Cowichan River - Marie Canyon

Contributed by Scott McBride
What It's Like
The bread and butter run of the south Island. Consistently flowing class III canyon.
Scouting / Portaging
1-2 hours
When to Go
Year round, albeit very low during summer.
18.4cms↓ (Nov 27 23:05)
The Cowichan River is many Vancouver Island paddlers' first class III river, close enough for a day trip from Victoria, and almost always at runnable flows. It hosts school groups as well as the Cowichan River Youth Kayak Festival. For an intermediate run, the Marie Canyon scenery actually feels quite wild. More experienced kayakers will still enjoy the eddy practice, the occasional surf wave, and an optional class IV rapid at the put in (Skutz Falls). Look for more details on this run and others in an upcoming guidebook from the Vancouver Island Whitewater Paddling Society.

Runnable flows in the fall, winter, and spring are fairly consistent by Island standards, as they are buffered by the large Cowichan Lake. As flows drop into the summer, a weir at the outlet of the lake retains enough water to release at very low levels. In 2020, plans to raise the weir are advancing, which may provide slightly more summer flow in the future. At the current summer base flow of ~6cms, the section is still technically runnable, but will very scrapey and overrun by inner tubers. A better low-medium flow is around 30cms. Because it is inset in a small canyon within a canyon, this run does not actually get better with more water, and at a flow of 100cms is just a fast wood-dodging affair with few rapids.

2020 hydrograph and median for COWICHAN RIVER AT LAKE COWICHAN (08HA002).

The put in is just below Skutz Falls in Cowichan River Provincial Park, just over an hour north of Victoria on Highway 1 and 18. The take out is ~2.5km downstream on river left at a small parking lot for Marie Canyon.

Those interested can put in above Skutz Falls (IV), but most will put in just below on river left on some grassy rock ledges. After a warm up rapid, the river winds calmly around Horseshoe Bend. After the bend, the river enters a canyon with a series of class III rapids. Once you pass under the trestle, paddle one more rapid, then make your way to the left shore to scout the optional takeout rapid (III+), which is run on the left. A short steep trail leads to the parking lot, or continue down a couple more class II bends to an easy takeout at Stoltz Pool Campground.

Marie Canyon is a popular with both whitewater canoeists and kayakers. Photo Rick Bryan.

Hanging out in the canyon. Photo Rick Bryan.

Much of the run is inset in a miniature canyon within the riverbed.

The optional class III+ rapid at the takeout, which is run on the left to avoid a narrow right channel.

Another view of the optional takeout rapid.