Vancouver Mini Escapes: Half-Day Trip to Bowen Island

BowenIsland-8Summer’s almost over … but not quite yet.

If you’re looking for one last getaway from the city but are short on time, consider the little island that’s practically in Vancouver’s backyard: Bowen Island.  You get a taste of Gulf Island living, beautiful forests, a small town and pristine beaches – and you can be back home in time for dinner.

I checked out Bowen over a recent weekend and was amazed at how much there is to do. Getting there is relatively easy.  Ferries leave regularly from the Horseshoe Bay Terminal in West Vancouver.  The quick, 20-minute trip will set you back $11.65 for a roundtrip ticket (add an extra $32.90 if you bring a car).  I drove on this time, but I’ve biked on in the past. (Bowen’s mountainous topography makes for dramatic – if somewhat exhausting – cycling.)

Vancouver Vacation 085The “mini-cruise” to the island is an experience unto itself, with gorgeous Howe Sound scenery and, if you’re lucky, some seals and otters to spice things up along the way.  The ferry docks in tiny Snug Cove, a picturesque Gulf Island town that feels worlds away from the bustle of Vancouver.  After a slow drive up the main drag – lined with pubs and restaurants housed inside tidy little cottages – I parked the car and got out to explore some of Bowen’s natural charms.

Just adjacent the ferry terminal is the trailhead to Dorman Point – a dramatic mountaintop lookout. The 2-kilometre hike starts at the cove, winding past colourful boats and pebble beach.  Then the trail enters thick forest for a brisk climb.  I huffed my way up mountainsides covered in giant ferns and huge Douglas firs.  The going gets a bit steep at the end, but hikers are rewarded with a panoramic view of Howe Sound, looking back toward Whytecliff Park.  I rested under the shade of a grove of arbutus trees and had the vista entirely to myself.

BowenIslandI’d worked up an appetite during the hike, and after making my way back down I decided to check out the lunch options in Snug Cove.  Waterside patios do a brisk business, but there’s also artisan pizza and even some white tablecloth dining on offer.  For a quick bite, I stopped in the Snug Cafe, housed in a rickety old building not far from the water.  They specialize in all-day breakfast, but also offer creative wraps and sandwiches, with a focus on vegetarian fare.  I ordered one of their specialties, a beet burger made with shredded beets and fresh veggies, as well as the evocatively named Glory Bowl salad, with fried feta and a fried egg, plus lots of local produce.

With the summer sun beating down, I decided it was time for a swim.  A little research on Google had turned up a little-known beach situated on the opposite end of the 12-kilometre-long island.  I took a scenic, 20-minute drive along Grafton and Adams Roads, which bisect the island, winding up and over hills and past farm fields and forest.  A steep descent along Whitesails Drive took me to my final destination: Cape Roger Curtis.

BowenIsland-7This 630-acre tract of land, with 3 kilometres of coastline, has been the subject of some controversy in recent years.  A high-end housing development is being built on the cape, drawing the ire of local residents.  Nonetheless, the coast here remains relatively undisturbed.  The road dead-ends at a small parking area and from there a trail leads down a steep embankment to what must be one of the prettiest little crescent beaches in the Lower Mainland.

The most amazing part: On a sunny Sunday in August, there was only one other person there beside me.  I spread a towel on the pebble beach, then tested the waters.  The ocean here is cold but calm and seems great for swimming.  I swam far out along the cape and was even joined by what I think was a seal or two for part of the journey.

The only tricky part of a daytrip to Bowen is getting back.  On weekends, especially later in the day, long lines of cars queue up for the return ferries.  It’s not uncommon to be stuck for an hour or two, since each ferry only accommodates 80 or so vehicles.  But not to worry.  Down at the water, a shop serves ice cream from a little window, and a walk around the marina – packed with houseboats, sailboats and pricy yachts – is a great way to kill time.

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