Blue sky filters through the copper-coloured arbutus trees that frame the view of Howe Sound from the summit of Mount Gardner. Near the lookout, a statue-still woodpecker waits for a hawk to pass overhead, while a tiny Douglas squirrel zips like a skimmed pebble across the sun-dappled trail.
On Bowen Island, this sort of serene, all-natural scene is blissfully typical.
Snug Cove ferry dock, Photo courtesy of Design Pics Inc /Alamy Stock Photo
An easy 20-minute ferry hop from West Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay, Bowen Island feels idyllically far away—which is a prime reason why most locals choose to live here, and a huge hook for visitors who’ve made this spot a charming day-trip for decades.
“I love everything about it,” says Hilary Butler, a Bowenite for 36 years. “You know you’re in a very different place as soon as you step off the ferry.”
A resident deer on Bowen Island, Photo courtesy of John Lee
With a passion for the island’s natural side, Butler is the author of the popular Bowen Island Trails Guide, and she has a number of favourite paths. “Killarney Lake trail is very accessible—you could do it in flip-flops—but Mount Gardner is a steeper trek with amazing views: you can see Vancouver on clear days,” she says, adding that eagle or deer sightings are not unusual here, and that the Headwaters Park and Quarry Park areas are often magically tranquil.
Chatty bars and restaurants
While Bowen’s nature-based offerings are many, regular visitors are also lured by Bowen’s chatty bars and restaurants, several of which line the boardwalks of Snug Cove, just steps from the ferry dock. “Going to the pub here is like Cheers—everyone knows your name,” says local software engineer and self-described “food nerd” Rob Bailey.
Topping his menu of recommended Bowen hangouts is Rustique Bistro. “They serve authentic, great value dishes with almost everything made from scratch,” says Bailey, who is especially fond of the charcuterie plates and lobster bisque. Uphill from Snug Cove, Artisan Eats is also a favourite breakfast and lunch spot, while Bailey’s dinner pick is cozy, shingle-sided Tuscany Restaurant, where dishes like house-made mushroom ravioli are “prepared with love.”
Island studios and galleries
Many of Bowen’s 3,600 residents are also artists, and, according to resident oil painter Marie Neys, who is part of the Bowen Island Arts Council, the island hosts regular exhibitions for art lovers within the community and beyond. Self-guided explorations of island studios and galleries are also popular with visitors, Neys says. And next year, Bowen will have even more spaces to check out.
“Snug Cove’s Catching Stars Gallery will open in early 2018, and it will showcase the work of around 25 artists, mostly from Bowen. There will be paintings, jewelry, fibre art, Indigenous art—we have artists working in just about every field here,” says Neys.
Two women walk on a path in the forest on Bowen Island, BC, Canada, Photo courtesy of age footstock / Alamy Stock Photo
The number of locals and visitors who glean artistic inspiration on Bowen is no surprise to Jody Lorenz, a Bowenite who runs fascinating, local-flavour guided walks via Bowen Island Tours. According to Lorenz, the beauty of the easily accessible island has been luring people over from the mainland long before BC Ferries’ services launched in the 1960s.
“In the 1930s and 1940s, hundreds of steamship visitors used to arrive here on summer days,” says Lorenz. “Many were on company picnics from Vancouver, and there were all kinds of activities, including a dance hall and a swimming pool, to keep them busy.”
Reminders of bygone eras still dot the island, including a clutch of cute wooden resort cottages—one of which, The Museum Cottage, is a yesteryear house museum decorated with nostalgic knick-knacks and 1920s period-piece furniture.
For Lorenz, Bowen’s olden-days appeal as a restorative retreat still resonates today. “I always feel like I’m on vacation here,” she says. ”It’s so easy to connect to nature, and I really appreciate that we have such an engaged island community. I fell in love with this place when I moved from the city five years ago, and I’ve loved it ever since.”