Although I was raised some 3,000 km from Bowen Island, my mom spent a lot of time on Bowen Island. She lived in Vancouver during high school and university, and her best friend – my Aunt Mary – had a cottage on the island. They spent many warm summer nights on Bowen, and my mom always spoke so fondly of it.
Over the years, I’ve made many trips to Vancouver and spent the last year living in the city. Being so close to Vancouver, I’ve made many trips to Bowen Island and still love going back each time.
So I thought I’d share my favourite things to do on Bowen Island, as well as some tips for visiting.
- Getting to Bowen Island
- Getting Around Bowen Island
- Things to do on Bowen Island
- Hikes on Bowen Island
Visiting Bowen Island as a Day Trip? Bowen Island can definitely be visited in a single day. Just be mindful of the ferry times to ensure you have enough time on the island (and are able to catch the last ferry back to Vancouver).
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Getting to Bowen Island
The only way to get to Bowen Island is by taking the ferry from Horseshoe Bay. The ferry is about 20 minutes long and is very easy to use. You can reserve a ticket ahead of time, though I typically just show up and buy my ticket in person.
Getting to Horseshoe Bay
By Bus: It’s super convenient to get to Horseshoe Bay without a car. You can catch Bus #257 at the corner of Seymour St and W Georgia St, and then it’s about 45 minutes until Horseshoe Bay. The bus terminal is a 5-minute walk to the ferry terminal. At the terminal, you can purchase a ticket before boarding. See directions here.
By Car: The Google Maps directions to Horseshoe Bay are accurate and easy to follow. Once you approach the ferry terminal, be mindful of the overhead signs, as they will direct you on where to go. Each lane has an attendant (kind of like at the US-Canada border) who can sell you a ticket. Once you’ve paid, they will tell you which lane to drive in.
Alternatively, you can also drive to Horseshoe Bay, park near the ferry terminal and then take the ferry as a passenger. My friends and I did this today so we wouldn’t have to worry about parking on the island (plus it’s cheaper to cross as pedestrians).
Getting to Bowen Island
Once you’re on the ferry, the rest is easy. There is a pedestrian area with bathrooms, seating and food (people in cars can also go up there to wait the duration of the ferry ride).
Note: You don’t need a return ticket. Since there is only one way on and off the island, all tickets to Bowen Island are return trips (and no need to keep your ticket – you don’t need to show it on the way back).
Getting Around Bowen Island
Okay, now that you’re on Bowen Island, how do you get around? For the most part, Bowen Island is very walkable. The ferry dock is at Snug Cove and it’s a very short walk to the visitor’s center and most restaurants and accommodation options. Likewise, downtown is close to the Killarney Lake hike and reasonably close to the Mount Gardner hike.
Parking: The only place where parking can be a little tricky is around Snug Cove. Some streets allow parking up to 2 or 3 hours, while other streets permit parking up to 12 hours. Parking is very limited, especially on sunny summer Saturdays. If there isn’t any available parking, there’s an alternative parking lot on the west side of the island and you can then take a shuttle back to area Snug Cove. You can find more information about parking here.
Bowen Island Municipal Bus: There are three buses that service Bowen Island, all originating in Snug Cove. You can see the routes and schedules here.
Tip: For day trips, it is way easier to leave your car at home. You can either take the bus to Horseshoe Bay (what I usually do) or park at the Horseshoe Bay parking lot. From there, the ferry are really easy for pedestrians, and downtown Bowen is easy to navigate on foot. Save yourself the hassle (and cost) of finding parking!
Bowen Island Accommodation
It is totally feasible to do a Bowen Island day trip and avoid staying overnight. However, there’s enough to do on Bowen that a weekend getaway would be a lot of fun. It also allows you to easily catch a sunrise / sunset. All that to say, here are some Bowen Island accommodation options if you’d like to stay overnight.
If I didn’t have family living on the island, this is 100% where I would want to stay. The rooms are in cozy A-frame cabins, there’s a giant glass dome for yoga classes and an awesome lounge and patio. The theme is very modern-meets-rustic: white and black fixtures and lots of exposed wood.
This is a modern and bright floral-inspired cottage in the heart of the island. It’s a short drive from downtown and very close to the Bowen Island Ecological Reserve.
This is a more traditional option; the rooms look very much like what you’d expect from a lodge that caters to conferences. But, it does have an amazing view of the mountains and has a great downtown location.
This is a cozy hotel with a beautiful view of Snug Cove. It’s downtown and within walking distance of shops and restaurants (plus it also has its own restaurant).
VRBO / Airbnb
There are a few properties on VRBO that look incredible. For example, this waterfront cabin with panoramic views has the most amazing view of Howe Sound. Likewise, this oceanfront cottage has a private beach and one of the best balconies I’ve seen on a listing.
Camping on Bowen Island
Camping is not permitted on Bowen Island for a variety of reasons (including a re-wilding effort and sensitive ecology). You can read more about it in this post: Camping on Bowen Island – Is it allowed?
Things to do on Bowen Island
There are several things to do on Bowen Island, and what you do can be tailored to the type of day you want to have: active or relxing.
Crippen Regional Park
Crippen Regional Park is a pretty park near Snug Cove and provides a few options for casually strolling through lush forest. It’s gem is Killarney Lake, which you can hike around for some beautiful views. I’ve gone into specifics of the hike in the following section (Bowen Island Hikes).
Crippen extends from Killarney Lake to the coast near Snug Cove. Around here, you’ll find Dorman Point. It has a great view of the ocean and West Vancouver. It’s a short walk from town and increases about 100 m in elevation.
This is the toughest hike on Bowen Island. There are a few routes to the peak, depending on which side of the island you’re hiking from. In general, it will take a minimum of 4 hours to complete (unless you’re a trail runner). I’ve detailed more about its specifics in the following section (Bowen Island Hikes).
Tunstall Bay is a sandy and rocky beach known for having some beautiful sunsets. You can swim at the beach, though I haven’t gone in much because of how rock it is (maybe bring some waterproof sandals). Besides swimming and sunset spotting, you can walk along the shoreline. If you walk left there are some cool rocks and a washed up tree stump that are pretty cool. You’ll see lots of moss, seaweed, starfish and other salty vegetation – classic west coast.
Bowen Bay Beach
Bowen Bay another popular beach spot. It’s a little north of Tunstall Bay, so it has a similar view and it also good for sunsets. Again, it’s popular for swimming and sunbathing (though I think it’s a little pebbly for that, but what do I know).
Bowen Island Golf Course
I don’t like golfing, so I’ve never done this but. But Bowen Island Golf Course was voted as Canada’s hidden gem of the year in 2014, so I figure it deserved a spot on the list. This 9-hole golf course is carved from a West Coast rainforest featuring magnificent views of Howe Sound.
Bowen Island Sea Kayaking
Sea kayaking is a popular activity in the summer. Bowen Island Sea Kayaking offers rentals and tours, allowing you to explore the coastline’s nooks and crannies. I haven’t done this tour, but the full day trip to Pasley Island looks beautiful.
Bowen Tour on E-bikes
From spring to early autumn, Bowen eBikes offers e-bike rentals from Snug Habour. This is a great way to explore the island if you’re arriving without a car. The island isn’t very big, so you can see a lot of it with an e-bike over the course of a single day. Though I wouldn’t recommend leaving the eBike unattended while you’re hiking. Note that you can’t make same-day reservations with Bowen eBikes – you need to reserve in advance.
This island over indexes on creativity. With a population of less than 50,000, it was recently identified as the fourth most artistic community in Canada for its artistic work.
There are a few art galleries and artists’ studios scattered across the island, each featuring work from local artists. Gilt Gallery and Catching Stars Gallery are both located near Snug Cove. Lisa Gardner, Anju Jane, Andrew Plewes and Mary Neyes have studios throughout the island as well.
Bowen Island Museum and Archives
Bowen Island Museum and Archives have collections about the history of Bowen Island. There’s a collection on the Indigenous history on the island, a collection on how Bowen Island because an artist hotspot, a collection on logging and finally a collection on the explosives factory at Tunstall Bay. There are also archives if you want to do even more digging into specific moments in the past.
Pubs & Restaurants
There are two pubs I’ll recommend: Bowen Island Pub and Barcelona Tapas & Wine Bar. I also really like Artisan Eats Café & Fine Foods for breakfast foods. I haven’t been to Rustique Bistro French Kitchen + Bar, but it has a beautiful patio and the food on their website looks amazing.
Bowen Island Hikes
If you’re coming to Bowen Island specifically to hike, you will definitely be climbing Mount Gardner. Standing at 727 m, Mount Gardner is the highest peak on the island and provides excellent views of Howe Sound and all of the surrounding mountains.
There are a few trails to reach Mount Gardner, depending on the side of the island you’re on.
- This is the most exact route to the top of Mount Gardner.
- This route is a less direct loop to the top.
- This is the route that starts on the west side.
The hike isn’t difficult by BC standards, but it’s definitely tricky. It’s mostly a well-marked trail, however, there are a few sections that were a little unclear. The hike itself isn’t too long (about 10 km) and there are no extremely steep sections, but the gradual climb of 700 m in elevation gain will leave you winded and your hamstrings sore.
I just did this hike again today and one thing I’ll add is that you should only do it on a clear day. We had a lot of fog and there was absolutely no view, unfortunately. Disappointing after so much effort! Please enjoy this stock photo from the hike, as my photos are all of fog, fog and more fog.
Killarney Lake is the heart of Crippen Regional Park, a short walk from downtown Bowen. This is a great beginner / intermediate hike. The route is 8 km with less than 200 m of elevation gain. Killarney Lake itself is quite beautiful, lined with rolling hills and tons of vegetation. Here is the route.
Final Thoughts on Bowen Island
I hope you’ve found this post helpful and will be making a trip to Bowen Island soon! Check below to find more posts I’ve written about British Columbia:
- 13 Outdoor Activities in Vancouver… That Aren’t Hiking or Skiing
- 21 Best Hikes in Vancouver – Can’t Miss Vancouver Hiking Trails
- 15 Best Viewpoints in Vancouver: Skyline, Mountains, Beaches & More
- 17 Incredible Tofino Hiking Trails: A Hiker’s Guide to Tofino, Ucluelet and Pacific Rim National Park
- 25 Best Things to do in Victoria, BC + Travel Guide