There are a lot of people on Vancouver Island (and, doubtless, elsewhere) who would argue the wisdom of spending $7 million to rehabilitate a crumbling old train trestle in the middle of nowhere. We are not among those skeptics; in fact, we are very grateful for the foresight of the Cowichan Valley Regional District and the many others who saw the opportunity to open a whole new world to Island residents and visitors when they began campaigning to save the historic Kinsol Trestle, nestled in the heart of the Cowichan valley near Shawnigan Lake.
The Kinsol Trestle has proven to be a vital and popular link in the Cowichan Valley Trail route, a 76 mile (122 km) stretch of wide, well-maintained packed gravel and dirt trails open to hikers, cyclists and equestrians. The trail meanders through some of the loveliest countryside on the Island, includes other trestle crossings, washroom facilities and picnic sites, and is relatively level, so an easy outing for virtually anyone who is reasonably mobile. It is also accessible from a variety of locations, so users can easily choose to do short or long excursions. The Cowichan Valley Trail is also part of the Trans Canada Trail, which stretches 16,800 km (or 10,400 miles) from Atlantic to Pacific.
Until July of 2011, however, there was a major gap in the Cowichan Valley network – the historic Kinsol Trestle was dilapidated to the point where the access at each end had been removed due to safety concerns. The only way to cross the Koksilah River was via an 8 km/5 mile detour through difficult terrain – not an appealing option for hikers, and certainly not high on the ‘to-do’ list for cyclists.
Happily for those of us who enjoy the outdoors the regional district saw an opportunity to preserve the Kinsol and thus increase tourism and recreation in the area. Also happily, a prestigious and very capable firm located in Cobble Hill, right in the heart of the Cowichan area, proposed a conservation strategy that proved acceptable and workable.
The restoration of the Kinsol Trestle was no simple undertaking – at 145 feet high and 617 feet long, it is the largest wooden trestle in the Commonwealth and one of the highest railway trestles in the world. Started in 1911, it was completed in 1920 as a major thoroughfare for the logging trains that serviced the Island’s thriving forest industry. The last train to cross the Kinsol did so in 1979, and the trestle was abandoned a year later. Over the years it deteriorated to the point where it was in danger of being demolished altogether.
The work on the Kinsol began in July 2010, and just over a year later it was reopened to the general public. Today it offers very safe passage to thousands of visitors a year. The wide solid plank walkway, high railings and various viewing platforms both on and off the gently-curving trestle leave one marveling at our good fortune in having this gem of a link, and at the ingenuity that spawned this magnificent structure a century ago and rehabilitated it so recently. It is a great, thought-provoking connection to Vancouver Island’s history, an awe-inspiring sight and yet another reminder of just how lucky we are here on the Island.
Good walking shoes are recommended if you plan to explore any distance along the trail. Dogs are welcome, on-leash.
Further information on the Kinsol Trestle, getting there, its’ history and restoration can be obtained at the Cowichan Valley Regional District website:
or at the website operated by the Shawnigan Lake Museum at:
GPS co-ordinates are:
Lat. 48.66837688828138 Long. -123.69390964508056
N 48 40.103 W 123 41.635