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.
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.
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What is Pender Island Known For?
With amazing coastal scenery and more public water access than any of the other Gulf Islands, Pender Island is considered a haven of natural terrain and scenery. It is also unique for being a single island made into two islands by a man-made canal, yet is still known mainly by the singular Pender Island.
Pender Island Map
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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. So if you have been wondering that to do on Pender Island check out this list and start planning your stay.
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, Pender Island has 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.
This sandy bay is the best place to swim and sunbathe on Pender Island. 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
The beach is rocky but there are some nice picnic areas and a bunch of great trails to explore the area.
Known for its unique rock formations, this little beach also boasts exceptional views across the Swanson Channel.
Pender Island Farmer’s Market
For a taste of everything Pender Island has to offer in one handy place, check out the Pender Island 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.
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.
Meanwhile, a good place to pick up locally sourced items is Truss Farm Food Grocery Store (they also have a food truck).
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.
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.
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.
Discover the Art Galleries
Art is a big deal on Pender Island, 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.
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.
There are also several annual art events on Pender Island, including the South Pender Easter Art Walk, Le Petit Salon Art Show and Art Off the Fence.
Head Out on a Hike
The Pender 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.
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
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.
5 km / 1.5-2 hrs / 230m elevation gain
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
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.
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.
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.
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 Pender 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.
Explore by Bike
The fantastic scenery of Pender Island 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
They use only native yeasts and a wide variety of old growth trees to produce unique apple ciders and perrys (made from pears).
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 on Pender Island. 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.
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.
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.
Pender Island Camping
The amazing natural beauty of Pender Island 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
How Do You Get to Pender Island?
If you are wondering how to get to Pender Island you have a few great choice including by ferry to Otter Bay, by private boat from a neighboring island and by seaplane.
Pender Island Ferry
The Pender Island 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.
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.
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.
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 $157 one-way (discounts for students and seniors).
Getting around Pender Island BC
Even though Pender Island BC 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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