Southern Vancouver Island Trip Report: A Two Night Trip To Lake Cowichan and Ruckle Provincial Park By Bike (April 2nd-4th, 2021)
I woke on Friday morning hoping to have fully recovered from the cold that had kept me home for a few days earlier in the week. Easter long weekend was finally here and I’d been planning on making good use of it since I moved back to the island.
Leading up to my big summer adventure I knew it was important to get a practice cycle touring trip in, so I’d made plans to spend three days riding around lower Vancouver Island. My route would take me north along Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail before veering west and linking up with the Cowichan Valley Trail. Shortly before getting to Lake Cowichan, I’d leave the trail to Camp at Stoltz Pools campground. The following day, the Cowichan Valley Trail would take me back west to Lake Cowichan and then double back almost all the way to Crofton where I planned to catch a ferry to Saltspring Island. There, I’d cross the island to spend the night at Ruckle Provincial Park before returning to Victoria the following day. I prepared well, yet I was still unsure of exactly what to expect.
Day 1: Victoria to Stoltz Pools Campground (92 km / 959 m)
I organized my equipment the night before I left. Everything was placed in my pannier bags, ensuring it would fit, and I made an effort to eliminate the non-essentials. I allowed myself one more long, restful night in an attempt to fight off the runny nose that lingered. It did not completely go away, but I felt well enough to at least start my trip.
I woke at 7:00, brewed a necessary cup of coffee, and tried to assess the state of my health while I watched the steam rise off of my AeroPress. With the same determined force I used to push the plunger down and the coffee into my cup, I decided that I’d go. By the time I swallowed the last sip the morning fog had dispersed, and with my bearings straight I loaded up my bike.
On the way out the door, I picked it up, agonizing over its weight. “Is there anything else I can leave behind?” I wondered for a moment. “Nothing.” I started an activity on my Garmin, built up momentum with a few kicks, and rolled away from the house.
“25 kilometers an hour? That’s not a bad clip for the amount of weight I’m carrying,” I thought to myself as I powered out of Victoria along the Galloping Goose cycling path. Re-tracing my route in my head, I knew I had some elevation waiting for me.
When I reached Langford, I turned off the road and onto the gravelly Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail. The trail wound its way back into the woods, and across a suspension bridge before rounding a final flat corner. The hill that both the Sooke Hills Wilderness trail and the Malahat pass cross came into sight. I sped up on my approach to build momentum but I was quickly forced to use my easiest gear. A few hundred meters later the hill steepened and I put as much force as I could into my pedals. Eventually, I had to stop for a moment to allow my heart rate to settle.
When I started again, I committed to cresting the hill. A colorful arrangement of curse words was the only saving grace that got me there. And, as soon as I said them, I heard laughing behind me. It was three women I’d seen on the trail earlier sped past me while I suffered on.
That section of the route was the biggest climb, and the rest of my day was mild in comparison. I stopped at Kinsol Trestle for lunch and then continued on to Stoltz Pools. When I arrived at 4:00, there was only one campsite remaining, so I claimed it and settled in for the evening.
Day 2: Stoltz Pools Campground to Ruckle Provincial Park (57 km / 682 m)
Once my fellow campers turned off their RV generators I slept well. Early in the morning, I noticed the pitter-patter of raindrops on the tent fly above me, but I turned over and went back to sleep. Nothing was getting wet.
At 7:00 my alarm went off and I put on my rain gear and climbed out of my tent to assess how wet my campsite had become. It wasn’t bad. I made a coffee and oatmeal and slowly packed up camp, attempting to towel things off before putting them back in their spot inside my panniers. I was back on the road by 9:00 and as I climbed out of the Cowichan River Valley I left the mini-ecosystem of moisture behind me as well. Instead of looping back to Lake Cowichan, I rode directly towards Duncan on the section of the Cowichan Valley Rail Trail that runs on the northern edge of the valley. Approaching Ducan, the weather only improved. I was still wary of the forecast for rain on Salt Spring Island, but I tried to enjoy the sun as I made my way through rural North Cowichan, towards Crofton.
“Perfect timing,” I silently exclaimed to myself when I checked the ferry schedule after my descent into Crofton. The next sailing for Vesuvius Bay on Saltspring Island was leaving in 25 minutes.
Fueled by the lunch I ate on the ferry I pedaled into Ganges and stopped for Coffee. From there, the roads went up and down as I climbed and descended into Ruckle Park. I was surprised when I arrived, both by the lack of people and by the lack of rain. Naturally, I had to go back and forth several times before I decided which campsite I liked best. I chose well. Once I finished cooking, I sat down on the stump I’d scoped out during the decision-making process with my dinner and looked out at the ocean. One of my neighbors yelled “whales” and ran down to the water. Three of four Orcas were breaching as they swam through the Haro Strait off in the distance. Everyone at the campground stared in awe. After dinner, my three-year-old neighbor came over and asked if I wanted a “snore” at the group campfire. Her mother informed me that by “snore,” she meant “smore”. I excitedly accepted the offer.
Others at the campfire were experienced cycle tourists, and we talked about my upcoming summer of cycle touring. They adamantly assured me that I’d be doing between 100 and 150 kilometers per day instead of the 70 I’d been anticipating. It was nice to receive reassurance of my preparedness verbally, not just through experience.
Day 3: Ruckle Provincial Park to Victoria (43 km / 337 m)
With only 40 kilometers remaining in my journey, I allowed myself to sleep in at Ruckle Park. I woke to the sun shining through the tent door that overlooked the ocean from where I slept.
Outside of my tent, I enjoyed the campsite I’d selected the night before. I felt the grass between my toes walking towards the water where I sat for a while breathing deeply and allowing the view to flood my mind with endorphins.
Slowly I packed up camp and made my way back home. Unplanned, yet perfect timing at the ferry again and familiar terrain from Swartz Bay onward made for a smooth ride home.
- Rides with GPS Route 👉
- Galloping Goose cycling path from Victoria to Langford.
- Sooke Hills Wilderness Trail paralleling the Malahat north from Longford to Shawnigan Lake.
- Cowichan Valley Trail from Shawnigan Lake to the Riverbottom Road West Turnoff. This is where you can leave the trail to go to Stoltz Pools Campground.
- From Stoltz Pools campground, you have the option to pick up where you left off on the Cowichan Valley Trail, or to turn north on Stolze Road and ride the Cowichan Valley Trail on the north side of the Valley back. Continuing on the Cowichan Valley Rail Trail on the south side of the valley will take you all the way to Lake Cowichan. The Cowichan Valley Trail on the north side of the valley will take you back east towards Duncan.
- Rural roads through North Cowichan from Duncan to Crofton follows.
- Ferry from Crofton to Vesuvius Bay.
- Rural roads from Vesuveus bay to Ruckle provincial park through Ganges.
- Rural roads from Ruckle Provincial park to Fulford Bay.
- Ferry from Fulford Bay to Swartz Bay.
- Lochside trail back to Victoria from Swartz Bay.
I found great value in spending three days alone, challenging myself. It gave me time to reflect and grow through experience. I also learned that I should cut down on the amount of gear I carry, and to limit the number of nights I spend in expensive provincial campgrounds. All-in-all, I enjoyed the trip greatly.