Camping and Sea Kayaking around Bowen and Keats Islands
Image by Jen Mah
Taking a break on Ragged, one of the eight small islands that make up the Pasley Islands in Howe Sound
Discover the clear waters and secluded inlets of the Howe Sound by kayaking from Bowen to Keats Island
Along the edges of the Georgia Strait, between Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast, lies a collection of islands spread throughout 42 kilometres of water from the Strait to Squamish. The most heavily populated of these islands, Bowen, is also the closest to Vancouver, accessible by regularly scheduled ferries from Horseshoe Bay and a water taxi departing from Granville Island.
Bowen's calm waters, isolated coves and pristine greenery make it a summer oasis for outdoor adventurers, as well as a perfect starting point for those hoping to explore the islands of Howe Sound.
Armed with a long weekend and the hope of warm weather, I set out with three other amateur kayakers to venture around Bowen and its surrounding islands.
Getting There: Horseshoe Bay Ferry and Snug Cove
In order to travel by car, we opted for the Horseshoe Bay ferry, which took all of 20 minutes and deposited us directly in Bowen Island's Snug Cove. The island's restaurants, pubs, and shops are primarily concentrated around Snug Cove, and we rented double sea kayaks from Bowen Island Sea Kayaking, located right on the ferry docks and offering hourly and daily rentals, as well as lessons and guided tours. We had pre-booked two fiberglass sea kayaks for 48 hours.
About a 10-minute drive across Bowen, Tunstall Bay is the easiest spot to prepare your gear for a trip toward Keats and the Pasleys (Image: Jen Mah)
The staff at Bowen Island Sea Kayaking were beyond helpful, fitting us with all the necessary gear, outlining permitted overnight camping zones, and even installing ShralpTide on our phones. We strapped the kayaks to the truck and headed toward Tunstall Bay to load and launch them.
Although large cruise ships and freighters often pass through the channels between Bowen and Keats, the waters surrounding Bowen are dotted with small islands, making them a sheltered place for kayakers.
Between the southwest side of Bowen and the southern edges of Keats, there’s a compact cluster of islands called the Pasley Islands, just at the mouth of Howe Sound. Eight islands form the archipelago, and although overnight camping isn’t permitted there, they’re perfect for rest stops and a bit of exploring.
Ragged and Hermit Islands are known for their seals, so we stopped at Ragged to take in the fauna, rest our arms and dip our toes in the water. From Ragged, we weaved through the upper islands of the Pasleys, eventually making our way across to Keats after half an hour of steady paddling.
Camping on Keats Island
Although Keats, like the Pasleys, is a privately held island, camping on its shores is allowed, and we quickly set up camp at the first secluded beach we found. Unlike the white sand and beds of broken shells we found on Ragged, Keats' shores were lined with rounded rocks and washed-up driftwood.
We arrived as the tide was coming in, carried the kayaks into the trees, climbed up a ledge of mussel-covered rocks, and set up camp about 10 feet above high tide. We placed our tarp near the beginning of the tree line, and our fire lower down on the rocks, away from the brush and overhanging trees.
Besides an over-active mosquito population and a few locals who tried to convince us the island was a bear sanctuary, Keats' wildlife is ideal for campers. The island is, in fact, bear-free, and we’d often see seals popping their heads above the water's surface, checking us out before diving back down. The boys even managed to catch a crab, which we boiled and devoured, swearing it was the best we'd ever tasted.
Although it rained two of the three days we were on Keats, the water remained impossibly clear and the backdrop as beautiful as ever, with the nearby islands and faraway mountains encircled with strips of fog. The rain and waves made the journey back to Bowen about twice as long, but the seals continued to bob alongside us, and the proximity of the islands made it difficult to become disoriented.
Revisiting the Islands of Howe Sound
The view from our campfire, with the lights of Bowen in the background (Image: Jen Mah)
All in all, kayaking through the rain and coming home with 29 mosquito bites was well worth the adventure, and a great reminder of BC's little backyard gems. Apart from a few polar-dipping locals who jumped into the ocean and quickly disappeared into the trees on Keats, it felt like we had the island to ourselves.