For a small place, Bowen Island, British Columbia has a surprising number of excellent hikes. Hiking on Bowen Island ranges from easy strolls through forests of giant Douglas firs to strenuous climbs to the top of Mount Gardner to coastal walks with incredible ocean views. With this much choice, everyone can find a Bowen Island hike that is perfect for them. In total, there are nearly 50 kilometres of municipal Bowen Island hiking trails criss-crossing the island, mostly incorporated into Crippen Regional Park.
Located just a short ferry ride from Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay Terminal, Bowen Island is a great place to come for a day of hiking (and other stuff). And because several of the Bowen Island trails start right from where you get off the ferry in wonderful Snug Cove, it is possible to make the trip with or without a vehicle.
Even better, if you have time to spend two or three days you should be able to check out all the hikes on Bowen Island. Hiking is one of the best things to do on Bowen Island.
10 Hiking on Bowen Island Options: Pick the Bowen Island Hike That is Best for You
1. Dorman Point Lookout
2 km / 1 hr / 300m elevation gain
AllTrails – Dorman Point Lookout
This moderate hike takes you from Snug Cove up to a Howe Sound viewpoint on the south point of the cove, called Dorman Point Lookout. From the ferry terminal you just follow the boardwalk along the harbour, eventually heading into the trees.
From here the hike is in shade most of the way and outside of a slightly rocky stretch toward the end it’s pretty easy (except for the constant uphill, of course).
The views across the Queen Charlotte Channel to West Vancouver, Passage Island and UBC here are nice enough but fairly obscured by trees. If you follow a small path to the right you will get a slightly better angle (and might be able to see Vancouver Island on a clear day).
If this is your first hike on Bowen Island you’re likely to be impressed but if you do it after Mount Gardner and the Seaside Walk like we did, well, it doesn’t really feel worth the climb. If you want to save energy you can actually drive very close to the viewpoint itself and just climb the last couple hundred metres.
The big highlight of Bowen Island hiking, Mount Gardner is the tallest point on the island at 719 metres above sea level. There are a number of different ways to approach it but they are all fairly challenging.
The summit is accessible year-round and you can get to the trailheads by car, bike or bus (on weekends) or even walk straight from the ferry. The views from the actual summit are blocked by trees so the viewing/helicopter platforms are the real highlight.
The trails are well-marked with orange squares and occasional signposts but there are so many different trails it can be confusing. We recommend using the AllTrails app. Whichever route you choose, expect to spend a few hours on the trail so make sure to wear good hiking shoes and pack plenty of water and snacks.
2. Mount Gardner SW Trail
6 km / 3 hrs / 540m
Mount Gardner SW Trail – AllTrails map
We chose this one as the shortest and most direct route to the summit (although you do need a car to reach the trailhead). Of course, that also made it the steepest. It is a steady uphill climb but not a difficult trail.
There is a nice west-facing viewpoint about halfway up, then a pair of outstanding helicopter landing platform viewpoints up top (separated by a cell phone tower). The panoramic views are incredible – from the northern platform you can see the Sunshine Coast to the north and Vancouver Island to the west.
From the southern platform you can see the Sea to Sky Highway backed by mountains, plus Vancouver and, on a clear day like we had, Mount Baker in Washington seemingly looming directly behind the city.
3. Mount Gardner Loop Trail
10 km / 4 hrs / 690m
Mount Gardner Loop Trail – AllTrails map
This climb is more gradual than the SW trail and it is a loop, so no backtracking. However, the added distance means a longer hike and because the trailhead is a bit lower the total elevation gain is greater as well.
4. Mount Gardner Hikers Trail
8 km / 3.5 hrs / 530m
Mount Gardner Hikers Trail – AllTrails map
Known as the “Classic”, this is the most common route to the summit of Mount Gardner. Also known as the North Route, it is a straightforward up and back hike similar to the SW trail in difficulty. You add a couple kilometres in distance but enjoy a more gradual incline, working out to a very similar difficulty level in the end.
5. Mount Gardner and Killarney Lake Loop
16 km / 6 hrs / 800m
Mount Gardner and Killarney Lake Loop – AllTrails map
The granddaddy of Bowen Island hikes, this trail starts right from the harbour when you get off the ferry and actually involves a number of smaller loops.
In addition to the great viewpoint at the top, you will also pass through the town, past beaches and beautiful Killarney Lake. It is a major undertaking but you get to see a lot of the island and don’t need to bring a car across to do it.
6. Killarney Lake Loop
9 km / 2.5 hrs / 200m
Killarney Lake Loop – AllTrails map
This is the most popular hiking trail on Bowen Island. If you walk from the ferry terminal the entire route will be a bit longer than the mapped version but it is well-marked and there are nice views right from the beginning all the way through the loop around the lake.
You will pass through some tremendous old growth forest with occasional ocean views and the rocky beach on the west side of Killarney Lake has terrific lake views. It is a relatively comfortable hike even in mid-summer because a lot of the trail is shaded (although that does mean more mosquitoes – bring bug spray) and early in the season you may even see wild salmonberries.
7. Pebble Beach Sea Walk
2.5 km / 45 min / 35m
Pebble Beach Sea Walk – AllTrails map
This easy, beautiful trail runs along the southwest coast of the island passing a pair of scenic coves, a decent (if rocky) beach and a tiny lighthouse perched at the end of an equally tiny peninsula. Keep an eye out for any passing sea life.
The first part is wide and flat and eventually it narrows with some stairs and walkways. You get terrific views on a simple walk, and it is a very popular place to watch the sunset. There are a few houses along the way and the rest of the area has been divided into lots for sale so expect this trail to look pretty different soon (especially during the construction phase).
There are three different places you can park (at either end or in the middle) but none of them have much room.
8. Bridal Veil Falls and Fish Ladder
1.5 km / 30 min / 30m
This lesser-known trail is short but has a nice waterfall payoff. It starts near Snug Cove beside the visitor centre and the falls themselves are next to Miller’s Road (so if you have a car you can reach it without the hike). It is a nice, easy stroll through the trees with a short, steep climb at the end.
During the late fall salmon run you may even be able to see salmon climbing the ladder. The “Fish Ladder” is marked on Google Maps and you should be able to find the trail on there as well. This is an easy and convenient Crippen Park hike.
9. Killarney Creek Trail
1.2 km / 30 min / flat
Following the creek to the lake along Alder Grove connector trail, this easy Bowen Island walk is a great choice if you are just looking to stretch your legs before taking the ferry back to the mainland.
10. Mourn the Mastodon Hike
2 km / 45 min / 100m (?)
The exact location of the magnificent driftwood Mastodon has been famously kept secret from the general masses despite plenty of national recognition for the sculpture itself. Following several hours of determined internet research Laynni had pieced together only a few vague hints. It turns out that the key to finding the Mastodon is through word of mouth.
You have to talk directly to someone who has been there. Locals will often give you enough tips to get you to the general area to start exploring. It almost felt like going back in time to how we used to travel before smart phones.
The hike was quite a bit steeper than we expected (combined with already tired legs) and involved a bit of minor scrambling at the end. But we found the Woody Mastodon and it was plenty impressive, especially considering the artist (Guthrie Gloag) hauled all the wood up over time, piece by piece, in his backpack.
Unfortunately, we feel we would be doing the locals a disservice if we shared the details of its location with the public, considering how hard they have worked to keep it a secret. Seriously, when was the last time you couldn’t find something on the internet after 10 minutes of research, let alone 3 hours? Laynni was getting dangerously close to snapping.
On the other hand, there is something more satisfying about finding it this way. So, if you want to see this unique Bowen Island landmark we suggest reaching out to some locals, to see if they are willing to let you in on the big secret. I promise this isn’t just a ploy to build suspense…
Bowen Island Hiking Trail Maps
Right where you get off the ferry there is a kiosk with a large Bowen Island hiking trails map you can use to get your bearings. Or if you want one you can take with you, head over to the Bowen Island Visitor Information Centre to pick up a copy.
How to Get to Bowen Island
Horseshoe Bay to Bowen Island
The Bowen Island ferry leaves from the Horseshoe Bay Terminal, which is about a 30-minute drive or 45-minute bus ride from downtown Vancouver. The are plenty of daily departures and the scenic route takes just 20 minutes to cross the Queen Charlotte Channel to Snug Cove. Keep your eyes peeled as whales are commonly spotted along the way.
You cannot reserve this ferry in advance so get there early at the busiest times (morning and late afternoon), although as long as there is room you can arrive up to 10 minutes before departure. Tickets cover your passage both there and back ($30/vehicle and $11/person). Or you pay to get there and it is free to get back, however you want to look at it.
While service is currently suspended due to COVID-19, the Bowen Island water taxi normally goes back and forth between Coal Harbour (downtown Vancouver) and Snug Cove weekdays for $20 one-way / $40 return.
It also runs between Granville Island and Bowen Island from the Victoria Day weekend in May through the Labour Day weekend in September.
Great Hikes Near Bowen Island
There are plenty more great choices for more hiking near Bowen Island. We discuss the subject at length in 22 Best Squamish Hikes, a list that includes the amazing Tunnel Bluffs viewpoint. On a clear, sunny day it is absolutely worth a few hours of time and effort to get to this standout spot.
You could also use Tunnel Bluffs as your warmup hike before tackling the epic Stawamus Chief hike. Located a bit farther north near Squamish, “The Chief” is a tricky, strenuous hike involving ladders, chains and nearly 800 metres of elevation gain but you get to enjoy stunning views from three different peaks. A truly classic coastal hike.
Closer to Vancouver, the Eagle Bluffs hike on Cypress Mountain was the most impressive of many good choices in North Vancouver.
Then, if you happen to be on a longer road trip, the East Sooke Coast Trail on Vancouver Island is a phenomenal coastal route. Further inland, hiking in Kelowna lacks a standout option but offers plenty of variety. Finally, if you have the time to make it into Alberta, the Canmore and Banff area features several of the best day hikes we’ve ever done.
What to Take
It is always important to be prepared when venturing out hiking, especially in the mountains. Obviously, long, challenging hikes require more advance planning and safety gear but even for short hikes you still need to be properly equipped.
Dressing properly will make the experience much more enjoyable and carrying useful safety supplies can ensure you are prepared in case mishaps take place (as they tend to). Here is a quick checklist of items we alway carry, wear or use while hiking:
A good day pack is essential. We have recently become big fans of Gregory packs and would recommend the Gregory Miwok 18 for short hikes or when your gear is split between two people. And the Gregory Optic 48 for longer hikes. I know 48L sounds big but it is a super-light and comfortable pack that cinches down smaller when it isn’t full.
Water is obviously important and we go back and forth between using a Camelbak bladder and just a couple of water bottles. We also keep a few Aquatabs with us at all times just in case we ever run low and want to treat some river or lake water.
They are tiny and every now and then come in quite handy. It is always a good idea to carry some snacks as well. It never hurts and sometimes hikes end up taking longer than planned.
Laynni always hikes in compression leggings that she swears by for the extra knee, hip and muscle support.
Layers, baby! You never know what kind of weather nature will throw at you so it pays to be ready for anything. Obviously, the forecast might change what you carry but if there is any doubt (and there almost always is in the mountains), bring extra.
And just in case we are so impressed by the scenery that we decide it’s worth a photo with both of us in it we always carry the tiny, extremely handy octopus tripod.
Of course, a comprehensive first-aid kit is key to make sure those “mishaps” are simply inconvenient and don’t ruin your whole day.
Other useful items that we sometimes carry and sometimes don’t, depending on the hike:
Well, that probably covers most of it, although somehow we have even more to say on the matter in our Day Hike Packing List post. Check it out if you’re looking for even more detailed info.
Bowen Island is a real gem, offering plenty of great hiking, all very accessible for both drivers and foot passengers. There is plenty of Bowen Island hiking to keep you busy, whether on a day trip or a longer visit. Of course, there is a lot more to Bowen Island than just hiking but that is a story for another post. Whatever your focus, this pretty little island is definitely worth checking out.
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