Snug Cove on Bowen Island is perfectly named, as this cozy little harbour immediately makes you feel at home the moment you step off the ferry. Conveniently close to Vancouver but worlds away in feel and atmosphere, Snug Cove is both the name of the bay and the adjacent town, the main population centre on the island.
Loaded with terrific cafés, pubs, bakeries and restaurants, sometimes it can be hard to drag yourself away. You’ll want to, though, because it is definitely worth venturing farther to enjoy the rest of the Bowen Island highlights.
Located in the beautiful Howe Sound just a short ferry ride from Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay Terminal; Snug Cove, Bowen Island is a great place to go for a day trip (or longer). It is a very popular hiking destination, with several of the hikes starting right from where you get off the ferry in Snug Cove, one of the many reasons you don’t necessarily need to take a vehicle.
What is Bowen Island BC known for?
It is considered a quiet, relaxed day trip destination. Quick and easy to reach from Vancouver, it feels like a different world with its pleasant natural areas, uncrowded roads and empty beaches. It is one of the best places to go to get away from the city to enjoy outdoor activities.
Do you need a car on Bowen Island?
No, one of the best things about a Bowen Island day trip is that you really don’t need to bring a vehicle. It is one of the few day trips from Vancouver that can easily be done using only public transportation.
It costs extra to bring your car on the ferry and in summer parking can be nearly impossible to find. However, you can leave your car in Horseshoe Bay or even take convenient public transport to the ferry terminal and still see most of what the island has to offer.
Snug Cove Day Trip on Foot
While it is easier to get to some of the more remote beaches of the island or the Pebble Beach Shore Walk with a car, many Bowen Island activities are accessible right from the dock. There are lots of hiking trails, beaches, viewpoints, restaurants, bars, shops and art galleries all within easy walking distance of the ferry terminal in Snug Cove.
A lot of people also bike to Horseshoe Bay and take their bike across on the ferry, or just rent bikes or e-bikes once they get to the island.
Bowen Island is one of the nicest and most convenient islands to visit in British Columbia. Plus, prior to the 1960’s, it was apparently home to the largest dance hall in British Columbia, accommodating up to 800 couples at a go.
Where to Stay on Bowen Island BC: Best Snug Cove Hotels
If you do decide that you want a more thorough experience than you can get on a day trip, there are plenty of excellent accommodation options available. 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.
However, if you can’t find what you’re looking for on Booking, there are also a number of private vacation rentals or Snug Cove B&Bs to choose from.
Artisan Suites on Bowen
The beautiful 4-star Artisan Suites on Bowen is located right in Snug Cove. It has a pleasant garden, highly regarded restaurant and nice terrace perfect for relaxing at the end of a long day of sightseeing.
English Rose Cottage
If you have a vehicle and don’t mind staying a little out of town, the highly-rated English Rose Cottage offers comfortable garden-view rooms in a quiet location.
Bowen Island Camping
Unfortunately, there are currently no campgrounds on Bowen Island. However, that is soon going to change as in 2022 Metro Vancouver announced plans to purchase 240 acres of land on the west coast of the island. The 24 parcels of land surrounding Cape Roger Curtis will be developed as regional park and will eventually include close to 100 tenting sites and tent cabins.
They are also planning to build several more hiking trails and viewpoints and provide basic camping and day-use facilities. As of now, RV sites will not be part of the complex. Of course, the new park is still in the early stages of planning so it is too soon to guess when it might be operational. Not this summer, for sure.
Mainland Accommodation Options
If circumstances dictate that you spend your nights on the mainland, there are obviously lots of good choices. However, for ease of access many people choose to stay on in North Vancouver or along the Sea to Sky Highway and visit Bowen Island as a day trip (or multiple days).
While this means having to take the ferry across to Snug Cove, it is more convenient for exploring the many amazing sights and attractions along the mainland coast. Here are a few of the best choices if you decide to go that route:
Pinnacle Hotel at the Pier
This luxurious option features a beautiful pool and a fantastic location for those into outdoor pursuits. Along with easy access to the Sea to Sky Highway, the Pinnacle Hotel is also very close to the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge, Seymour Mountain and Grouse Mountain. It isn’t cheap but probably still qualifies as midrange in the scheme of Vancouver hotels.
Crystal’s View Bed and Breakfast
This lovely, exclusive bed and breakfast is in a quiet neighbourhood with beautiful gardens and relaxing surroundings. Crystal’s View Bed and Breakfast is close to all the top North Vancouver attractions and provides plenty of comfort to go with a fantastic breakfast. Each of the suites has a sensational view – one of the top places to stay in the area.
Howe Sound Inn and Brewing Company
If you like the idea of staying somewhere outside of Vancouver, definitely head just a short drive north to Squamish, the adventure capital of BC. Surrounded by amazing hiking, kayaking, rock climbing and mountain biking, just to name a few things, Squamish is perfect for outdoor types.
The Howe Sound Inn and Brewing Company is one of the best lounges in Squamish but they also have excellent rooms for those looking to settle in for awhile. A relatively affordable choice for the area, this modern hotel has a range of rooms, some with outstanding mountain views. Right in the heart of the city, it is a convenient, comfortable choice.
The 10 Best Things to Do on Bowen Island
1. Enjoy the View from Mount Gardner
There are several different trails leading up to the fabulous panoramic viewpoints on Mount Gardner, although none of them are particularly easy. If you have the time and energy to give it a go, though, we break down all the options in our Hiking on Bowen Island post.
If you’re not up for anything that intense or time-consuming but still want a nice viewpoint, try Dorman Point. This either involves a short hike up from Snug Cove or a short drive most of the way to the top, then a very short hike. The views don’t quite compare to Mount Gardner but are still pretty nice.
Right where you get off the ferry there is a kiosk with a large trail map you can use to get your bearings. Or if you want one to take with you, head over to the Bowen Island Visitor Information Centre to pick up a copy.
2. Relax on the Bowen Island Beach that Suits Your Mood
Many people consider Pebbly Beach the best on the island and it is just a short 15-minute walk from Snug Cove (which is good because there is very little parking to be had at the beach itself). The water tends to be calm and doesn’t get deep too quickly. There is a swimming dock and even some trees if you prefer shade.
There is also September Morn Beach on the south side and some other good options on the west side of the island, including Bluewater Beach, Tunstall Bay, Bowen Bay and many small coves located along the Pebble Beach Shore Walk (not to be confused with Pebbly Beach – they are on opposite sides of the island). Thanks to their location, these beaches get a lot of afternoon sun and are popular places to watch the sunset.
3. Indulge Your Taste Buds at one of the Snug Cove Restaurants
On Bowen Island, Snug Cove is a place that offers an impressive array of culinary experiences despite its small size.
Tuscany is an Italian place (obviously) that is known for having the best pizza on the island. The rest of their authentic Italian dishes are excellent as well.
Barcelona also lives up to its name, specializing in wine and tapas.
Doc Morgan’s Pub & Restaurant features the best patio on Bowen Island. Enjoy some of their famous fish ‘n chips or peel ‘n eat shrimp while enjoying the view over the green lawn to the marina and channel.
Branch on Bowen offers terrific Mexican food followed by ice cream, with picnic tables with views of the Bowen Island marina as well. I can personally recommend the Beefy Beef Burrito, although maybe not for vegetarians.
Try some handmade organic chocolate bars and truffles from Cocoa West.
And candy-lovers may want to stop in at Candy in the Cove, who claim to be the smallest candy store in the world. Yet they still manage to offer a wide range candy, including a lot of nostalgic favourites from the past.
4. Explore the Bowen Island Coastline by Kayak or Paddleboard
One of the most popular things to do on Bowen Island is kayaking the gorgeous waters of the Howe Sound, famous for its fascinating marine life (whales, we’re talking about whales). You can rent all sizes of kayaks (double, single, kids) and paddleboards at Bowen Island Kayaking in Snug Cove marina. There are even stand-up paddle yoga classes if you want to combine two very different passions.
You can choose from a leisurely paddle along the shoreline or explore around the west side of the island to the beautiful Pasley Islands where you will have a good chance of spotting seals, otters and eagles.
5. Settle in and Watch the World Go By
The outdoor tables at The Snug are where in-the-know visitors go to enjoy great coffee and people-watch. And if your stomach happens to start grumbling, they also offer baking, sandwiches and an excellent all-day breakfast.
Or if you want a drink with a little more kick, the Bowen Island Pub is a popular choice, serving a range of local beers just up the hill from the ferry terminal.
6. Tour the Island by E-Bike
The entire island is very bikeable but to really give yourself a chance to see it all you can rent an eBike from Bowen eBikes in Snug Cove. Bowen Island may be small but it has a lot of hills, so having an electric motor that kicks in on the tough spots and can go up to 24 km/hr makes touring the island a lot easier and more fun.
It can also be the ideal way to see the island if you want to leave your car behind on the mainland (avoiding the additional ferry cost and parking headaches of high season). Reserving ahead is usually a good idea, especially if you are hoping to get an eBike for multiple days during your stay. Prices range from $48/2 hrs to $85/8 hrs to $274/72 hrs. They also provide a map and route tips.
7. Watch for Sea Life… on the Trail
Yes, there is a very good chance you will see marine creatures from the ferry or while touring around the island in a kayak, but there is also plenty to see directly from shore. The Pebble Beach Shore Walk (also known, appropriately, as The Whale Trail), on the west coast of the island is famous for its whale and eagle sightings, although from day to day you could spot just about any of the local sea inhabitants. You’ll need a vehicle, eBike or strong legs to get all the way over to this fantastic area.
8. Get Some Retail Therapy
Once recognized as the 4th most artistic community in Canada (based on the percentage of the population that list art as their main source of income), Bowen Island boasts a bevy of superb galleries featuring local artwork. Artisan Square, just up the main road out of Snug Cove and left on the aptly named Artisan Lane, is the main collection of locally owned galleries and you can check out the work of more than a dozen local artists at the Arts Pacific Cooperative Gallery. There are also boutique shops, restaurant options and a spa. The square is only a 15-minute walk from the ferry terminal and on summer weekends they add a wonderful outdoor produce market to the mix.
You can also check out Coastal Patterns Gallery, which features award-winning paintings by Gregg Simpson out of two different locations, and Branch 01 beside Branch on Bowen (right on the harbour) sells an interesting selection of home wares and artisan products.
Before your visit it is worth checking out Bowen Island Arts Council’s weekly calendar of events.
9. Wander Through Crippen Park to Killarney Lake
Crippen Regional Park covers 600 acres of natural terrain and starts from the moment you step off the ferry. A favourite easy walk is the 1.6-kilometre Killarney Lake Trail that ends at this cute little lake. There are two variations, one that passes Memorial Garden and a nice causeway, while the other climbs up a hill next to a lagoon where you’ll find a set of fish ladders, often full of salmon in late fall.
At the lake itself, the pleasant 4-kilometre Killarney Loop Trail leads you all the way around, including some pleasant viewpoints and boardwalks through some fascinating marshes.
10. Watch the Sunset
Witnessing a Bowen Island sunset is one of the best reasons to spend a night or two in Snug Cove rather than just coming for a day trip. Pebbly Beach is an exceptional and convenient choice, walking distance from the harbour and featuring the late day sun glowing off the mountains of the mainland.
But to watch the sun actually drop below the horizon you’ll need to head over to just about anywhere on the west side, with Tunstall Bay and the Roger Curtis Lighthouse being particularly good choices.
Truly Mourn the Mastodon
The name is unfortunately accurate now as the iconic driftwood mastodon has been disassembled and no longer graces the forests of Bowen Island. This amazing sculpture had somehow managed to acquire national recognition without ever having its exact location revealed to the public.
Artist Guthrie Gloag built it with wood hauled up piece by piece in his backpack. As the locals had worked so hard to keep it hidden from the masses, we never shared the exact location. However, we were lucky enough to receive some inside info and were able to find the short, steep hike to the very unique sculpture and nice viewpoint.
Interestingly, while the mastodon may be no more, the artist did include a rather cryptic line in his announcement telling visitors to “keep on exploring: you never know what you might stumble upon”, hinting that a new creation may be on the way…
Bowen Island Map
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How to Get to Bowen Island From Vancouver – The Bowen Island Ferry
The Bowen Island ferry leaves from 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 this 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.
The return trip costs $31 per vehicle and $11 per person.
You can’t reserve the Snug Cove 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. Or you pay to get there and it is free to get back, however you want to look at it.
Meanwhile, the Bowen Island water taxi goes back and forth between Coal Harbour (downtown Vancouver) and Snug Cove every weekday. It also usually runs between Granville Island and Bowen Island from the Victoria Day weekend in May through the Labour Day weekend in September.
If you don’t have your own car or are flying into Vancouver, we highly recommend renting a car as most of the top beaches, trails and attractions are difficult to reach via public transportation. It is also nice to be able to set your own schedule rather than relying on buses or shuttles. We have found Discover Cars usually have the best rental car offers in the area.
Bowen Island Facilities
There are a few small grocery stores on the island. They may not be the giant chain stores you will find on the mainland but they still have everything you need to stock up for a picnic or longer stay. This way you don’t have to haul a bunch of supplies across on the ferry, especially handy if you are not bringing a car.
The Snug Cove General Store is your best bet for basic groceries and the Watering Can and Ruddy Potato offer natural, organic options. Prices might be slightly higher than in the city but it is worth it for the added convenience and benefit of shopping local on your visit.
There is not a full hospital but there is an RCMP detachment with an ambulance station. Depending on the urgency of the issue, patients can be transported to the mainland by ambulance on the main ferry, by private water taxi or by BC Ambulance helicopter in case of emergency.
Places to Visit Near Bowen Island
There are plenty of great places to visit near Bowen Island, Canada. In an area full of outstanding viewpoints, Tunnel Bluffs still manages to stand out. 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.
For less strenuous pursuits, you can check out the beach and viewpoints at Porteau Cove. Browning Lake has a nice day-use area, Shannon Falls are very impressive and the Nch’Kay viewpoint is definitely worth a short stop.
One of the most iconic and memorable activities in the Vancouver area is a whale watching tour in the Salish Sea. Head out on a 5-hour tour on a comfortable 3-tiered boat with multiple viewing areas. As you cruise through the beautiful Gulf Islands you will have the opportunity to spot a variety of whales, other marine animals a lot of seabirds. Whale sightings are guaranteed and the scenery is simply phenomenal.
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.
- 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.
Bowen Island Summary
Bowen Island, BC is almost an ideal day trip destination – close to Vancouver, small, manageable, scenic and filled with things to see and do. Of course, spending a few days will allow you to really see all it has to offer. Meanwhile, picture-perfect Snug Cove is the centre of the island’s charm, providing the perfect base for your day of explorations and activities. You won’t want to leave.
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