you’ll know why the minute to get there!
The trails are in good shape, even for biking, and the tall trees surrounding the beach provide plenty of shade. Picnic tables are available, making it a nice place to go with your family. You can spend the day here, have some snacks and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere of the lake.
15. Check out Youbou
This restaurant has had its ups and downs, but currently, we consider it one of the best restaurants in the area. They don’t have an extravagant menu, but everything is really tasty, the portions are big and the prices are decent. The burgers are amazing and they sell really good pizza, but the salads and the Power Bowl were my favorites by far.
All the ingredients were fresh and filled with flavor. If hungry, you should also try the fries with garlic aioli.
The staff is extremely friendly and welcoming to tourists, plus they’re all proud locals and will happily answer any questions you have about the area. This pub is open Sunday through Thursday from 12 pm – 8 pm and Friday and Saturday from 12 pm – 9 pm.
Since it’s also a bar, you can also choose from local beer on tap or a selection of international beers. The cocktails are good, but a little bit pricey. I recommend that you try the locally crafted cider.
16. Jump off the dock at Saywell Park
Right beside the Kaatza Station Museum, you can visit the town’s main park: Saywell Park. Here, you can go for a walk and visit the beach any time of the day. On the beach, you’ll find a floating dock where you can swim on crystal clear water. This is my favorite place in Lake Cowichan for a quick swim early in the morning or right before sunset.
This is also the place where locals take their dogs for walks, so you’ll probably get to say hello to a bunch of local doggies after you swim. Plus, JV’s Diner is just a short walk from the dock!
17. Camping on Lake Cowichan
Camping is by far the best thing to do in Lake Cowichan, and most of the sites are open year-round. There are tons of campsites all up and down the lake with impeccable amenities and beautiful views. You won’t need to worry about safety because these campgrounds are secured and constantly watched by rangers, foresters, and lifeguards.
In Honeymoon Bay can visit the Gordon Bay Camp Site. It features one of the most beautiful little beaches near Lake Cowichan. It’s a little bit rocky, but the water is crystal clear. There’s plenty of room for everyone even during high season and the showers always have hot water.
You’ll really be one with nature in Pine Point Recreation Site since there aren’t showers or restrooms. But the place is nice and the calm water of the lake gets warm enough for you to take a dip. Plus, the sunrise here is stunning! This site is seasonal and it’s open May through September.
Stoker Park is another smaller option and while you can’t camp here, you can spend a day chilling under the picnic shelters or swimming. It has picnic tables, a cozy little beach, a playground, and very clean bathrooms (open seasonally). You’ll find it driving west on Marble Bay Road.
Where to Stay in Lake Cowichan
Lake Cowichan is a small community and as such, you’ll find more B&Bs and small cottages than hotels. I think this adds to its local charm and gives your stay a more personal feel. However, I recommend booking well in advance during the summer months since accommodation is limited and there a high demand.
Cottonwood is a one-bedroom cottage in Youbou, a 15-minute drive from Lake Cowichan. With prices starting at $70 CAD, it’s budget-friendly, but still provides comfort and a lot of privacy. It comes with a separate living room, terrace, balcony, BBQ, air conditioning, and private parking. This place only has one privately-owned cottage so it gets booked early, but also has personal touches like homemade treats and a warm welcome.
Crown House B&B is a bed and breakfast located on North Shore Road, just minutes from the center of town. They offer both Queen Rooms and Superior Queen Rooms with prices starts from just over $200 CAD/night. Of course, a beautiful breakfast is included each morning and the outdoor hot tub is perfect for relaxing in after a busy day of exploring.
If you’re willing to pay more, Cowichan River Lodge has luxurious accommodations right on the riverbank and is surrounded by nature, but only a 10-15 minute drive to Lake Cowichan’s sites. It has a chic log cabin aesthetic with high ceilings and a wooden interior that make it feel cozy yet spacious. Each room has a balcony or terrace, and there’s a garden and shared lounge. The lodge doesn’t have a restaurant, but they do serve breakfast and helpful staff are happy to recommend places to eat.
Renting a Car in British Columbia
If you’re arriving in British Columbia via plane, then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. British Columbia is a large province and traveling between the best places to visit in BC requires transport. Although you can use public transport on some occasions, this means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.
Car rental in Canada is relatively cheap, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with a pickup and drop-off in different locations is around $70 CAD per day. The price does vary though, depending on the time of year. For car rentals, I use the website Discover Cars. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used Discover Cars all over the world, including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.
Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic, you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!
Thanks for reading!
Lake Cowichan is a fantastic getaway destination to experience small town charm and get close to nature. While the lake is ideal for summer activities, it’s not the only thing to do in Lake Cowichan! I hope my list has helped you find other things to fill your itinerary and have an awesome vacation in this area!
If you enjoyed this blog, you might enjoy reading more about Vancouver Island here. I also selected a few more blog articles below that might come in handy when visiting Lake Cowichan.