The lesser known of the two Northern Gulf Islands across from Buckley Bay, tiny Denman Island is the quieter and lesser-known neighbour of the relatively vibrant Hornby Island. Of course, Denman Island’s anonymity is a bit odd considering the fact it is the closer of the two to Vancouver Island and in order to get to Hornby Island you have to take the ferry to Denman, drive across, then catch a second ferry.
Which, apparently, is exactly what most people do. But it doesn’t make much sense, because Denman Island has plenty to offer in its own right. Flat and narrow, but almost entirely covered in forest, it has some small but great beaches, pleasant picnic areas and a thriving art scene.
Located in the spectacular Strait of Georgia, there are just over a thousand permanent residents on Denman Island and it is very much a quiet, natural place with very little development (although from what we saw the northern part of the island may be on the verge of a housing boom).
Mostly flat roads through tall trees – but watch for deer, they’re everywhere! In fact, wildlife is one of Denman’s big calling cards, with visitors routinely spotting eagles, osprey and herons, as well as whales, dolphins and seals out to sea.
Over the years, Denman Island has been known as Punchlatt Island, Inner Island, Little Orkney and Sla-dai-aich (Taystayic). The current name comes from Joseph Denman, Chief of the Pacific Station in the 1860’s.
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Denman Island Camping
Fillongley Provincial Park Campground
As well as being a great place for hiking and day tripping, the beautiful, forested Fillongley Provincial Park also has an impressive campground with 10 sites located right on the ocean.
There is a pit toilet, potable water and fire rings, although they prefer you use gas stoves due to the scarcity of firewood in the area (although it is still possible to purchase wood from the park operator).
Sites cost $23/$12 per night (summer/winter) and can be reserved through the BC Parks website.
11 Outstanding Things to Do on Denman Island
Despite having fewer popular attractions than some of the other Gulf Islands, Denman Island still has some pretty amazing natural areas, photo spots and sightseeing options.
1. See Chrome Island Lighthouse from Boyle Point Provincial Park
One of my personal favourite viewpoints anywhere in the Gulf Islands can be reached by a short, easy hike (2.5 km return) through Boyle Point Provincial Park. Right at the south end of Denman Island, this is an outstanding lookout across a small channel to Chrome Island with its impressive lighthouse, the entire scene framed by the often snow-covered mountains of the Vancouver Island.
Boyle Point Provincial Park covers the entire southern tip of Denman Island and features several other short trails to beaches, coves and the extraordinary Eagle Rock (from which you can also see Chrome Island, and most likely quite a few seals).
2. Wander through Morning Beach Park
On the complete opposite end of the island, Morning Beach Park at the northern point of Denman Island is a wonderful place to wander on some big open beaches. Sure, they’re more rocky than sandy, and to get down to the water you’ll need to trek down a very long flight of wooden stairs (over 100 of them), but the views are exceptional – across to Hornby Island, north to Goose Spit and east across the Strait of Georgia to the Coast Mountains.
Even if you don’t feel like going all the way down, there are picnic tables and a lookout at the top. Parking is pretty limited but you can park along the side of road.
Down on the beach, you can wander the area till your heart’s content, enjoying the beautiful driftwood, gazing into fascinating tide pools and watching for wildlife. If you are there at low tide it is possible to walk to Longbeak Point and all the way across to Sandy Island (2 km), where you’ll find a massive cluster of Douglas Fir and a few basic campsites.
Previously known as either Sandy Island Marine Provincial Park or Tree Island Park, the 30-hectare protected area includes the island and surrounding Seal Islets. Since 2012 the park has officially used the indigenous K’Omoks names – Jáji7em and Kw’uhl Marine Park.
Keep in mind, though, that Morning Beach is a very different place at high tide so be sure to check the local tide charts to make sure you don’t get caught out.
3. Shop for Local Artisan Wares
As with most of the Gulf Islands, Denman Island is home to a talented community of artists (painters, sculptors, potters, jewelers, etc.) who often display their work in private galleries in or near their homes. Just keep an eye out for signs while driving around the island.
Other good options are Denman Craft Shop (near the Vancouver Island ferry) and Denman Island Art Gallery, located just above the Senior’s Hall and known for its outstanding summer exhibitions.
4. Walk Through the Forest in Fillongley Provincial Park
Lovely Fillongley Provincial Park is where many local artists go for the amazing old-growth Douglas Fir trees. There are a variety of great trails starting from the day use area and campground.
There is also some solid deciduous forest famous for its fall colours and another of the wind-swept Denman Island beaches covered in wild driftwood.
The large, grassy field (and former bowling green) is covered in wildflowers in spring and the perfect place for a picnic any time of year.
Encompassing land bequeathed to the province by Englishman George Beadnell, Fillongley Provincial Park features several short wheel-chair accessible walking trails. The best follows Beadnell Creek canyon west to Swan Road (approx. 30 min), where you can either backtrack or take the road to turn it into a loop.
5. Visit the Corlan Farm Vineyard and Winery
Wine lovers should plan for a stop at Corlan Vineyard, a 10-acre boutique winery where you can explore the vineyard and gardens, enjoy a wine tasting, maybe lunch, and potentially even buy some of their highly recommended organic wines.
The vineyard was started in 2006 and the grand opening took place in 2015.
6. Get Out on the Water
One of the best things to do on Denman Island is head out onto the Georgia Strait with a kayak, canoe or paddleboard to enjoy the amazing scenery and possibly spot some of the extensive marine life in the area. Denman is even small enough (19 km x 5 km) for experienced paddlers to make it all the way around in a day.
If you need to rent, head slightly north along the east coast to Denman Hornby Canoes and Kayaks, where you can get kayaks, canoes or paddleboards for $50 / $70 / $80 (half-day / full day/ 24 hrs) + $50/day after that and double kayaks for $80 / $100 / $110 + $80/day. They also offer lessons and custom tours.
Bill Mee Park has an easily accessible boat launch and nicely protected water, making it the most popular starting point for people with their own gear.
7. Pick Up Fresh Produce at the Two Roads Farm Stand
On all the Gulf Islands you will run across farm stands on the road selling local produce and products. They tend to be based on the honour system where you take what you want and leave the money behind.
One of the best on Denman Island is Two Roads Farm, a small, organic family operation with 3 acres and several greenhouses. They offer everything from beets and carrots to bok choi and rutabaga to eggplant and flowers.
And if you are visiting on a summer weekend, definitely stop in at the Denman Island Farmer’s Market held in the field next to the Old School Saturdays from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm.
8. Walk the Denman Island Central Park Loop
With a nice mix of terrain and a couple great viewpoints, the Central Park Loop is a nice, short (3 km) hiking or biking option in the centre of the island. The entire park is owned by the Denman Conservancy Association and covers nearly 150 acres with a variety of volunteer-maintained trails through the forest and wetlands. The trails are typically easy and well-maintained, although some spots do get muddy.
The park features more than 60 species of birds and be sure to take a slight detour along the Beaufort View path to enjoy terrific views of the Beaufort Mountain Range on Vancouver Island.
9. Pop into the Denman Island General Store
It’s worth stopping in at this classic old general store which, true to its name, sells a little bit of everything including groceries, pastries, supplies, gas and booze.
There is also a café and they even rent out bikes.
10. Go Swimming or Fishing at Graham Lake
This sheltered little lake with surprisingly warm water is accessed via a short hike through some impressive forest.
Just over a kilometre long but only around 100 metres across, Graham Lake has a couple of handy wooden docks for swimming or lounging and they say it is a good place to fish for trout.
11. Take a Day Trip to Hornby Island
The more popular of the two islands, Hornby is a hotbed of alternative activity in the region. Known for art, wine and music, Hornby also has several beautiful beaches and some top hiking trails. The views from the ridge in Geoffrey Escarpment Provincial Park has particularly stunning views of Denman Island and the mountains of Vancouver Island.
The most popular beach is on Tribune Bay and has fine sand and waters that get surprisingly warm in the summer.
Regular ferries leave from the southeast corner of Denman and only take about 15 minutes.
Nearby Denman Island Accommodation Options
Considering that Denman Island is a pretty small place, you are probably also hoping to explore some of the many outstanding attractions in the Comox Valley and on Vancouver Island. If that is the case, you may be better off staying on the main island so you don’t have to rely on the ferries as much. Here are a couple of excellent choices:
Ellerslie Bed and Breakfast
Conveniently located near the ferry landing in Buckley Bay, Ellerslie Bed and Breakfast offers a variety of classic rooms in a comfortable heritage home. The beach is just across the road and guests rave about the breakfast.
This is a great choice if you want to visit Hornby and Denham Islands but still have easy access to the highlights up and down the coast.
Island View B&B
This beautiful bed and breakfast just outside of Nanaimo features lush gardens just a short walk from the beach. Island View B&B boasts amazing views of the bay and another fantastic breakfast. This is the perfect central location for people looking to explore many different areas on Vancouver Island, while still enjoying quiet, natural surroundings.
When to Visit: Denman Island Weather
As with most of the Gulf Islands in British Columbia, summer offers the best weather (25/13C high/low and very little rain) and the most things to do. All the big events, festivals and concerts take place in summer and the beaches are hopping.
However, the weather is fairly mild all year-round (7/2C in January) so a winter visit can also be great for people looking for a quieter getaway with empty beaches and hiking trails. The downsides are more rain and the fact that most tourist services shut down for the winter and even the restaurants, shops and studios are often only open on weekends.
Coming in one of the shoulder seasons (May/June or September/October) can be the perfect mix of good weather and fewer people. Late spring is a particularly good time to see the wildflowers in bloom on the grassy slopes of the parks.
Where to Eat: Denman Island Restaurants
There aren’t many restaurant options on Denman Island. We managed to cobble together a fairly satisfying General Store breakfast (yogurt, pastries, bananas, plus some beef jerky, of course). However, there are also a couple of other choices:
This lovely Middle Eastern bakery and ice cream shop features organic pastries and dairy-free, gluten-free frozen desserts.
A friendly little café serving good sandwiches and salads. The perfect stop for a quick snack while exploring the island.
Can you do a day trip to Denman Island?
Considering how small and close to Vancouver Island it is, Denman Island can easily be visited on a day trip. Ferries go roughly hourly between Buckley Bay and Denman and only take about 15 minutes. Of course, there is plenty to keep you occupied on Denman Island for 2-3 days if you have the time but, if not, a day trip is very manageable.
Coming from Vancouver on a day trip is possible but will make for a long day. You can take the ferry to Nanaimo from Horseshoe Bay (1 hr) or Tsawwassen (2 hrs), then drive around an hour to Buckley Bay. Altogether, you’re looking at 4-5 hours of travel and waiting time to do it this way, plus whatever time you want on the island.
Coming just from Nanaimo or Comox, however, is very easy. It would even be possible to combine Denman Island and Hornby Island in one long day.
And if you decide you want to check out some Denman Island homes for sale pop by the cutest real estate office we’ve ever seen.
Map of Denman Island
Here is a map of Denman Island BC with all the best things to do, tourist attractions and restaurants.
Click the star to save this map to your Google Maps – then find it under Saved/Maps (mobile) or Your Places/Maps (desktop)
How to Get to Denman Island
Denman Island is located just off the east coast of Vancouver Island, in the Strait of Georgia in British Columbia and is normally accessed by ferry from Buckley Bay. It is possible to fly to Vancouver, Nanaimo, Victoria or even nearby Comox Airport (YQQ).
You can bring your own car across on the ferry or, if you are looking to rent a car in Vancouver, we highly recommend Discover Cars. We got a terrific deal booking just a week ahead and were very happy with everything.
Denman Island Ferry
Getting to Denman Island from Vancouver, including driving time and two ferry connections, takes approximately 4-5 hours. First you can get to Nanaimo via either the Horseshoe Bay ferry from North Vancouver (1 hr – $80/vehicle + $18 per passenger) or Tsawwassen Ferry from south of the Vancouver airport (2 hrs – $80/vehicle + $18 per passenger).
Then from Nanaimo it is approximately a 1-hour drive to Buckley Bay where you can take the 15-minute Denman Island ferry across ($31 + $9 additional passenger return). If you are flying into Comox instead, you are looking at only about a 30-minute drive to reach the ferry.
In summer, the ferries go back and forth across Baynes Sound roughly hourly throughout the day and the ferry times are specifically planned to coordinate well with the additional ferry from Denman Island to Hornby Island.
You’ll want to get to the ferry at least 10 minutes early and in high season its best to be more cautious. We got to the ferry leaving the island with only a minute to spare and just barely squeezed on but we don’t recommend leaving it to chance.
Gulf Island Hopping
The lovely chain of forested Gulf Islands are scattered in the Georgia Strait between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. They are roughly divided into two sections, the Northern Gulf Islands of Denman and Hornby, and the more numerous Southern Gulf Islands. The south islands that are inhabited, include accommodation options and BC ferry connections are Gabriola, Salt Spring, Pender, Mayne, Galiano and Saturna.
However, there are several more small ones that can also be visited if you have access to your own boat, a few of which have accommodation options or basic camping. Valdes Island and Thetis Island have places to stay and people occasionally also visit Mudge Island, De Courcy Island, Ruxton Island, Portland Island and Prevost Island.
Each of the beautiful Gulf Islands features its own unique sights and personality. Spending a week or so island hopping through this superb area is sure to be one of the most memorable trips you can take in Western Canada.
Just a hop, skip and jump from Nanaimo, one of the main Vancouver Island cities, Gabriola Island is a wonderful place to enjoy a rural feel, intact forests and some very unique sites. The Malaspina Caves are particularly memorable.
Salt Spring Island
The most populous and developed of the Gulf Islands, bustling Salt Spring Island offers a huge variety of activities. It is one of the best places in British Columbia to shop at local farm stands and in summer offers an impressive array of music festivals and concerts.
Pender Island is actually made up of North Pender and South Pender, the two islands divided by a man-made channel dug back in the early days of European habitation. Both sides are fantastically peaceful and feature some of the best viewpoints in the South Gulf Islands, including Gowlland Point, Mortimer Spit and Magic Lake.
Wild and mountainous Saturna Island is tucked into a small pocket of Canadian territory with the United States surrounding it on three sides. It is one of the least known and least visited of the Gulf Islands and is a great choice for those looking to get off the beaten path.
Home to Miner’s Bay, once the most important harbour on the Canadian Pacific Coast, Mayne Island is full of small, hidden beaches, nice hikes and the exceptional Japanese Gardens, our pick for the most surprising attraction in the Gulf Islands.
Of all the Gulf Islands, Galiano Island is the closest to Vancouver which, combined with a wealth of natural highlights, including the Galiano Cave, has made it one of the top adventure destinations for people looking to escape the city.
Hiking, biking, kayaking and fishing are just a few of the possibilities on long, narrow Galiano.
Trip Planning Resources
Here is a list of the most important resources we use when planning our travels, all in one convenient spot. Full disclosure, when you use any of these links to reserve or sign up for something, we receive a small commission which is greatly appreciated. However, your price does not change and we have only included products and websites that we can honestly recommend.
- For checking out flights we usually find that SkyScanner is the fastest and most accurate site.
- We book the majority of our hotels on Booking.com. With frequent stay discounts, thousands of reviews and free cancellation, it is very rare for us to have a bad hotel experience these days.
- Wise is by far the best international multicurrency bank account we’ve found. We can now send and receive money in half a dozen different currencies, convert to dozens more with no exchange premium and pay or withdraw local currencies. Highly recommended.
- When travelling we always get SIM cards with data for our phones. Local SIM cards are sometimes a bit cheaper but if you have a relatively new smartphone (iPhone XR or newer, Samsung S20 or newer) you can just buy an eSIM online, get a QR code by email and you’re good to go. After extensive research I have decided that KeepGo eSIMs have the best coverage and prices for most of our trips.
- If you’re interested in local guided tours, including everything from city tours to cooking lessons to adventure activities, check out the huge range of options at Get Your Guide.
- World Nomads offers some of the best global travel insurance coverage. It is especially good for frequent travellers and digital nomads but also has competitive plans for short trips.
Denman Island Summary
Almost bizarrely overlooked in favour of popular Hornby Island, Denman Island has more than enough going for it to keep visitors impressed and entertained in its own right. With some gloriously empty beaches and loads of untouched forest, we’d recommend getting over to Denman before the secret’s out.
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