Hike to Mount Gardner, Bowen Island
Bowen Island is a beautiful day trip from Vancouver. While many choose to visit on a day trip from Vancouver to shop and eat lunch in Snug Cove, there are some great hikes for all levels which can be done in a few hours. You can also make a weekend of it with kayak rentals, visiting a cidery, and checking out the beaches. Mount Gardner is the highest point on the island and consists of the North and South Peak (which is the true summit but has no views). The trail provides views of the Sunshine Coast, Howe Sound, the North Shore, and Vancouver.
You can complete the hike without a car by taking public transit to Horseshoe Bay Ferry terminal (or if you drive, park your car in the paid lots) and then walk on the Bowen Island Ferry. If you choose to bring your car on the ferry you wont have to add the distance from the ferry to the trailhead (approximately 3km each way). There is also a public bus but the schedule is unlikely to line up with your outing. This description is based on driving to the trailhead, since that is what I did as I was staying on Bowen when I hiked it. If you do want to drive on the ferry you risk a possible wait on a busy weekend but you can purchase a "Experience Card" for a discount on this route, and others. Even if you don't bring your car, you can still get this card to receive a discount for foot passengers too.
Distance: 10km loop, though there are many different trails to choose from.
Elevation gain: 650m
Season: Year Round. Microspikes are recommended to carry with you in the winter months, especially if it has snowed recently. I completed this trail on April 24, 2022 and there were just a few muddy patches.
Drive just past Killarney Lake and there will be a left turn up a steep gravel road (called Bowen Pit Rd). If you don't have a 4x4 vehicle, you should be able to get up the hill with some speed and skilled driving to miss the potholes, but you can also opt to park at Killarney Lake and walk the extra bit to the trailhead.
The trail is well marked and well signed. I believe every intersection we reached had indication of which way it was to the peak or parking lot and names of each trail. Once off the service road and into the forest, there were plenty of orange markers that we found to keep us on the right path.
From the parking area, walk past the gate and keep on the service road, called Hikers Road Trail, almost all the way to the top! The Alltrails gpx map that I downloaded indicated that we would be turning off the road on to Handloggers Trail (which will intersect with Hikers Trail a few times) after a couple km but that trail is washed out and there is a fence and sign to stop people from going that way. The road is fairly steep and unrelenting with a couple short flat sections to help you catch your breath. Eventually the service road comes to an end and an actual trail starts up into the forest to your left. The trail is much prettier once you are in the forest, and before too much longer you will reach a lookout facing north to the Sunshine Coast and a couple other of Howe Sound's islands. You can also see Vancouver Island's mountainous spine on a clear day.
Continue on the trail to a sign that gives you a choice between North Summit and the North Summit bypass trail. Take the North Summit trail which will lead you up to some slightly eroded steep sections, but nothing that feels too dangerous. The final ascent has a "rope" assist but tree roots are sufficient to pull yourself up (the plasticy rope doesn't feel very supportive). You made it to the top! The tiring part is over.
The south peak is home to some radio towers and is less than appealing to look at, so put your back to them and gaze off in the direction of your choice. The two helipads at the top of the south peak provide a nice place to have a snack, but please keep aware of your surroundings in case a helicopter comes. Please note these are also not appropriate to camp on, in case a helicopter needs to land - camping is apparently not allowed here anyways.
To continue along the loop, stay on the trail through the tower site and head down in the direction of the second peak you can see. To me, this part of the trail is much nicer and has a classic coastal feeling, especially when the sun is shining through the tall trees. There is a trail up to the South Peak, but we bypassed it because the South Peak has no views - so unless you are a peakbagger, give this one a pass. The trail down is called the Skid Trail, and you will follow it along a couple switchbacks as you descend quickly down steep terrain. There is an intersection with the Canyon trail (left) and I think its called the Lower Skid Trail (right). Both ways will get you down, but follow the Lower Skid Trail to the right for a more direct route.
Keep on the Skid Trail and you will see the Hikers Road Trail at some point, as you parallel it at times. When the trail comes out onto another wide trail with no indication of which way to get back to the trailhead (but you can see there is a trail below you), follow the trail to the left which will intersect with another trail (Skid trail, again), which you take right. Finally, when you can practically smell the poutine from the pub, you will see another intersection pointing towards the "Killarney Lake Parking" (it was not on my map) - don't take that one unless that is where you parked. Continue slightly left and you will come out on to the Hikers Road and be almost at the car.
Doing It Again
Everyone loves a loop trail, but if I had to choose I think I would head up and back down along the Skid trail instead of the not very exciting "Hikers Road". It was much more beautiful and I don't love the road walking that made up most of the trail up the mountain.
Disclaimer: This trail report is intended to give the reader a general overview of what to expect and is not a substitute for your own navigational abilities. It will not be sufficient to direct you along the trail. Hikers should come prepared with a GPS device or map & compass. There is cell reception along most of the trail, but if you choose to use your phone as your GPS, ensure you bring a power bank and charging cable to keep your phone charged in case of an emergency.
As always, bring your Ten Essentials, and leave a trip plan with a trusted friend or family member.