7 Fun and relaxing things to do on Bowen Island

Last Updated on May 10, 2023

Bowen Island is a gorgeous forested island a short ferry ride from Vancouver in Southwest British Columbia. Despite it’s proximity to Metro Vancouver, Bowen Island feels far away from the bustle of the city with it’s vast forests, endless shorelines and relaxed, outdoorsy and artistic vibe.

Bowen Island makes a great day trip from Vancouver and a great trip without a car. You can take the bus to the ferry terminal and take a short, scenic ferry ride to the island for a hike or lunch and then return. If you have time, you can take a detour to Bowen Island on your way from Vancouver to Whistler. Once you’ve arrived on Bowen though, it’s likely you’ll want to stay longer! Fortunately there are plenty of vacation rentals and a few hotels if you want to plan a longer visit. I love how beautiful and peaceful Bowen Island is and how easy it is to get to from Vancouver or Seattle.

You don’t need a car to visit Bowen Island, though you can bring a car if you want to. Both of these options are discussed below.

Bowen Island is the homeland of the Skwxwú7mesh-ulh Temíx̱w (Squamish) People.

Related: Best things to do in Vancouver, Best things to do in Victoria

Bowen Island seen from the air
A float plane flying over Snug Harbor on Bowen Island
Photo Credit: Destination Vancouver/Harbour Air

How to get to Bowen Island

How to get to Bowen Island with a car

If you’re bringing a car to Bowen Island, you’ll need to take your car on the BC ferry from the Horseshoe Bay Terminal to Snug Cove on Bowen Island. Horseshoe Bay is northwest of downtown Vancouver.

Wait times for the ferry can get quite long, especially on weekends.

It’s a 20 minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay to Snug Cove.

How to get to Bowen Island without a car

If you’re not bringing a car to Bowen Island, take the BC ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Snug Cove, the same ferry you were take if you were bringing a car. You can take the bus from downtown Vancouver to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, then take the ferry to Snug Cove.

One you’re on Bowen Island, you can walk around Snug Cove or take the bus if you want to explore more of the island. The bus schedule is generally linked up with the ferry. You can also bring or rent a bike to get around the island.

Pay attention to where you are staying if you are not bringing a car with you to the island. I recommend staying within walking distance of Snug Cove so you can easily get to shops and restaurants and bus stops to explore the island.

The side of a ferry in a small cove surrounded by forests across the water from forested mountains
On the ferry arriving in Snug Cove on Bowen Island

When is the best time to go to Bowen Island

Bowen Island is an excellent year round destination! It is popular with Vancouverites all year. Summer is the ideal time for outdoor activities with long days and ideal weather for activities like going to the beach, hiking and kayaking.

It is extra important to have your lodging and ferry reserved in advance for a visit in the summer months, especially on the weekend.

In the fall, winter and spring, things are a bit less busy but there will still be plenty of visitors. If you don’t mind a bit of rain you can find slightly lower prices on accommodations and more availability in the off season.

Where to stay on Bowen Island

Bowen has a few small lodges as well as many vacation rentals. The most important thing about your lodging is to reserve it in advance and stay in or near Snug Cove if you’re not bringing a car to the island.

There is no camping anywhere on Bowen Island.

Related: 10 Amazing weekend getaways from Vancouver, Best day trips from Vancouver

Places to eat on Bowen Island

Restaurants on Bowen Island are clustered near the ferry terminal in Snug Cove. There is also a small grocery and general store, organic foods store as well as a liquor store near the ferry.

You can’t go wrong with seafood on Bowen Island (try Bowen Sushi), and if you like British Columbia pub fare like I do, don’t miss the Bowen Island Pub. Try the Snug Cafe for breakfast and the Artisan Cafe for super good coffee. The Artisan Cafe also has a variety of tasty house made soups and sandwiches. If you have a sweet tooth, don’t miss the Cocoa West Chocolatier…yum! There’s also a good pizzeria and a fun tapas and wine bar.

Fun and Relaxing things to do on Bowen Island

There’s no shortage of fun and relaxing things to do on Bowen Island! In addition to lots of outdoor activities like hiking, biking and kayaking, this is a great place to just sit and relax and read a book near the beach or in a cozy room in the forest.

Take a hike

Bowen Island is a wonderful place to go for a hike and there are a surprising amount of options and different types of hike on just one island! More than half of the island is designated public land so there’s no shortage of places to explore.

If you’re looking for a mellow hike or walk without too much climbing, head out from Snug Harbor on the trails to Killarney Lake. On the way to this lovely lake, you’ll be walking through a beautiful forest that is everything you think of when you think of British Columbia. If you start in Snug Cove, it’s a mostly flat 9 km (5.5 miles) trip including going around the lake.

If you’re looking for a steeper, harder climb to a great view, head to the Mt Gardner Loop trail. This epic view comes with about 10 km (6 miles) of hiking and an elevation gain of 600 meters (almost 2000 feet)! This is a tough hike that is steep in places and can get very slippery in wet or icy weather, so use caution! On a clear day, the view is absolutely incredible. You can take the bus from the ferry to the trailhead.

Go for a bike ride

You can bring your own bike over on the ferry, or rent a bike or an e-bike in Snug Cove and explore the island. Head over here to download a guide to biking on Bowen, including distances and elevation changes on the various island roads. You can get pretty much anywhere on the island by bike!

Head to the beach

Bowen Island has several delightful beaches to choose from, in fact, Bowen has more than 40 public beaches and places to access the water!

Some, like Cape Roger on the southwest side of the island, having hiking trails and others like Pebbly Beach are right in the village of Snug Cove.

All beaches on Bowen are pebbly and rocky although Sandy Beach does have sand also. Many beaches allow swimming although not all so be sure to check. Many are wheelchair accessible and have public toilets.

Make Turnstall Beach your go to for sunsets, though all the beaches on the west side of the island are good for sunset.

Kayak or paddleboard along the shore

Snug Cove has options for renting a kayak or paddleboard or taking a tour. Some vacation rentals and lodges may also have kayaks to use. Bowen’s rocky shore is a fascinating place to explore paddling. I recommend taking a tour if you’re new to paddling, as your guide will help you know where to go and keep you safe.

If you brought your own kayak or paddleboard with you there are plenty of options for launching.

Check out local art galleries

It may be a tiny community, but Snug Cove has no shortage of art galleries and local artists. A stroll around Snug Cove will take you to many different types of art, from photography and painting to jewelry and pottery and clothing. The Arts Pacific Gallery in Artisan Lane is a cooperative of local artists with a wide variety of art for everyone.

Pretend you’re on the set of Virgin River

A historic red and white library building
The Bowen Island Library is one of the many buildings in Snug Cove that appeared in the Netflix series

If you’re a fan of the Netflix series Virgin River, you’ll notice some familiar buildings while walking around the town of Snug Cove. The film crew used lots of exterior shots of buildings in Snug Cove for the show.

Watch the sunset from Tunstall Bay

The sun setting over the water with a metal pier in the foreground
Sunset in Tunstall Bay

Tunstall Bay on the west side of the island has one of the most beautiful sunset places I’ve ever seen! You can explore or just sit on the beach and watch the sun slipping into the waters of the Salish Sea from the beach or the dock.

A rocky beach at sunset. Text reads: things to do on Bowen Island British Columbia
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Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite. I lived in Alaska for many years and I still spend lots of time there every year visiting friends and working as a tour director. I've been a guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington, am a field editor for the Milepost and host the Alaska Uncovered Podcast about Alaska Travel as well as the Washington State Hiking Podcast. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you here!