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The Ultimate Guide to Pender Island

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Pender Island is a bit of a hidden gem among the big hitters of the Southern Gulf Islands. Salt Spring has the big art galleries and music, Galiano the big outdoor activities popular with daytrippers from Vancouver. But little Pender Island (just 34 square kilometres) is still a great place for a visit – away from the crowds, with tremendous scenery and plenty of natural forest.

Yes, Pender Island is small. And hilly. And it is actually 2 islands (North Pender and South Pender) connected by a tiny 1-lane bridge. But it actually started out as a single island connected by a narrow isthmus and the canal was only dredged early in the 20th century to make life easier for boats to get around. Today that gap adds even more scenic variety to an island full of it.

Rocky point and lighthouse on Pender Island BC

There is thick forest, small mountains, rolling farmland and more rugged coastline than you can shake a Douglas fir stick at. The weather is fantastic most of the year (yes, it rains more in winter but still less than anywhere else on the coast) and it even has sections of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, which means you can take more of those iconic red chair photos you’re surely craving.

Inhabited for thousands of years by the Coast Salish First Nations, in 1859 Pender Island was named after Second Master Daniel Pender of the HMS Plumper and welcomed its first permanent Europeans in 1872.

Today there is plenty to see and do on this highly underrated pair of islands.

Also check out:

Gulf Islands BC: The Ultimate Planning Guide

The Perfect Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary

Where to Stay: Pender Island Hotels

Even though it isn’t a big place you have a few great Pender Island accommodation options.

Poets Cove Resort & Spa

At the picturesque Bedwell Harbour, Poets Cove Resort & Spa is a great choice. Treat yourself at the full-service spa, go for a dip in the heated outdoor pool or get active with one of the many activities like fishing, yoga or basketball.

Main entrance to Pender Island Hotel

There are king bed rooms with stunning views as well as two bedroom options if you are with a group. You will also enjoy the beach and seating areas in front.

Benches overlooking beach at Pender Island hotel

Click here Poets Cove Resort & Spa prices

Shangri-La Oceanfront

With a set up similar to a B&B, at the Shangri-La Oceanfront you can book one of three private rooms with bath that all share a kitchen and living area. Each suite has its own deck where you can enjoy the views high above the ocean and get ready for some beautiful sunsets.

Click here for Shangri-La Oceanfront prices

Pender Island Camping

The amazing natural beauty of the area is best enjoyed sleeping out under the stars (or trees, as the case may be) and there are a couple good options for camping on Pender Island. Sites can be reserved through the Parks Canada Reservations page.

Prior Centennial Campground

17 drive-in sites in thick forest on North Pender Island just a short drive from the Otter Bay ferry terminal. There is a disc golf course and some nice hiking trails as well.

Picnic bench in a Pender Island campground

Shingle Bay Campground

A similar distance from the ferry terminal, Shingle Bay offers 10 very basic walk-in sites a rather steep hike down from the parking area.

Ocean side camping spot on a Pender Island campground

There are picnic tables, a pit toilet and the campground is next to a rocky beach which is popular with kayakers. You can also hike to nearby Roe Lake.

11 Outstanding Things to Do on Pender Island

Considering its modest size, extensive forest and scarcity of roads, there are a surprising number of activities and sights to enjoy on both North and South Pender Islands.

1. Find Your Favourite Pender Island Beach

One of the main drawbacks of the Gulf Islands is the lack of public beach access, with much of the coastal land privately owned. However, they have made a serious effort to keep their beaches and coast open to everyone and have the most public beach access points of any of the Gulf Islands.

Most feature fascinating driftwood, great views and wonderful tide pools where you can find a wide variety of marine life such as crabs, starfish and sea anemones.

Mortimer Spit

This sandy bay is the best place to swim and sunbathe. Just on the north side of the bridge, there are also nice hiking trails on both sides of the channel, which can sometimes be crossed at low tide (although you’ll still have to lose the shoes).

Medicine Beach

Featuring a saltwater marsh nature sanctuary, this is a great place for walking and enjoying the peaceful area. Located at the north end of Bedwell Harbour on North Pender Island, it is nature lover’s paradise.

Rockly beach with swimming dock on Pender Island beaches

Hamilton Beach

With a long stretch of sandy-ish beach with the calm cove littered with moored sailboats, Hamilton beach is definitely picturesque. It also has a nearby swimming pool, restaurant and kayak rentals at the marina.

Beach on Pender Island with sailboats

Beaumont Marine Park

Popular with hikers and boaters, this lovely bay tucked between North and South Pender has a sandy beach, picnic tables, pit toilets and information boards. It is the place to come for marine animal sightings, with seals and otters regular visitors, while whales are occasionally spotted as well.

There are some very nice hiking trails nearby, including the Mount Norman and Beaumont trails and 11 walk-in campsites, although overnight camping will not be allowed in 2022 (but that may change in the future).

Gowlland Point

Our pick for the best viewpoint on the island, Gowlland Point is tucked away down at the far south end of South Pender Island. In addition to the usual ocean and channel views, you can also see across to the American San Juan Islands and Mount Baker.

Piles of driftwood on Pender Island Beaches

The beach is rocky but there are some nice picnic areas and a bunch of great trails to explore the area.

Stanley Point

Known for its unique rock formations, this little beach also boasts exceptional views across the Swanson Channel.

2. Visit the Pender Island Farmer’s Market

For a taste of everything the island has to offer in one handy place, check out the Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning throughout summer. The market takes place at the Community Hall and you’ll find everything from produce and food specialties to music, clothing, jewellery and handicrafts.

Sign for Farmers market

On Thursdays in summer, Raven Rock Farm sets up a produce stand on Port Washington Road and on any day of the week you will also pass dozens of farm stands along the roads around the islands, usually specializing in eggs and produce but often surprising with unique, unusual arts and crafts.

Eggs for sale at a Pender Island farm stand

Meanwhile, a good place to pick up locally sourced items is Truss Farm Food Grocery Store (they also have a food truck).

3. Get Out on the Water

All the Gulf Islands offer outstanding ocean activities and Pender Island is no exception. Whether your preference is kayaking, canoeing, sailing, fishing or simply cruising among the scenic channels, this is an amazing place to get out on the water.

Kayak at Pender Island harbour

With around 60 kilometres of coastline and endless coves and bays to explore, Pender Island kayaking is justifiably famous. Port Browning is a popular starting point, and is the place to rent kayaks from Pender Island Kayak Adventures. They also offer guided tours and kayaking classes.

Building the rents kayaks

One of the best routes is the 1.5-kilometre paddle through Beaumont Marine Park from Medicine Beach to Bedwell Harbour Marina (or vice versa). Energetic paddlers can go all the way from Port Browning to the Marine Park, passing under the bridge along the way.

4. Discover the Art Galleries

Art is a big deal here, with dozens of art studios, galleries and craft shops to choose from. Plus, many of the artists also allow visitors in their personal studios at certain times of the week. From paintings, sculptures and jewellery to pottery, glassware and even photography, the options are endless.

Sign for art gallery

Watch for the blue “Artisan” signs along the road that signify artist studios or purchase a comprehensive annual Pender Islands Art Guide ($110) from Ptarmigan Arts for a complete list. You can also check out Red Tree Gallery, a studio located in Hope Bay that features a wide range of local art.

Artist stall on Pender Island Canada
A roadside stall with an honour sytem for payment

There are also several annual art events on the island, including the South Pender Easter Art Walk, Le Petit Salon Art Show and Art Off the Fence.

5. Head Out on a Hike

Both islands are loaded with terrific hiking trails, many of which pass through the Gulf Islands National Park Preserve. There are over 60 different trails varying from easy strolls to strenuous climbs.

Path through woods

Mount Norman

AllTrails map

2.5 km / 1 hr / 200 m elevation gain

Considered by many to be the best hike on Pender Island, Mount Norman is a short, steep forest trail leading up to the highest point on the island. The views are incredible, stretching across the other Southern Gulf Islands to Vancouver Island, as well as the San Juan Islands to the south.

Roe Lake Loop

2.5 km / 45 min / 80m elevation gain

AllTrails Map

A fun, easy lake loop with a nice mix of forest and, of course, lake views. An excellent starter hike or a nice way to break up your day of sightseeing.

Path through woods on Pender island hike

Beaumont Trail

5 km / 1.5-2 hrs / 230m elevation gain

AllTrails Map

Starting from the same trailhead as Mount Norman, Beaumont Trail is longer but not as steep and there are more viewpoints along the way. The Arbutus trees are a highlight and many people choose to linger along the beach.

George Hill Trail

1.5 km / 30 min / 120m elevation gain

AllTrails Map

A lovely little path in the northern end of the north island, George Hill Trail is a nice quiet option that offers very different scenery to the trails around the channel.

6. Go for a Swim in Magic Lake

Other than the ocean, the best place to swim on Pender Island is in Magic Lake. There are picnic areas, a small beach, a pit toilet and a swimming dock.

Picnic table at Magic Lake

7. Wander Roesland

This beautiful park on North Pender Island was a popular resort from the 1920’s until 1990. Now it is a great seaside picnic and walking area scattered with old cottages and the original Roe House – built in 1908 and now turned into the small Pender Island Museum.

Outside of Pender museum

It is technically free to enter but they suggest a $5 per person donation ($10 per family). You can enjoy a fascinating look at life on the island from a century ago and even pick fruit in their traditional orchard.

Anytime outside high tide you can walk across to the wonderfully tree-covered Roe Islet. It only takes about 15 minutes to reach the bench at the end, an idyllic sunset spot where people often spot seals and eagles.

Person on island with trees

8. Explore by Bike

The fantastic scenery is perfect for exploring on bike, despite the fair number of hills. The roads are also narrow but outside of peak times (summer weekends) the traffic isn’t overly bothersome.

Narrow road on Pender Island BC
The quiet but narrow roads on Pender Island

You can rent new, modern bikes at Pender Island Kayak Adventures for anywhere from 2 hours to multiple days. Keep in mind, they don’t offer ebikes and trail riding is not allowed on Pender Island.

9. Do a Little Wine-Tasting

No visit to the Gulf Islands would be complete without a bit of wine-tasting. The best place to try some vino on Pender Island is at Sea Star Vineyards, where you can visit their two gorgeous vineyards – one on terraces heading up Mount Menzies, the other leading down to the beach.

Sign for winery

You don’t need to make a reservation and can get a flight of 3 wines for $12, then enjoy them on either the patio or in the lovely garden.

10. Hit the Links

Pender Island Golf Club is a surprising gem, considered one of the most beautiful 9-hole courses in the province. Featuring superb views from several elevated tee boxes and a wide range of tees so you can mix and match your 9’s and make them seem completely different.

One of the tree lined greens

It is open year-round and its most iconic feature is the stone bridge on the 8th hole, an exact replica of the famous bridge at St. Andrew’s in Scotland, the birthplace of golf.

11. Sample Twin Island Cider

Perhaps wine isn’t your thing and you’d prefer to try a little cider instead. Check out the tasting room at Twin Island Cider, open Friday to Sunday all year-round.

Tasting room at the Pender Island Cidery
The quaint tasting room

They use only native yeasts and a wide variety of old growth trees to produce unique apple ciders and perrys (made from pears). 

When to Visit: Pender Island Weather

As with most of the Gulf Islands in British Columbia, Pender Island enjoys a very mild, temperate climate. Summer offers the best weather (25/13C high/low and very little rain) and the most things to do on Pender Island. The days are longer, the trails drier and the beaches more festive in summer.

View over ocean on Pender Island

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. Of course, there is also more rain (and sometimes even a bit of snow), many tourist services shut down for the winter and even the restaurants, shops and hotels might only be open on weekends.

Drift wood on one of the Pender Island Beaches

The shoulder seasons (May/June or September/October) usually offer the perfect mix of good weather and fewer people. Late spring is a good time for wildflowers and fall provides the warmest water of the year.

Where to Eat: Pender Island Restaurants

While choices are predictably limited, there are still a few very good restaurants on Pender Island.

Jo’s Place

Considered by many to be the best restaurant on Pender Island, Jo’s Place is known for its excellent location and outstanding food (the burgers in particular).

Patio at restaurant

Port Browning Marina Resort & Pub

A relaxed atmosphere with a nice terrace overlooking the bay and good pub food. The beef dip was particularly good.

Beef dip with fries

Woods on Pender

A gourmet restaurant, coffee bar and even a snack truck, all of which are open to the public as well as guests of this excellent hotel. We stayed at the Woods on Pender as they have great accommodation options including Airstreams. Their deck surrounded by tall trees is our choice for where to have your meal.

Patio at pender island restaurants

Vanilla Leaf Bakery Café

A great choice for baked goods and pastries, although they also offer light lunches and excellent coffee.

HUB at Hope Bay

If you are looking for a place right on the water with a great ambience and vegetarian options this is the place for you. The menu changes frequently but the flatbread is always a good choice.

Person sitting on deck at a Pender island restaurant

Can you do a day trip to Pender Island?

Yes, Pender Island falls on one of the main ferry routes between Victoria (Swartz Bay) and Vancouver (Tsawwassen) so several ferries stop in most days. It is also possible to arrive by short ferry journey from the nearby Gulf Islands (Salt Spring Island, Mayne Island) or private boat.

Because Pender Island is so small it can easily be explored in a single day, although if you have more time there is plenty to keep you busy for an entire weekend.

Pender Island Map

Click the star to save this map to your Google Maps – then find it under Saved/Maps (mobile) or Your Places/Maps (desktop)

How Do You Get to Pender Island?

There are several easy ways to get to Pender Island, including by ferry to Otter Bay, by private boat from a neighboring island and by seaplane.

Pender Island Ferry

Ferry is the most common way to reach the island. Long-distance routes between Victoria and Vancouver can be reserved in advance on the BC Ferries website but shorter inter-island routes are first come, first served.

Pender Island ferry and ocean

Either way, the schedules change seasonally so you will want to go to their website to confirm the most up-to-date times.

Ferry to Pender Island from Vancouver

Some of the ferries from Vancouver-Tsawwassen are non-stop but others check in at the smaller islands along the way. They take about 2 hours and you should check the latest schedule to find out your options.

Ferry to Pender Island from Victoria

In summer, there are 8-10 ferries per day that take about 45 minutes to travel between Pender Island and Victoria-Swartz Bay. Some of them stop at Mayne, Galiano or Saturna, while others go directly to Vancouver Island.

Pender island ferry port

Other Gulf Islands

Most of the other Southern Gulf Islands are served by 2 ferries per day to (or from) Pender Island – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. So if you are planning to do some island hopping you’ll need to plan your route carefully.

Person standing on deck of Pender Island ferry
Heading to Pender Island from Salt Spring Island

Pender Island Seaplane

The fastest way to get to the island is by air. In summer, Seair has 3 flights per day from Richmond to Pender Island. Flights leave from Port Washington at the north end of the north island, only take about 20 minutes and cost $165 one-way (discounts for students and seniors).

Getting around Pender Island BC

Even though it is not a big place, it is still too big to get around on foot and having a car is by far your best bet. 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.

Rental car and rocky beach on a Gulf Island
Our trusty rental car for our Gulf Island hopping

If you don’t want to drive, then bike or ebike is a great option. Unfortunately, there is no public transportation on Pender Island. There was previously a Community Bus service running a few times a week as a pilot project but that is now on hiatus until a decision is made about starting a permanent bus system on the island.

However, there are Community Stops where visitors can wait for drivers to pick them up. Think of it like organized hitchhiking.

There is also one taxi company on the island – booking ahead (250-629-2222) is highly recommended.

Gulf Island Hopping

The lovely, forested Gulf Islands are scattered throughout 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 other south islands that are inhabited, have accommodation options and BC ferry connections are Gabriola, Salt Spring, Mayne, Galiano and Saturna.

Calm harbour with boats
Gabriola Island Marina

However, there are several other small islands 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.

Salt Spring Island

The most populous and developed of the Gulf Islands, bustling Salt Spring Island offers a huge variety of activities.

Cliff Trail on Hornby Island, British Columbia

It is one of the best places in British Columbia to shop at local farm stands and in summer offers an impressive array of live music venues.

21 Reasons to Visit Spectacular Salt Spring Island

Saturna Island

Wild and mountainous Saturna Island is tucked into a small pocket of Canadian territory with the USA surrounding 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.

Mayne Island

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.

The 16 Best Things to Do on Mayne Island

Ferry and lighthouse in the Gulf Islands BC
Georgina Point on Mayne Island

Galiano Island

Of all the Gulf Islands, Galiano Island is the closest to Vancouver which, combined with a wealth of natural highlights, has made it one of the top adventure destinations for people looking to escape the city.

Guide to Galiano Island: BC’s Outdoor Adventure Playground

Hiker on trail in Galiano Island

Hiking, biking, kayaking and fishing are just a few of the possibilities on long, narrow Galiano.

Gabriola Island

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.

Person standing in the Gabriola Island Malaspina Galleries

Complete Guide to Gabriola Island

Hornby Island

Hugely popular in summer, scenic and diverse Hornby Island is known for a variety of highlights, including local wine, art and crafts.

There are several outstanding beaches and a few excellent hiking trails.

14 Amazing Things to Do on Hornby Island

Denman Island

Often overshadowed by its more popular neighbour, Hornby Island, Denman Island has plenty to offer visitors in its own right. Not the least of which is a much quieter, more natural experience.

Sunset on Denman Island over calm ocean

With impressive hiking, serene beaches and more deer than you can honk your horn at, it is worth setting aside some time to explore before jumping on that next ferry to Hornby.

11 Outstanding Things to Do on Denman Island

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.

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  • 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.

Pender Island Summary

The “two islands divided by a channel” thing is pretty unique, and both North and South Pender Islands are fantastically peaceful. They also feature some of the best viewpoints in the South Gulf Islands, including Gowlland Point, Mortimer Spit and Magic Lake. One of the best islands for getting back to nature and away from the summer crowds.

Other useful articles you may want to check out:

Salt Spring Island Camping and Glamping

The Ultimate Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary

Spectacular Waterfalls on Vancouver Island

Snug Cove on Bowen Island: Top Reasons to Visit

Best Easy Hikes in North Vancouver