The Kinsol Trestle, near Shawnigan Lake, BC, is one of the largest and most spectacular rail trestles in the world (and the very largest in all of the Commonwealth Nations, in case that is still something people pay attention to). Trestles are frames used to guide railway tracks over valleys and rivers and were usually made of timber. They are also often referred to as “trestle bridges”, although in most cases the bridge part is redundant (like Safeway grocery store or Florida Man does something stupid).
This particular trestle is 187 metres long and stands 44 metres high, passing over the Koksilah River. It is one of 8 trestles on the Cowichan Valley Trail route but is by far the biggest and most impressive. Its 7-degree curve is unusual and represents an amazing feat of engineering, with the beams initially numbered and put together like a jigsaw puzzle.
It is something to see at any time of year – sun shining off the greenery in summer or surrounded by scenic snow in winter. If you do happen to visit after a recent snowfall I’d be curious to know if you also saw a set of 3 inexplicable circles in the snow with scatter marks as though something fell from the sky, despite the fact they were well away from any tree or the trestle itself. The mystery haunts me to this day…
The Historic Kinsol Trestle
In the early 20th century the “Galloping Goose” rail line was built to more efficiently transport old growth timber between Victoria and Nootka Sound, passing through other big logging areas in Cowichan Lake and Port Alberni. The Kinsol Trestle was designed by engineers but built mostly by local loggers and farmers and was finally completed in 1920. The name actually comes from the “King Solomon Mines” nearby, which were, in the interest of full disclosure, not legally affiliated with the actual King Solomon.
Ultimately, the Kinsol Trestle was in use for less than 60 years, with the last train crossing way back in 1979. It eventually deteriorated to the point it wasn’t even safe for hiking or biking and the government was considering tearing it down for safety reasons. Then, in 2007, the idea of extending the Trans Canada Trail along the rail line was floated and in 2009 a “Save the Historic Kinsol Trestle Campaign” began raising funds to repair it. The $2 million renovation was finally completed in 2011. Today the Kinsol Trestle Recreation Site is one of the most popular tourist attractions on Vancouver Island and is sometimes referred to as the Shawnigan Lake Trestle Bridge.
Kinsol Trestle Hike
The Kinsol Trestle trail is an easy, flat 1.5-kilometre walk (one-way) through nice forest from the south parking lot. It is even wheelchair accessible and stroller-friendly (although it is crushed gravel so make sure you go with your bounciest rubber tires).
There are a number of information boards at the bridge providing photos, details and history, as well as some observation decks. It is easy to cross the trestle bridge, checking out the stunning views along the way, and also worth walking down to the riverside using the various paths at either end although the trail down is a bit steep. There are several more small trails leading away from the trestle, some following the scenic riverbanks, others heading off deeper into the forest. There is a fascinating contrast between the views from up top and down below, and keep your eyes peeled for the huge variety of birds that live around the Kinsol Trestle, including impressive kingfishers and darting swallows.
Cowichan Valley Trail
The Kinsol Trestle Trail represents just a small part of the much larger Cowichan Valley Trail, which runs for 120 kilometres between the Malahat and the Nanaimo area. This outstanding multi-use trail is part of The Great Trail (formerly known as the Trans Canada Trail), passes through a variety of incredible landscapes and features 7 additional trestles, including Holt Creek, McGee Creek and Marie Canyon.
Other Details and Info
The park is open every day, year-round from dawn to dusk and is a popular picnic area in summer. There are quite a few good swimming spots along the Koksilah River to enjoy on nice days. There are accessible toilets at the parking lot and on the north side of the bridge itself but no portable water so you should carry some with you. Dogs are allowed but need to be kept on a leash.
The trestle can be accessed from the south parking lot off Glen Eagles road in Shawnigan Lake (via the Kinsol Trestle Trail) or the north parking lot off Riverside Drive in Cobble Hill. Even though the north lot is technically closer (just a few hundred metres walk), the drive from is considerably longer and the road is pretty rough so the south lot is far more popular. The southern parking area fits around 35 cars and can sometimes fill up on summer weekends. There are also some parking areas along the road, in case you don’t get there in time to get a spot.
Kinsol Trestle Directions
To reach the south lot by vehicle:
From Victoria to Kinsol Trestle, take the Trans Canada Highway north to Mill Bay/Shawnigan Lake Road, turn west (left) and follow it to the Village of Shawnigan Lake. Then take a right onto Shawnigan Lake Road, which eventually becomes Renfrew Road, and stay on this past the end of the lake and take a right onto Gleneagles Road. There is a public parking area about 550 metres down the road on the right side.
From Nanaimo, take the Trans-Canada south past Duncan and turn west (right) onto Cobble Hill / Shawnigan Lake Road, which will take you to the village. Then follow the same instructions as above.
After visiting the Kinsol Trestle, Vancouver Island stop in Goldstream Provincial Park to visit the unbelievable Niagara Falls, just a 10-minute walk from the recreation area parking lot. A little farther up a second trail is the Goldstream Trestle, another impressive structure, although keep in mind there are no safety railings on this one.
Near Victoria you’ll find several great beaches, diverse Mount Work Regional Park, plus Esquimalt Lagoon, a scenic bird sanctuary and popular walking beach with driftwood sculptures, Hatley Castle and our favourite beach in Victoria. Close to it is Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse ($8 per person for both), which are well worth a look for the views and the history.
The second important estuary in the area, Witty’s Lagoon is only about a 10-minute drive west from Esquimalt and, in addition to the expected quota of bird species, also features picturesque Sitting Lady Falls, spectacular Tower Point, lots of harbour seals and, sometimes, even skimboarders. If you know what that is, then you’re probably pretty surprised. If you don’t, you probably should be.
The Sooke Potholes are a series of interesting rapids, pools and small waterfalls on the Sooke River. They are actually at their most scenic in the summer when the river is lower because in the rainy season the water gets up so high that the “potholes” actually disappear. Nearby Mary Vine Creek waterfall, on the other hand, is at its roaring, frothing best after a big rain.
There are a lot of scenic hiking trails in East Sooke Park, with the East Sooke Coast Trail, in particular, considered by many (including us) to be one of the best day hikes in British Columbia.
The Kinsol Trestle is one of the iconic tourist sites on Vancouver Island and a fascinating piece of Canadian history. Considering how easy it is to reach, it is well worth a visit to admire this phenomenal feat of construction and enjoy the terrific views and beautiful surrounding old growth forest.
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