If it’s outdoor recreation you’re after, Cowichan River Park on southern Vancouver Island is the place to go. Whether you want to go swimming, canoeing, white-water kayaking, tubing, camping, fishing, hiking, or just want to take it easy in the sun, you’re bound to find something to do in this “recreation corridor” south of Duncan.
This spectacular park protects significant stretches of the Cowichan River, which is designated as both a BC Heritage River and a Canadian Heritage River, and is internationally renowned for its wild salmon and steelhead fishery.
The park is adjacent to an abandoned rail right-of-way, which provides recreation opportunities for cyclists, hikers and horseback riders. While staying at the park, visitors can enjoy other features of Cowichan River Park. These include the historic 20km long Cowichan River Footpath and a variety of day-use and picnic areas, each with their own unique features and highlights. Visitors won’t want to miss the sights from the restored 66-Mile and Holt Creek Trestles on the Trans-Canada trail, which offer spectacular river views and the opportunity to imagine back to a time when log-laden traincars would thunder along these tracks high above the Cowichan River.
Cowichan River Park contains many areas adjacent to the river with steep drop-offs and overhanging bluffs. Please stay on designated trails and respect signs and railings.
The Cowichan River has fluctuating water levels and swift currents. Children should be accompanied by an adult when in or near the river. Visitors should also expect natural occurrences such as log jams and sweepers at any point and at any time along the river. Large rapids exist at Marie Canyon and Skutz Falls throughout the year. Information on these hazards and pull-out locations are posted at the park. Visitors wishing to swim, kayak, canoe, or float tube in this area must familiarize themselves prior to entering the river.
All campsite and group site reservations must be made the BC Parks reservations system. When reservations are not available all campsites function as first-come, first-served.
Campsite reservations are accepted and first come, first served sites are also available.
Group campsite reservations are accepted at this park the BC Parks reservations system.
There are group campsites at Stoltz Pool and Horseshoe Bend.
The Stolz Pool groupsite has been relocated inland due to bank instability caused by river erosion. The new location provides inclusive camping for RVs and tents. The shelter will be installed at the groupsite early June, while all other facilities will be in place at the beginning of April. Guests can access drinking water from the nearest campground loop.
This site has a shelter and is situated beside Cowichan River amongst the trees. There are 11 tent pads. Parking is in a gravel lot above the site. Vehicles are only allowed to drop off at the shelter and then have to park in the lot. Campers and RVs can camp in the parking lot. The shelter has a sink, wood stoves inside the shelter and picnic tables inside and out. Water is available by a water pump in the group site. Cowichan River is beside the site so watch small children. The river can be dangerous certain times of the year, especially in winter, fall or spring. This is a very private site and beautifully situated.
Youth group camping charges per night are $1 per person (6+), with a $50 minimum and $150 maximum. Read the youth group policy about criteria for youth groups.
Regular group camping charges per night are the base rate for the site, which is $80.00 per group site per night, plus $5 per adult (16+, minimum charge for 15 adults), plus $1 per child (6-15). Children under 6 are free.
There are 39 drive-in and four walk-in sites at the Stoltz Pool campsite, situated in a second-growth Douglas-fir stand. All sites are well spaced with easy access to the river. Campsite reservations are accepted and first come, first served sites are also available. Stoltz Pool campground is open year-round. A winter camping fee is in place.
There are four walk-in campsites at the Stoltz Pool campground. Camping is permitted only in designated campsites.
Stoltz Pool campground is open year-round, a winter camping fee is in place.
Winter vehicle accessible camping fee: $11.00 per party per night
Accessibility information is available for these areas of the park:
There are four day-use areas at Cowichan River Park: The main day-use area at Stoltz Pool, as well as Skutz Falls, Marie Canyon and 66-Mile Trestle.
There are several pit toilets available throughout the park.
Cold water hand pumps are located at Stoltz Pool campground, Stoltz Pool group site and Horseshoe Bend group site.
A boat launch is located at the Stoltz Pool day-use area. Parking is available a short distance from the boat launch.
Campfire rings are provided at each campsite. Firewood can be purchased from the park operator. Fees for firewood are set locally and may vary. To preserve vegetation and ground cover, please don’t gather firewood from the area around your campsite or elsewhere in the park. Dead wood is an important habitat element for many plants and animals and it adds organic matter to the soil. You can conserve firewood and air quality by keeping your campfire small. Campfire bans may be implemented. Be prepared to bring a portable stove for cooking.
A maze of developed and undeveloped routes offers significant walking and hiking opportunities in and around Cowichan River Park.
This section of the Trans-Canada trail route stretches from Glenora to Skutz Falls, an ambitious undertaking that involved the restoration of the 66-Mile and Holt Creek Trestles and the rehabilitation of approximately 13 kilometres of abandoned Canadian Pacific Railway grade. The beautiful railway trestles along this route offer spectacular views and a glimpse of the past to a time when log-laden traincars would thunder along the tracks high above the Cowichan River.
Swimming and tubing are popular activities at the Stoltz Pool day-use area and below Skutz Falls.
Warning: The Cowichan River has fluctuating water levels and swift currents. Children should be accompanied by an adult when in or near the river. Visitors should also expect natural occurrences such as log jams and sweepers at any point and at any time along the river. Severe rapids exist at Marie Canyon and Skutz Falls throughout the year. Information on these hazards and pull-out locations are posted at the park. Visitors wishing to swim or float tube in this area must familiarize themselves prior to entering the river. There are no lifeguards on duty.
Canoeing is popular in the Stoltz Pool day-use area.
Kayaking is popular in the Stoltz Pool day-use area. Experienced whitewater kayakers may wish to navigate the river between Skutz Falls and Marie Canyon. The river is suitable for year-round kayaking, although the best water conditions are from October through to June.
Warning: The Cowichan River has fluctuating water levels and swift currents. Paddlers should also expect natural occurrences such as log jams and sweepers at any point and at any time along the river. Severe rapids exist at Marie Canyon and Skutz Falls throughout the year. Information on these hazards and pull-out locations are posted at the park. Visitors must familiarize themselves prior to entering the river.
This park offers excellent river fishing opportunities. The Cowichan River is a highly important river because of its variety and abundance of fish species, including coho, Chinook and chum salmon, steelhead and Rainbow, Brown and Cutthroat trout. It is one of only two rivers in British Columbia known to have Brown trout, which was introduced from Scotland in the 1930s.
Spawning salmon are often easily seen during the fall spawning season at Marie Canyon. All fishing is often closed in this section of the river from October to mid-December. Specific fishing closures are posted at information shelters within the park.
For up-to-date information, all anglers should check all current and relevant freshwater (non-tidal) sport fishing regulations and saltwater sport fishing regulations, including the appropriate licensing requirements, prior to fishing.
River viewing points at Skutz Falls and Marie Canyon are prime locations to watch spawning salmon in the fall, or to have a picnic at the end of a day’s hike. Marie Canyon day-use overlooks the Cowichan River as it surges through a spectacular sheer rock canyon. Skutz Falls offers magnificent views of river rapids and a man-made fish ladder.
Pets and domestic animals must be on a leash and under control all times. You are responsible for their behaviour and must dispose of their excrement. Backcountry areas are not suitable for dogs or other pets due to wildlife issues and the potential for problems with bears.
Bicycles must keep to roadways or the Trans-Canada Trail. Bicycles are not permitted on developed hiking trails. Bicycle helmets are mandatory in British Columbia.
Please note that bicycles with electric assist motors (e-bikes) are not allowed on the trails within Cowichan River Park. E-bikes are restricted to park roads and areas where motorized use is permitted. The only exception to this policy will be for authorized and identified trail maintenance bikes conducting work on behalf of BC Parks.
Horseback riding is permitted on the Trans-Canada trail.
Snorkelling and scuba diving are possible in the Cowichan river and holds great opportunities for fish viewing.
There are three main access points to Cowichan River Park, Skutz Falls road (West access), Highway 18 Connector (middle access), and Robertson road (South East access)
Located off Highway 18, Skutz Falls Road provides access to Skutz Falls day-use area, Horseshoe Bend group campsite, Marie Canyon day-use area and the Skutz Falls trailhead of the Cowichan River trail. Follow signs from Skutz Falls road via Cowichan Lake road and Mayo road to Riverbottom road.
Located off Highway 18, the Highway 18 Connector provides access to the Stoltz Pool campground, group campsite and day-use areas. Follow signs to Riverbottom road.
Located on Robertson road in the Glenora area south of Duncan. To access this point proceed west on Glenora road, turn right onto Vaux road and continue down Vaux road, as it leads into Robertson road. This provides access to the Glenora trailhead of the Cowichan River trail.
This park proudly operated by:
K2 Cowichan Park Services Ltd.
Crown land in this area was recommended for protection in the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan. The park was established in July, 1995. This park contains the first campground built on Vancouver Island since the early 1980s, created in partnership with Forest Renewal BC (FRBC), the Cowichan Lake Community Forest Co-operative (CLCFC) and IWA. FRBC funded the project and CLCFC provided labour by hiring displaced forest workers from IWA local 1-80.
Cowichan, from the Coast Salish word “Khowutzun” meaning “land warmed by the sun,” is an area rich in First Nations, European and resource history.
The Cowichan Valley has been home to the Cowichan Tribes from the earliest times. Cowichan is a collective name for a number of villages on eastern Vancouver Island, including Comiaken, Somenos, Koksilah and Quamichan. Today the Cowichan tribes make up the largest band in British Columbia and members of the band own and reside on much of the land surrounding Duncan and the Cowichan River.
The first European settlers to the region arrived in 1862. Agriculture dominated the early colonial years. Mining replaced agriculture as the primary industry as the forested interior regions became more widely traveled, however it was the forest industry that had the greatest influence on development and settlement in the region. Most of the old-growth forest in the area was logged early in the 20th century, and forestry activities continue to this day.
Since the early 1900s the river has served as a transportation corridor to Lake Cowichan for local logging operations. Old spring board stumps and remnants of camps and rail lines testify to the area’s important logging history.
The Cowichan River is internationally known for its highly valuable and productive fish habitat. Species include coho, Chinook and chum salmon, steelhead and rainbow, brown and Cutthroat trout. The park also protects representative Douglas-fir and Western hemlock forest communities and rare wildflowers.
The area is known to provide habitat for many species of birds and wildlife. Small mammals found in the park include shrews, voles, bats and the native red squirrel. Raccoons, mink, martens, and weasels are also common, and river otters and beavers inhabit the river. The native Vancouver Island ermine, a blue-listed species, has also been found in the park. Larger mammals include black bears, which can be seen in the park during salmon spawning, as well as cougars, black-tailed deer, and Roosevelt elk.
The Cowichan Valley sustains thousands of birds of at least 200 different species. Species resident to the park include osprey, hawks, owls, ravens, and crows as well as many species of songbirds. Bald eagles can be seen along the river in late fall and winter.
BC Parks honours Indigenous Peoples’ connection to the land and respects the importance of their diverse teachings, traditions, and practices within these territories. This park webpage may not adequately represent the full history of this park and the connection of Indigenous Peoples to this land. We are working in partnership with Indigenous Peoples to update our websites so that they better reflect the history and cultures of these special places.