12 Hours in Cowichan: The Ultimate Day Trip


Life is busy, and we know that taking time for fun and adventure can often take a backseat. Well, we’re here to help. If you need a break but don’t have a week or even a weekend, consider taking a day trip to Cowichan. It’s less than an hour from Victoria and Nanaimo, and we might be a little bit biased, but we think it’s amazing. One of the best parts: It makes a perfect day trip. Here’s how to relax, explore, and enjoy 12 hours in the beautiful Cowichan Valley.  

9:00 am: Shawnigan House Coffee Shop and Oma’s Bakery
Location (Picture Credit Instagram @livinghollisstyle) 

If you are heading North from Victoria or South from Nanaimo, start your journey around 8:00 am to arrive at the Shawnigan House Coffee Shop and Oma’s Bakery just in time for breakfast. What could be better than coffee and freshly baked treats to start the day? The coffee shop and bakery are conveniently located right next door to one another, and both have a funky, old-fashioned atmosphere with super friendly staff. We recommend trying one of Oma’s freshly baked muffins or sausage rolls: there are lots of sweet and savoury treats to choose from.

Pro tip: Have something to eat right away and take something along with you for later. You’ll be having a late lunch on this day trip so you’ll want a mid-morning snack to tide you over.

10:00 am: Historic Kinsol Trestle

(Picture Credit Instagram @juliatakespicturesatlej) 

With coffee and snacks in hand, jump in the car and take a right at the 4 way stop sign, and keeping the lake to your left, and let the meandering country road lead you to the historic Kinsol Trestle just 7 kilometers away. This wooden railway trestle crosses over the Koksilah river, and is an awesome place to explore and take photos. It’s a well-known and much-loved destination in Cowichan, celebrated by locals and visitors for its unique character and window into the region’s history.

Walk over the Trestle, or if you’re up for something a little more strenuous, climb down to the river below so you can get the full impact of this magnificent structure when you look up. Don’t forget to snap some photos, enjoy the natural surroundings and soak in the beauty of the coastal rainforest around you.

Did you know? When the railways stopped using the Trestle, it became neglected and unfortunately fell into disarray. It was either tear it down or find a way to restore it. Lots of locals, including the team here at Merridale, believed it to be an important part of Cowichan’s history and thought it should be saved. So, we helped to successfully raise funds to restore the Trestle. Through the good work of McDonald and Lawerence (now called Kinsol Timber Frame) the resurrection of the bridge will continue to bring joy to residents and travellers from around the world for years to come.

11:30 am: Shawnigan Lake

By this time, depending on the temperature, you might want to cool down with a dip in the lake. Get in the car and take the 8-minute drive along Renfrew Road to Shawnigan Lake, where you can swim, wade, or simply enjoy the view from the shoreline.

In summer, there’s lots to do whether you choose to bring a floaty and get in the water or take advantage of the many hiking trails that meander through the area. In fall, there’s gorgeous mist on the lake as the cool morning air mixes with warmth from the lake, which makes for a peaceful view and another fantastic photo op.

Pro tip: There are no public change rooms at the lake, so you’ll have to either wear your swimsuit under your clothes or get changed in the car.

2:00 pm Merridale Farm

By now you’ll likely be ready for lunch, which means you should head over to visit us at Merridale Cidery & Distillery. Start with lunch, or work up a hunger with a self-guided walk around the orchard. Look for faeries and gnomes that are rumoured to live here, and learn about indigenous plants, wildlife, and our cider apples. Take your time to explore and enjoy a leisurely stroll, then head back to the eatery to taste some cider and spirits.

Our tasting bar is the best place to start; here you can see the full cider menu and chat with our staff to learn about each one. Try a craft cider or cocktail flight, or pick your favourite and order a pint. Place your lunch order at the bar and then take a seat – we recommend the covered patio which overlooks the orchard. You’ll feel like you’re in Provence…without ever having left Vancouver Island.

Pro tip: If you’re hungry, start with a charcuterie and cheese board to share, then go for classic Bangers & Mash or our Scrumpy Chicken Pot Pie.

4:00 pm: Afternoon Paddle boarding at Mill Bay Marina
(Picture Credit Instagram @millbaymarina) 

After lunch, get moving with an afternoon paddle in Mill Bay. Rent paddleboards or sea kayaks from the Mill Bay Marina and spend an hour or two out on the water, enjoying the scenery and cool ocean breeze. The bay is usually quite calm, which makes it the perfect place to explore the shoreline and seek out coastal wildlife like starfish, anemones and crabs. Look to the sky and you might see a bald eagle soaring above. If you’ve got a waterproof camera or smartphone, it’s a great opportunity to document your west coast adventure.

6:30 pm: Dinner at Bridgeman’s Bistro
(Picture Credit Instagram @ship_to_shore) 

By this point in the day, you’ve taken time to enjoy the outdoors, taste craft ciders, and soak in the bliss of a day away from your daily responsibilities. Cap it off with a leisurely dinner at Bridgeman’s Bistro, located right on the water at Mill Bay. The view is unparalleled, the atmosphere is airy and inviting, and the food is spectacular.

We recommend sampling the local seafood - there’s lots of it on this menu, and it doesn’t get any fresher. Try the calamari, local clams and mussels, wild salmon and prawn cakes, or the classic seafood Puttanesca.

9:00 pm: Home away from home

You can certainly make the drive home in time for your regular bed time, but you may want to extend your mini-holiday with an overnight stay in one of our yurts here at Merridale. We call it “orchard glamping”, where you’ll have your very own, private, spacious yurt decked out with a queen-sized bed, clawfoot tub and full-sized bathroom. Wake up relaxed and refreshed, overlooking the orchard…and we bet you’ll want to do your Cowichan Day Trip all over again.