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Pender Island, British Columbia: The Perfect Weekend Away

If you are looking for a new adventure, why not consider one of the Gulf Islands situated off the east coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia? A few summers ago we decided to pick one or two Gulf Islands each year to explore, and Pender Island proved to be an excellent choice.

Port Browning Marina, Pender Island | C. Stathers

To get to Pender Island, you take a ferry either from Tsawwassen or from Swartz Bay. When planning your trip, remember to check the routes and schedules on the BC Ferries website because they vary depending on the time of the year. If you are travelling during peak times, it is well worth making a reservation.

On our trip, we departed from Tsawwassen south of Vancouver and stopped at both Galiano and Mayne Islands before arriving at Otter Bay on North Pender Island; it took a little less than 2 hours with no transfers. If you are coming from Swartz Bay (Sidney, Vancouver Island), then the ferry is about 40 minutes.

Explore One of the Beaches on Pender Island | C. Stathers

Pender Island is actually two islands (North Pender and South Pender) joined by a small one-lane bridge, which was built in 1955. The canal was dredged in the early 1900s to allow the passage of boats including the SS Iroquois, a steamboat ferry which provided transportation between the Gulf Islands, Sidney and Nanaimo. Unfortunately in 1911 it sank outside Sidney, killing over 20 people.

Picnic at Hope Bay | C. Stathers

We spent a lot of time exploring the 34 square kilometers of the islands; we wanted to see as much as possible on our few days there. Based on 2021 census data there are just over 2,400 full-time residents on the north island and about 300 on the south. It is the second largest of the Gulf Islands that we have visited: Salt Spring (11,635), Galiano (1,396), Mayne (1,304) and finally, Saturna (465) which we still have on our list to visit. It was interesting looking up the census data as I really had a sense that the south island was much less populated with a more rural/farming feel.

There is no public transportation on the island but, as with Mayne Island, they have “car stops” set up to encourage giving those travelling-on-foot a ride. Apparently Pender Island was the first island to start the program and it has been successfully running since 2008; it now has 29 stops. The Pender Island Chamber of Commerce has a great map which highlights all the car stops on the island.

Prior Centennial Campground, Pender Island | G. Stathers

When planning a place to stay, I would recommend Prior Centennial Campground on North Pender Island with 17 sites. There are lots of trails in the park and, for those interested in Disc Golf, there is a trail from the campsite to the Golf Island Disc Park. Reservations at this park are through the Parks Canada website. Speaking of golf, and considering that my husband is an avid golfer, we had to check out the Pender Island Golf and Country Club, a nine-hole course known for its challenging shots and beautiful views. 

Port Browning Marina Pub | C. Stathers

For those arriving on Pender Island by boat, there is moorage available at Port Browning Marina Resort near Bedwell Harbour. We had lunch at the pub on their patio and enjoyed the view and excellent food.

We also had a great picnic lunch at Hope Bay. For dessert we picked up some chocolates at Pender Island Chocolates. On our next visit we plan to have a lunch or dinner at the HUB at Hope Bay.

Our getaways always seem to focus on food and hiking!

Mount Norman Observation Platform | C. Stathers

We found some fun trails on North Pender around Magic Lake and will definitely return to Mount Norman on South Pender. We picked up Mount Norman trail head on Ainslie Point Road (just off Canal Road). The first part of the trail winds its way through the lush, beautiful trees before you start the climb to the summit which is the highest point on Pender at 800 feet. From the observation platform at the top, you will have a panoramic view of the surrounding islands, including Salt Spring.

The Pender Islands Museum is housed in a 1908 “kit” house in its original waterfront setting at Roesland in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. | Pender Islands Museum

Since I am a bit of a history buff, we had to visit the Pender Island Museum at Roesland in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve (2408 South Otter Bay Road). Roesland is an old homestead with the museum in the historic Roe House. For 70+ years, it was the heart of the rustic Roesland Resort, attracting families year after year.

The museum website describes the Roe house as being built in “1908, and a “kit” house ordered from a Vancouver Island lumber company. All the pre-cut lumber was delivered to Roesland by barge and put together on its log base in about a week. Total cost for the three-bedroom house: $589.62!

It was a beautiful sunny day on our visit; we enjoyed tea and goodies in the historic Roe House. The property and buildings sit on Roe Inlet which has lots of easy walking trails around the property.

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Pender is perfect for a weekend getaway and year-round holiday destination. I would suggest a visit any season; whether you choose the busy summer months or the sleepy shoulder seasons, you will not be disappointed.

Check out Four Reasons to Visit Pender Island This Fall

For places to RV and camp in British Columbia go to the Camping Map.

Share your BC travel and camping photos using hashtag #campinBC, #exploreBC, BCnice

Published: March 17th, 2022

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Carol Stathers by Carol Stathers

Carol loves being in the outdoors whether it is hiking, camping, kayaking or enjoying time at the lake. With a health background in nursing, she has written for many health-related journals and is also writing a historical non-fiction book about the Peach Valley area of Summerland where she lives. Along with writing, she and her family love camping. She grew up camping on Vancouver Island and has explored many parts of BC with her husband, three kids and their golden retriever. She and her newly-retired husband just upgraded to a newer trailer and are looking forward to more camping adventures throughout British Columbia.




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