The tour company also has Hop-on ferry services within Vancouver, as well as whale watching trips from Coal Harbour to Howe Sound.
Pacific Ferries is back in 2019!
Note: Pacific Ferries operates from spring until very early fall. Its Island Hopping Tours and other excursions do not take place during the winter season.
For information about the Island Hopping Tours, see below. Or for general information about the ferry company and its various routes and services, click Pacific Ferries & Tours.
Island Hopping Ferry Tours
One of the most amazing ways to experience coastal British Columbia in a day is to take one of Pacific Ferries’ Island Hopping tours. We did that with friends and it was phenomenal!
Tours run about every second day in the summer and last for between 6 and 10 hours (all depending on how long you want to stay at Granville Island, which is the second-to-last destination).
The cost is around $185, but free for children under 5 years of age. Considering that it’s a full-day activity and takes passengers to remote destinations with world-class views along the way, it’s well-worth the price (especially on days with sunny weather).
Click Island Hopping Tours for Pacific Ferries’ website and to book your trip.
Island Hopping Tour Video
Below is a video of scenes from our Island Hopping Tour in the summer of 2018. As you’ll see, the scenery along the way is amazing!
“We can’t recommend this trip enough!”
If you have friends visiting from overseas, or you’re visiting Vancouver yourself, and you want to experience rural coastal BC and see some of the region’s most stunning scenery, we can’t recommend this trip enough! You can see so much in just one day!
Especially if it’s a day with calm sunny weather, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget!
The Island Hopping Route
Departing from Coal Harbour
The Island Hopping tours start in the early morning, at about 8:45 am, from Coal Harbour near Vancouver’s Westin Bayshore Hotel at 1601 Bayshore Drive.
Passengers board the ferry at docks in front of the Westin Bayshore. From there the boat heads out into Burrard Inlet, past Brockton Point in Stanley Park, under the Lions Gate Bridge and along the coastline of West Vancouver towards Bowen Island.
On a sunny day, the city, mountains and ocean views along the way are breathtaking!
The trip from Coal Harbour to Bowen Island takes just under an hour. The ferry docks at the marina at Snug Cove and passengers are free to get off and explore.
The boat stays at Bowen Island for about an hour, which is ample time to explore the immediate area. It’s not long enough to get far up the hill however, like to the Upper Village’s artisan market, unless taking a taxi. It is enough time though to explore the nearby shops, check out the marina, have a coffee and go for a stroll.
Click Bowen Island for more information about the tour’s first destination. It’s a beautiful place!
Gibsons and the Sunshine Coast
Gibsons is a small seaside town located on BC’s Sunshine Coast. It’s not on an island, but, like Bowen Island, it is only accessible by boat or air. There is no bridge from Metro Vancouver to the Sunshine Coast.
Most travellers to the Sunshine Coast go via BC Ferries from Horseshoe Bay, but to do so you really need a car as transit isn’t so convenient. A far more exotic way to get to the Sunshine Coast is via Pacific Ferries’ Island Hopping tour. Especially if only wanting to stay for a couple of hours, it’s also, arguably, a more practical way (assuming you want to make a day out of the voyage to get there).
The trip from Bowen Island to the Sunshine Coast takes around 50 minutes and the boat remains in Gibsons for about two and a half hours.
In Gibsons, tour participants spend time on their own wandering around the town. There are a number of great places to eat including Gibsons Tapworks, Beachcomber Coffee and Mike’s Place (the last of which is the place to go for gelato).
Molly’s Reach also serves excellent food (and is especially popular because of its role in the 1970s and 80s TV show The Beachcombers). Another local favourite is Smoke on the Water BBQ, which is right at the docks, serves locally-sourced food and has tasty vegetarian options.
The Return Trip Back to Vancouver
The Pacific Ferries’ boat returns to Vancouver from Gibsons at around 1:45 pm (plus or minus) and the trip back takes about an hour. Instead of returning straight to Coal Harbour though, the ferry heads first to Granville Island.
Granville Island Visit
The Island Hopping Tour has a pre-end-of-tour stop at Granville Island. Passengers say goodbye to the captain and crew at the dock and are then free to explore Granville Island for as long as they like (or at least up until the time of the last boat back to Coal Harbour).
In addition to the Island Hopping Tours, Pacific Ferries also offers a Hop on Boat Tour service between Coal Harbour, the Shipyards (in North Vancouver) and Granville Island. Passengers on the Island Hopping Tour are welcome to stay on Granville Island and explore the area, and then, at their leisure, catch the Hop on Boat Tour ferry back to Coal Harbour (which departs approximately once every hour up until 7:00 pm).
For information about the Hop on Boat Tours, click Pacific Ferries’ Hop on City Tours.
For a list of things to do at this second-to-last destination, click Granville Island.
Return to Coal Harbour
As just mentioned above, Island Hopping Tour participants can catch one of Pacific Ferries‘ Hop on City Tour boats back to Coal Harbour at the end of their Granville Island stay.
The trip from Granville Island goes along False Creek, under the Burrard Street Bridge, past Vanier Park, along the shore of Vancouver’s West End and out into English Bay. Along the way passengers can see English Bay Beach in the distance, as well as Stanley Park‘s Second Beach, Third Beach and Siwash Rock.
As everyone’s journey nears its end, passengers see Canada Place and the Vancouver Convention Centre one last time from the water, as well as the seawall, skyscrapers and marina boats that line the Coal Harbour shoreline. It’s a beautiful ending to a remarkable day!
Tips and Advice
Below are some tips and extra information to help you make the most out of your Island Hopping adventure!
TIP #1: Morning traffic can be bad, so plan to arrive at Coal Harbour early to ensure you get there in plenty of time. If you find you have extra time to kill before departure, go for a stroll along the waterfront. The scenery in both directions is beautiful.
TIP #2: There is underground parking in a couple of parkades right close to the hotel in Coal Harbour. The cost is about $15 for the day and is good up until 6:00 pm. This is about the perfect amount of time. Just be sure though to catch the boat back from Granville Island in time to collect your vehicle before your parking expires.
TIP #3: Eat your lunch in Gibsons. You’ll have over two hours there and, for a small town, the selection of restaurants is pretty good. Find a place for lunch, maybe somewhere else for coffee, and then go to Mike’s Place for some gelato.
TIP #4: If you like craft beer, order a Persephone. It’s a great beer that’s brewed in Gibsons by a socially-responsible business. They also grow hops on their own farm using organic growing practices. To get to the brewery from the harbour you’d have to take a taxi. You can enjoy their beers though in any one of a number of the local establishments.
TIP #5: The Island Hopping Tour isn’t a trip with a tour guide. The captain or crew might point things out occasionally along the way, like a group of sea lions on rocks as was the case when we took the trip. When you’re on land though you’re on your own, and when on the boat there is no running commentary. Consequently, feel free to ask the crew about what you see in the distance on shore, and ask their advice on where to go when in port.
TIP #6: It’s not compulsory to tip the captain and crew at the end of the trip. If you enjoyed the tour and their service, however, gratuities are greatly appreciated (but again not expected or required). The last you’ll see of them though is likely when you get off at Granville Island.
TIP #7: Things to take with you on the trip include a water bottle, snack (if you want) and weather-appropriate clothing. On hot days it can get toasty in the cabin, and outside even on warm days the ocean breeze can be cool. Binoculars can also be nice to have, if you own a pair, and if you want to study the various shorelines or occasional marine life in the distance. Also, don’t forget your camera!
TIP #8: Food and drinks can be purchased at the various ports of call. There is no snack bar on board the ferry, but there is a washroom with toilet.
TIP #9: Our favourite place to spend time on the boat is outside on the deck at the back. It’s standing room only, but the best place, in our opinion, because of the fresh air, views and ocean-travel experience. On a sunny day though you might want to wear a hat, and sunscreen. You’ll also want to hold onto your hat tight – when the boat is going fast it can get pretty windy.
TIP #10: When outside on deck, especially when close to the edge of the boat, hang on to the railing for balance. Also, keep a close eye on young children. You’re in a boat, going at times at a high speed, and it can get bumpy when hitting waves or the wake from larger boats. Also, hang on to something whenever going up and down the steps.
TIP #11: Best days to go on the Island Hopping Tours are when it’s sunny and not too windy. The views are impressive even on cloudy days, but they’re especially spectacular when it’s sunny and the skies are blue (although that’s the case anywhere in Vancouver). Light breezes are fine, but the ride can get bumpy in really windy weather (and under some conditions the tours can get cancelled).
TIP #12: Travel times are approximate. Depending on the ocean conditions and currents, arrival times can vary. Depending on passenger needs and preferences, departure times can vary slightly too. Relax, enjoy being in a West Coast time zone and don’t be in a rush. That being said, don’t forget TIP#2 – you’ll want to be back in Coal Harbour before your parking expires at 6:00 pm!
TIP #13: There are stairs on the vessel (to get down to the passenger area inside), as well as steps to get on the boat in the first place. Consequently, the trip is not wheelchair accessible and can be challenging for people with mobility issues. It’s a boat!
For further details about the boat tour company, see our general article about Pacific Ferries, or check out the official Pacific Ferries‘ website. And don’t forget that they offer Hop on Tours within Vancouver, as well as Whale Watching Excursions.
For more information about the Vancouver to Bowen Island and Sunshine Coast tour specifically, and to book tickets, click Pacific Ferries’ Island Hopping Tours.
For further information about places on the tour, and things to do at the various ports of call, click any of the following:
Other articles that may be of interest include the following:
- Vancouver Day Trips
- Vancouver’s Top Attractions
- Vancouver’s Best 100 Places
- Vancouver’s Festivals & Events Calendar
- Vancouver Sightseeing Tours (which has information about Pacific Ferries, but also other tour company options).