Pender Island, located east of Vancouver Island, offers a range of activities and attractions for visitors to enjoy. And exploring Pender either with a vehicle or an *electric bike is a wonderful way to experience its natural beauty, charming communities, and friendly residents.
*I mention an electric bike, for although possible to explore Pender with a regular bike, these islands have many hills.
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A Bit of History
Pender is located along the Pacific Coast of British Columbia, Canada, between Victoria and Vancouver and consists of two islands, North Pender and South Pender. It was initially a single island connected by an isthmus (a narrow strip of land). However, in 1903, a narrow canal was excavated to create two islands allowing the ferry and boats safer and quicker passage between the islands. Today there is a single-lane bridge allowing vehicle access to both sides.
Pender is one of the five southern Gulf Islands part of the Islands Trust Area, a government federation created in 1974 to protect this unique area. The Islands Trust Act covers the islands and waters between the mainland and southern Vancouver Island, including Howe Sound on the Sunshine Coast and as far north as Comox.
North and South Pender is also part of the Gulf Island National Park Reserve, encompassing 16 islands, 30 islets and the surrounding waters.
Habitation of Pender is dated back more than 14,000 years and is a site that the Coast Salish Nations used. Indigenous Culture is represented at several locations, including the totems at the Community Hall. And if you walk down to Mortimer Spit (under and near the bridge), you can see firsthand where aboriginal ancestors lived and were buried.
Climate and Terrain
As with all the Southern Gulf Islands, Pender has a mild Mediterranean-like climate, allowing year-round exploration. The landscape features rolling forested hills filled with arbutus and large second-growth Coastal Douglas-fir trees, open farmland, several lakes, and a few small mountains. The rocky coastline features driftwood-rimmed coves, tidal pools, and beautiful ocean views.
Best Time to Visit Pender Island
Due to the mild climate, any time of year is an excellent time to visit Pender Island. However, during the winter, many businesses close down or have extremely limited hours. So your best chance to ‘see it all’ is between May and early October. Summer is always the busiest tourist season, so if you want to avoid the crowds, I suggest May, June and September as your best bet.
The best days to visit Pender Island are Thursdays to Sundays, especially in Spring and Fall. This is because a few of the best restaurants on the island are only open during these days, and the ever-popular Farmer’s Market only happens on Saturdays from May to October.
Getting to Pender Island
As mentioned above, the best way to explore Pender is by vehicle or bike (an electric bike is highly recommended). This way, you can access the entire island and explore at will.
Pender Island is accessible via BC Ferries via a 2-hour ferry ride from Vancouver or a 40-minute ferry ride from Sidney, BC (on Vancouver Island). On any given day, there are at least two daily sailings from Tsawwassen on the Mainland and at least six from Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island.
Unfortunately, you can not reserve or book ahead of time for this route. Getting to Pender during the summer can be extremely busy, so give yourself lots of time and be prepared to wait for an available ferry.
Insider tip: Make sure to choose your ferry wisely (if possible), as some of the scheduled routes to Pender include stops at Saturna and Main Island, making your ferry duration very long. If at all possible, opt for the Non-Stop routes.
By Float Plane
Although a pricier option, you can also get to Pender by float plane. Seair flies into Port Washington from Richmond (YVR) thrice daily. The disadvantage of flying over is you will be without a vehicle. HOWEVER…the island does have several Car Stops. Stand at any of them, and one of the friendly Penderites will offer you a ride!
By Private Boat
Three large marinas and three government wharves provide landing sites and moorage.
- Port Washington Public Dock
- Hope Bay Public Dock
- Otter Bay Marina
- Thieves Bay Marina
- Port Browning Marina Resort & Pub
- Public Moorage at Port Browning
- Bedwell Harbour Marina (the only South Pender Island docking location)
Please note: American travellers arriving from U.S. waters are required to report directly to Canada Customs. A Nexus pass is required from October to May. Please review the Canada Customs website for custom procedures and hours of operation.
Places to Stay
Best Pender Island Accommodations
We celebrated our anniversary while there, so we opted for Poet’s Cove Resort and Spa this time. This beautifully located resort on South Pender has many amenities. It features ocean-view lodge rooms, villas and cottages, two pools, a spa, an onsite restaurant, and a cafe that serves delicious coffee! The resort overlooks beautiful Bedwell Harbour, and I recommend walking the beach to the little lighthouse for the most spectacular views.
On the same harbour as Poet’s Cove, but on North Pender, is the lovely Shangri-La Oceanfront Vacation home. It’s set up similarly to a B&B; all rooms feature a private bathroom and deck (with ocean views), and guests can access the common area with a kitchen and seating area.
North Pender is where you will also find the unique WOODS on Pender. This ultimate modern camp offers you outdoor experiences with the comfort of the amenities you crave. The property sits on 7.3 acres of wooded land and offers three distinct accommodation experiences: Airstream trailers, cabins, and a motel.
Pender Island Camping
Pender is known for its amazing natural beauty, so camping out in the trees may be the best way to experience it! You have two options; both can be booked via the Parks Canada Reservations website.
Prior Centennial Campground offers 17 RV or car camping sites. And the easy 500-metre Heart Trail connects the campground to the local (and beautiful) Golf Island Disc Course and several other community trails.
Shingle Bay Campground offers ten backcountry campsites you can walk to or paddle to. Please note: there is a 300-metre steep descent from the parking lot to the campground.
Pender Islands Highlights
Pender has 37 beach accesses, 57 trails, and numerous parks to explore! A detailed Pender Island Community Parks and Trail Guide will lead you to them all. You can find a printed booklet at many local shops or the information stand at Driftwood Centre. Most parks and trails are marked with wooden posts near the entrance.
Please note, except for a few parks designated multi-recreational in the Magic Lake area, all parks and trails are designed for low-impact use, meaning bikes and ATVs are not allowed on the trails.
Top 12 Best Things to Do on Pender
We were surprised at how many things there are to do on Pender, so this is a curated list of our top 12 recommendations.
- Walk the trails at Brooks Point Regional Park (on South Pender) for stunning views and a chance to see the Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orca). This scenic area also offers views of the San Juan Islands (in the US).
- Visit the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve: Spend the afternoon exploring the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Choose one of the park’s trails to hike, such as the George Hill Trail or the Roesland Trail, and immerse yourself in the island’s natural beauty.
- Hike Mount Norman: the highest point on the island. Enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding Gulf Islands and the Salish Sea from the summit. While it’s only 2.4 km each way, the extremely steep terrain makes it a heart pumper!
- Explore the beaches: Spend a day relaxing on one of Pender Island’s beautiful beaches. Try Medicine Beach, where you can stroll along the shoreline and search for unique shells and marine life. This area also features a saltwater marsh, so it’s a bird lover’s paradise.
- Visit the Pender Island Museum: Discover the island’s history at the Pender Island Museum, which showcases artifacts and exhibits related to the island’s Indigenous heritage and pioneer history. Once you’ve taken in this small museum, and if the tide is out, walk to the tip of the islet to enjoy the scenery.
- Enjoy water activities: Pender Island is ideal for various water activities. Rent a kayak, go paddleboarding, or try your hand at fishing in the surrounding waters. There are over 60 km of coastline to explore and endless coves and bays. You can rent kayaks through Pender Island Kayak Adventures at Port Browning Resort and Poet’s Cove Resort. They also offer guided tours.
- Sample local cuisine: Pender Island has a growing culinary scene. Visit local restaurants, cafes, and bakeries to savour delicious seafood, farm-to-table dishes, and artisanal treats. I highly recommend checking out Pender Chocolates at Hope Bay! The HUB restaurant next door also serves delicious vegetarian fare.
- Sample some wines and ciders: Head to Sea Star Vineyards for a wine tasting. They have a variety of wines to choose from…and I must say, all are delicious! Make sure to get a flight so you have the most options. While we were there, an onsite food truck offered yummy fresh seafood fare. Just down the road is Twin Island Cider. This cute cider shack offers tastings of their cider that’s perry fermented with native yeast.
- Play a round of golf: Pender Island Golf & Country Club offers a picturesque 9-hole golf course where you can enjoy a game surrounded by stunning views. Or, try Disc golf at the Golf Island Disc Course for something a little different.
- Discover the Art Galleries: Pender is home to many talented artisans, and there are over two dozen galleries across the islands. Pick up an Artist Map on the ferry, at one of the local stores, or at the Information booth at Driftwood Centre to find them all.
- Spot a Whale: Head to Thieves Bay in the Magic Lake Area on North Pender. Located on the Swanson Channel, Thieves Bay is in the heart of the southern resident orca range. During the late spring and summer months, resident and transient (Bigg’s) killer whales (Orca) are common here. Harbour seals, sea lions, and otters can be spotted here at any point.
- Sunset at a Viewpoint: Wrap up your exploration of Pender Island by finding a beautiful viewpoint to watch the sunset. There are several spots on the island, such as Mortimer Spit or Port Browning, where you can enjoy breathtaking sunset views.
- Pender Island Farmers Market: If it’s a Saturday, make your way to the Pender Island Farmers Market. Browse the stalls filled with local produce, handmade crafts, and other unique items. Enjoy the lively atmosphere and support local vendors.
Pender Island Hidden Gem
Thanks to one of the friendly local Penderites, we were led to one of Pender’s hidden gems. If you have a membership with us, log in to view this exclusive content. This content is shown only to authorized members.
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Remember to plan your itinerary based on the activities and attractions you’re most interested in, and be sure to check operating hours, availability, and any necessary reservations ahead of time.
Enjoy your exploration of Pender Island!