The Cowichan River is the first class III river for many Vancouver Island paddlers, 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 not far from town, the Marie Canyon scenery actually feels wild. More experienced kayakers will still enjoy the eddy practice, the occasional surf wave, and a couple optional class IV rapids. 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, fed 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. At the current summer base flow of ~7cms, the section is still technically runnable, but will very bony and overrun by inner tubers. A better low-medium flow is around 20-30cms. Unexpectedly, Marie Canyon is not a great high water run, and at flows around 100cms many rapids are washed out.
The put in is just below Skutz Falls in Cowichan River Provincial Park, just over an hour north of Victoria on Highways 1 and 18. The take out is ~2.5km downstream on river left at a small parking lot for Marie Canyon, or further downstream at Stoltz Pool.
Those interested can put in above Skutz Falls (IV), but most paddlers will put in below the fish ladders, on some grassy rock ledges river left. After a warm up rapid, the river winds calmly around Horseshoe Bend. At the end of the bend near Horseshoe Bend Campground, the river enters a canyon with a series of class III rapids. Once you go under the old train trestle, paddle one more class III rapid, then make your way to the left shore to scout the optional takeout rapid (IV), which is usually run on the left. The right channel has been the site of several swimmer/tuber fatalities. A short steep trail leads up the river left bank to the Marie Canyon parking lot. If you are unfamiliar with the run, this final rapid and takeout should be scouted before putting on. Another option is to continue down a couple more class II bends to an easy takeout at Stoltz Pool Campground.