A quick 20-minute ferry ride west of Vancouver brings visitors to Bowen Island, an emerald island in the waters of Howe Sound. With a beautifully rugged landscape and friendly laid-back pace, Bowen Island is typical of the forested island retreats to be found along the coast of British Columbia.
Bowen Island was originally inhabited by the Squamish First Nations who used it as their hunting and fishing grounds.
Early settlers discovered shake dwellings and a smoke house in Snug Cove. Bowen also served as a neutral meeting ground for the Squamish and other First Nations, as well as a stopping place on the way up or down the coast. The first preemption of land by a white settler was in 1874, by William Eaton, who claimed 160 acres south of Killarney Lake.
Bowen Island was named in 1860 after Rear-Admiral James Bowen (1751-1835), master of the HMS Queen Charlotte, the flagship of Lord Howe. While on an exploration of the Strait of Georgia back in 1791, the Spanish explorer Narvaez had already named this island and the one to the west ‘the isles of Apodaca,’ after Spanish naval official Sebastian Ruiz de Apodaca.
Although now primarily a residential area, Bowen Island’s beauty was not wasted on the picnickers and weekend explorers who first developed Bowen Island as a recreation spot early last century. And a hundred years later, this enchanted island attracts even more visitors from around the globe to its verdant coniferous forests and mountainous vistas. Dubbed Happy Isle in the 1950s, this tiny port has been revitalized with an array of attractions, historic old turn-of-the-century buildings, quaint boutiques, and boardwalks.
The magic of Bowen Island is the peace and tranquility of country living that the island offers, while being so accessible to the amenities of Vancouver. Lakes, beaches, crown forest lands, beautiful hiking trails, and absolute serenity await those residents and visitors who choose to leave the hustle of city life behind them.
Upon arrival on Bowen, check in at the restored Union Steamship Company store just up the hill. The Greater Vancouver Regional District houses its park reception centre here where you can pick up a map of Crippen Regional Park, as well as a historic walking tour guide. Across Government Road is a row of shops, including a bakery and two pubs, featuring Bowen Island brew. You can rent one of the restored Union Steamship Company cabins here if you wish to spend the night on the island.
Relive the resort life of the 1920s with a visit to the Cottage Museum, and pore over old-time photos and displays in the Historian’s Museum at the crossroads.
Annual events on Bowen Island include the Heritage Weekend in mid-February, and the People, Plants & Places Tour hosted in mid/late July by the Bowen Island Historians and Memorial Garden Society. The art and craft galleries of Artisan Square are a must-see on the island.
Snug Cove: For those who enjoy a slower pace, buy a packed lunch from one of Snug Cove’s restaurants and take a guided walk or birdwatching tour around the island, experiencing the flora and fauna of Bowen Island to its fullest.
Those with sturdy shoes and legs should make the beautiful hike to the top of Mount Gardner, Bowen’s highest point (2480 ft. above sea level), for a breathtaking view of the Sunshine Coast, Lower Mainland and Washington State.
Enjoy mountain and ocean views along the Snug Cove waterfront. Visit the mallard ducks on a stroll along the Causeway at the Lagoon, or watch salmon making daring leaps up the fish ladder next to Bridal Veil Falls. Follow the promenade to Snug Cove’s wide beach. A steep trail leads up the hill on the far side of the picnic area to Dorman Point, and a great view of Howe Sound and the Howe Sound Crest Mountains as you look down into aptly named Snug Cove.
Canoeing & Kayaking: See the moon rise above Hollyburn Mountain from your kayak, or enjoy a full day of paddling to the Pasley Islands, west of Bowen Island, to view seals, eagles and river otters. Operators in Snug Cove offer numerous Sea Kayaking tours and sea kayaking courses. What a wonderful place to learn to paddle! The varied terrain of the Vancouver, Coast and Mountains region of BC accommodates every outdoor recreation known to man.
One of the delights of visiting Bowen Island is that you’re in Crippen Regional Park as soon as you step onto the dock at Snug Cove. Even though the ferry ride and a stroll on the beach make an entirely satisfactory trip in themselves, the best way to appreciate Crippen Regional Park is over the course of a half-day or more. Head inland to Killarney Lake to explore the quiet side of Bowen Island. As you walk or bike uphill from the ferry on Government Road past the Union Steamship store, trails marked by a green park signpost lead off to Killarney Lake. Allow 30 minutes to walk the 1.6-km Killarney Lake Trail to the lake. Take one of two routes to reach the Killarney Lake Trail. One trail leads past a pair of fish ladders that climb the hillside above a small lagoon. Alternatively, walk down past the Memorial Garden to a causeway that crosses the mouth of the tranquil backwater.
On the opposite side of the lagoon, follow left on Melmore Road to Miller Road, where a yellow gate across from St. Gerard’s Church marks the entrance to the Killarney Creek Trail. The first third of the trail is on level ground padded by years of fallen leaves and needles, then it begins to rise gently through second-growth forest. Huge cedar stumps testify that these graceful giants once predominated here. At the halfway point to Killarney Lake, a path leads off to the left and across a small bridge over Terminal Creek. Horses exercise in a paddock nearby. Once at the lake, the 4-km Killarney Loop Trail circles its perimeter somewhat erratically, passing a picnic area and a small beach along the way. A lovely stretch of boardwalk spans a marshy area at the north end of the lake. Crippen Regional Park comprises everything visitors hope to find in a park.
Mountain Biking: Bowen Island is a paradise of Mountain Biking Trails, from relatively easy loops around Killarney Lake in Crippen Regional Park to the burning climb up Mount Gardner. The island is a world unto itself, so take the time to explore and revel in Bowen’s sedated pace. Although the tempo may be relaxed, mountain bikers will find the roads that ring the island demanding, with few level stretches and even fewer beach-access points for well-deserved breaks.
Daytrip to Bowen Island: You can take an exciting ride in a fast tour boat to peaceful Snug Cove from Granville Island in Vancouver, an enjoyable day’s outing. You’ll be following a long-standing tradition if you do, as ferries once brought revellers from Vancouver for day and overnight outings to Bowen Island.
BC Ferries: Telephone BC Ferries (604-669-1211) to confirm sailing times on the Queen of Capilano, which carries 85 vehicles. You can travel to Horseshoe Bay by bus (#250). Call West Vancouver Bus Transportation at 604-985-7777 for schedule information.
Driving instructions from Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal:
West on Georgia Street, through Stanley Park
Cross the Lions Gate Bridge
Follow the Upper Levels Highway, 99-1, to Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal.
Total estimated driving time from downtown Vancouver: 25 minutes, depending on traffic conditions.