Spending a couple of nights on Pender Island was the perfect local getaway from Victoria during COVID times!
We camped at Shingle Bay Campground, on North Pender, which is part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, and is technically backcountry camping. I would say it’s somewhere between car camping and “backcountry”; the campground is only a couple minutes walk (0.24 km) down a hill from the parking lot, but it’s downhill – a steep one at that – so remember to think about carting your stuff back up! You’ll probably want to try for two trips from the car, rather than 5! For example, we only brought down the food and supplies we’d need for each day, and then brought a load up the next morning to exchange for whatever we’d need that day. Of course you can run up to grab things here and there; you’ll get your workout in!
There are no bears to worry about, but you’ll want to store food safely in a tub, in case of other hungry critters! There’s no potable water, so you’ll need to BYOW (you can always refill or buy elsewhere on the island), but there’s a pit toilet.
What makes Shingle Bay special?
The 10 campsites are down by the water; there’s a small beach, excellent hammock trees, and radiant sunsets in the evening. It’s a good jumping off point for kayakers. There’s even an apple orchard in the middle of the campground! We had a few visits from some snacking teenage deer. Each site has a tent pad and picnic table. Up the road, a little past the parking lot, there’s a short trail leading to Roe Lake (about 20 minutes walk from the Shingle Bay to the lake), where you’ll find a 2.7 km loop. I didn’t do the loop myself, but the walk through the forest leading up to it was lovely in the morning light.
Unfortunately, the campground doesn’t offer much privacy. Although there are only 10 sites, most of them are in little clusters. Using the map on this page, I suggest aiming for one of the ones closest to the ocean (1-4), or 8-10, since they are in a little less of a clump. Regardless, you’ll be steps from the ocean in a gorgeous little bay!
What to do on Pender? Pender Island is a wonderful place to spend a weekend, and there’s plenty to do.
If you’re there on a Saturday, I’d suggest starting at the Pender Island Farmers Market: check here for opening hours. For the forseeable future, the first hour is for seniors. There are plenty of vendors (most have Square), and it’s a great way to put some money into the local economy.
If you’re into chocolate, you’ll want to head up to Hope Bay to the Pender Island Chocolate shop! We were drawn in by treats, but we stayed for an (impromptu?) musical performance, pulling up our camping chairs and enjoying our picnic lunch while a group of guitarists played in the courtyard.
Next stop: booze! There’s a cidery AND a winery on the island. Both are currently open 12-4 on weekends – remember to confirm opening hours ahead of your trip, if you have your heart set on going.
Twin Island Cider has a cute, tiny shop in a cabin – there are no regular tastings at the moment, but they’re doing a reservable weekly tasting/talk. If you wait patiently in the distanced line up, you’ll get to ask all the questions you want before you buy. You can also check out some of their equiment while you wait, and if there’s an available employee, they can tell you a bit about the fermentation process. Apples are from Pender, Saturna, and Mayne!
Sea Star Vineyards is a stunningly beautiful property with an equally gorgeous building. Of course, you unfortunately can’t enter the tasting building right now, but ask questions and pick up a bottle at their shop window. They’ll even supply glasses if you want to sip your purchase on the large patio. Know that they often sell out of their wines, so best to check ahead or go willing to try whatever’s available!
The winery and cidery are just minutes from each other, so it makes sense to go to both! Neither has public bathrooms open at the moment, so you may want to make a pit stop at the Driftwood Centre on your way.
Winding down: head back to the Driftwood Centre if you’d like to browse the book shop, grab some groceries or gas, pick up some cannabis or liquor, or grab coffee or a bite. Or, ya know, use the bathroom.
If you’re semi-glamping like we were and plan to buy some of your meals, El Faro, a restaurant by the golf course, is a good choice for dinner. It’s more or less on the way back to the campground, plus it’s fresh and tasty! We grabbed take-out and brought it back to our beach-side hammock spot to enjoy with our cider and the Sunset Show.
What about South Pender? Your second/last day will be the perfect opportunity to check out a hike on the other Pender! South Pender is separated from the north island by a narrow canal, and connected via a short, single-lane bridge. It’s about a 20 minute drive from the campground to get there.
After a lazy morning lounging in the hammock by the beach (or maybe a less lazy walk to Roe Lake), it’s time to pack up and lug all your stuff back up the hill to the parking lot. We decided to hike Mount Norman before heading home, but first: coffee and treats at Vanilla Leaf Bakery and Cafe! They have a great selection of sweet and savory baked goods, and it’s right on the way to South Pender.
Next stop: Mount Norman! This hike, I only just learned, has two trailheads. We started off Canal Road, and I’m grateful to Google Maps for leading us there, since apparently this is the slightly gentler hike! It was about 25 minutes to the top, uphill but pretty easy. The other entrance is off Ainslie Point Road, which sounds steeper but still relatively easy and about 30 minutes to the top. Whichever trail you take, you’ll be treated to magnificant views of the other Gulf Islands at the lookout at the top! The Ainslie Point trail also branches off towards Beaumont Marine Park (another backcountry campground), and it looks like there’s a network of other trails in the area. Good news for fellow small-bladdered folks: there’s an outhouse by the trailhead. Happy hiking!
Overall, camping at Shingle Bay Campground was the perfect balance of relaxing hammock time by the ocean, sightseeing and supporting businesses local to the island, and getting a bit of exercise. Next time I definitely want to try out Pender’s famous Disc/Frisbee Golf Course! Enjoy your time on the Penders!