Shawnigan Lake: Where to Stay, Eat and Play

Head to the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island for a serene lakeside escape

Head to the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island for a serene lakeside escape

Shivering, I grip the wakeboarding handle, position my feet with toes pointing up, and yell “Hit it!” The boat slowly shifts forward and I bend my knees, maneuvering myself into a standing position while keeping a firm gloved grasp on the rope. Now I’m gliding along the lake’s surface, water spraying from my board as I swish slowly back and forth. I’m wakeboarding for my first time in years on Shawnigan Lakea boater’s paradise found on Vancouver Island, and my kids are cheering me on blithely from the back of the boat.

An annual stay at Shawnigan Lake has become a summer tradition for our family, the destination full of fun things to do, places to eat and quaint shops to explore. For us, this lake fuels our fervor for boating, but the lakeside town has so much more to offer. An hour from downtown Victoria and just over an hour from Nanaimo, Shawnigan Lake is a beautiful B.C. escape that’s accessible from the city, yet feels worlds away.

Here’s where to stay, eat, and play while soaking up the sun in Shawnigan Lake…

1. Where to stay

The accommodations are part of the appeal in Shawnigan Lake. With no hotels or resorts on the lake, there is no overcrowding. Instead, visitors can choose from a wide range of residential rentals. From cozy vintage cabins chock-full of character, to luxurious lakeside homes featuring all the comforts of home, the options are aplenty.

Newly opened, Vintage Cabins on Shawnigan Lake offers updated duo dwellings that date back to 1912 and 1945, providing a hideaway that is steeped in Shawnigan Lake history. Offering private waterfront views and decorated with vintage finds that date back to the site’s early days, the accommodations will take you back to the good ol’ days on the lake as you enjoy a cozy, quiet escape at the water’s edge.

2. Where to play

Beloved by boaters, the lake is perfect for waterskiing, tubing, fishing and more. There’s a fuelling marina right on the lake, so boaters can gas up as they go, and there are many quiet, calm coves that offer the perfect conditions for water sports throughout the day. Most lakefront rental properties include docks for moorage, and there’s a public boat launch for easy water entry.

No boat? No problem. The lakeside town is also a hot spot for hiking and biking, offering trails such as the Kinsol Trestleone of the loftiest railway trestles in the world, clocking in at 144 feet high and 615 feet long. Part of the Trans Canada Trail Network, Kinsol Trestle is both a delightful destination, and a throughway for a longer trek to North Cowichan. For more of a challenge, scale Mount Baldy, a moderate hike that rewards you with a bird’s eye view of Shawnigan Lake and the Saanich Peninsula, which can be enjoyed from a hidden hilltop wooden swing.

Shop antiques and vintage finds in town, with a visit to the Shawnigan Lake Vintage Barna barn-housed shop featuring repurposed, recycled and refinished home furnishings and eclectic decorand West Coast Vintage, found in the centre of town and featuring antique and retro home furniture and finishings.

Complete your visit with a stop at the Shawnigan Lake Museum, where you can learn about the history of the area through interactive displays, historical slideshows, an E.J. Hughes art gallery, and a mini model of the Kinsol Trestle, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

3. Where to eat

Newly opened in June, The Lakehouse is a lovely lakefront restaurant featuring water views from its three spacious patios and bright dining room, with dockside parking for easy access from the water. With Executive Chef Ryan Bissell at the helm, the food is casual yet sophisticated, featuring a seasonal menu made of locally-sourced ingredients, offering lunch and dinner dishes that range from basic beef burgers to Lamb Shoulder Bucatini, and a killer cocktail menu, too. 

For breakfast, lunch or an afternoon treat, head to Oma’s Bakery, a family-run bakery located in the heart of Shawnigan Lake village offering home-baked goods, and a variety of soups and sandwiches to fuel up before your adventure-filled days on and around the lake.