It’s the classic, end-of-summer dilemma in Vancouver. The clouds are rolling in and the window for good weather is closing fast. You’ve already blown your travel budget on summer adventures, and you don’t have enough vacation days left for a real holiday. But you’ve got the itch for one more getaway.
Why not Bowen Island? The tiny, heavily forested island in Howe Sound feels a world away, even though it’s just a few kilometres off the mainland. It makes an easy day trip and, with a bit of planning, a really cheap one.
I checked out Bowen Island on a recent Saturday, when big clouds were gathered over the North Shore mountains. By the time I drove out to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, however, the skies had cleared. Like generations of budget travellers before me, I skipped the official parking lot ($1 per 15 minutes!) and headed to the discount Lions Club lot under the highway ($8 per day). I unloaded my bike and rode down to the ferry terminal.
The walk-on rate for the 20-minute ferry ride to Bowen Island is just $11.10 (you’ll pay an extra $31.65 if you bring your car). Once on board the Queen of Capilano, I headed to the upper deck, where I got an overhead view on a seal chasing a school of fish through the bay. The brief ride across Howe Sound is just long enough to feel like you’ve left the traffic and bustle and obligations of Vancouver behind. By the time you pull into Snug Cove, you’re on island time.
If you’re on foot, the area around Snug Cove is a great place to spend an afternoon. There’s a cluster of pubs and restaurants not far from the water, as well as cafes, ice cream shops, galleries and boutiques. Just adjacent the ferry terminal, Dorman Point makes a great hike; a 2.5-kilometre trail winds its way to an arbutus-strewn summit with clear views of Whytecliffe Park across the water.
But since I had my bike, I decided to do a little exploring. Bowen Island is only 12 kilometres long, and a single road bisects the heavily forested, hilly terrain. I climbed the steep rise up from the harbour along Grafton Road and soon had left the little village behind.
Bowen Island only has 3,400 residents, and I had the road more or less to myself, apart from a few passing cars. The smell of pine forest hangs in the air and the woods are broken here and there by cabins, houses and hobby farms. I pedalled along quiet stretches of forest, past grazing sheep and llamas, and worked up a good sweat on a few hilly sections before finally hooking up with Adams Road and beginning a steep descent to the opposite shore of the island.
My destination was a remote stretch of beach and a tiny lighthouse known as Cape Roger Curtis at the end of Whitesails Road. Until recently the entire area, some 650 acres and 4 kilometres of coastline, was completely undeveloped. It’s now in the midst of being transformed into a high-end housing development, but there are still very nice trails along the waterfront.
I parked my bike and hiked about 10 minutes or so through coastal scrub to a perfectly scalloped stretch of sand called Pebbly Beach. Backed by a low cliffs, it feels like an isolated sanctuary, even though it’s easy to get to. I laid down a blanket on the warm sand. Tall arbutus trees swayed overhead. Way out on the sound, a pod of orcas was playing in the water. I had found my final summer getaway, just a 20-minute boat ride from Vancouver and for the bargain price of an $11.10 ferry ticket.
Have any other favourite spots on Bowen Island? Let us know below.
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