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Okanagan Valley, BC

Recreation in the Okanagan ValleyBiking, swimming, backpacking, fishing, hiking—whatever your interest, make sure you experience these recreational highlights and top things to do, as chosen by AAA editors.

By Greg Weekes

The accent in the Okanagan Valley is on the outdoors, and that's where you'll be spending most of your time. Begin by hitting a couple of the provincial parks, which offer all kinds of opportunities to hike, camp or just enjoy the sunshine and fresh air.

Seek Solitude at Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park

To experience nature without a lot of human encroachment, head to Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park (from Hwy. 97 in Vernon, take Hwy. 6 east to Kidson Road and watch for the park directional signs). One in the valley's chain of elongated lakes, Kalamalka is what is known as a “marl” lake due to its distinctive bluish-green hue, the result of dissolved limestone crystals. The park consists largely of north Okanagan grassland—a natural environment that is fast disappearing from the valley. Abundant wildlife (including some endangered species) ranges from deer, coyotes and red foxes to Townsend's big-eared bat. This is a great park for bird watchers, providing a habitat for such avian residents as Canada geese, owls, swifts and the canyon wren.

There are three main parking areas: Red Gate (on Kidson Road), Cosens Bay Gate (on Cosens Bay Road), and at the end of Kidson Road (from which you can hike to Jade and Juniper bays). A longer marked trail leads to the shore of Cosens Bay, where there is a beach with coarse sand and picnic tables under a grove of cottonwood trees. There also are beaches at Jade and Juniper bays, two much smaller twin bays; a short lakeside trail links the two day-use areas. Juniper Bay is more developed, but the hike to Jade Bay—along a trail that passes through ponderosa pine with a thick under-story of young Douglas fir trees—is more visually rewarding.

Hike the Trails at Ellison Provincial Park

For panoramic views of Okanagan Lake go hiking at Ellison Provincial Park. Trails along the park's scenic headlands look down on a rocky shoreline sprinkled with sheltered coves. These trails are steep, so use caution. Another uphill, switchback trail leads to Otter Bay and a crescent-shaped beach of coarse, pink-hued sand. The bay, sheltered by land on three sides, has calm water that makes it a great swimming spot on a hot summer day. To get to the park from Hwy. 97 in downtown Vernon, take 25th Avenue (turn right if going southbound, left if going northbound) about 16 kilometres (10 mi.) to the park entrance, following signs.

Find More Adventurous Things to Do at Bear Creek Provincial Park

And there's a recreational haven located just 15 minutes from the valley's largest city. Bear Creek Provincial Park encompasses a canyon carved into the surrounding bedrock by Bear Creek. The park's hiking trails are well-marked; the one to tackle is Bear Creek Canyon Trail, which begins at the parking area and makes a loop around the canyon. It's a demanding trek that involves climbing up flights of wooden stairs, but viewpoints along the way offer spectacular views of the creek below meandering through the steep-walled canyon. This park is a popular Okanagan camping destination and can get very crowded in summer. From downtown Kelowna, take Hwy. 97 south across the floating bridge to the junction with Westside Road, turn right and continue for about 7 kilometres (4 mi.).

See Waterfalls and Wildflowers at Hardy Falls Regional Park

If you prefer an easier jaunt that is just as scenic, visit Hardy Falls Regional Park in Peachland (take Hardy Road off Hwy. 97). The paved walking trail that runs along a canyon wall crosses Deep Creek on a series of seven footbridges. There's a pretty waterfall at the end of the trail. Wildflowers bloom in spring, and in early September a brilliant show is provided by crimson-colored kokanee salmon using the creek to return to their spawning grounds. It's a 3-kilometre (1.5-mi.) round-trip hike. Afterward stroll the Peachland Promenade; the town's main street runs right along Okanagan Lake.

Soak Up Pretty Views at Okanagan Lake Provincial Park

There are more lovely vistas of the valley's largest body of water at nearby Okanagan Lake Provincial Park (entrance off Hwy. 97 about 11 kilometres/7 miles north of Summerland). Among the wildflowers that bloom along the park's nature trail is Lilium columbianum, better known as the Columbia lily, a brown-spotted orange beauty. Pebble sand beaches backed by ponderosa pines look out across the lake to Okanagan Mountain rising up from the opposite (eastern) shore.

Where to Golf in the Okanagan Valley

Golf is a major Okanagan pastime. Many of the nearly 40 courses scattered from Vernon south to Osoyoos are in the vicinity of Kelowna . Most are open by March, and golfers frequently can play through early November. The Harvest Golf Club has won awards for its impeccably manicured layout, and there's also a good reason for the name: Some 50 of the course's 101 hectares (250 acres) are devoted to a working apple orchard. The club is on K.L.O. Road in East Kelowna (from Hwy. 97 take Pandosy Street south and K.L.O. Road east); phone (250) 862-3103 or (800) 257-8577.

Gallagher's Canyon Golf & Country Club also is aptly named. The Canyon Course's 18 holes are designed to take scenic advantage of its namesake geologic feature, with the view from the ninth tee looking down on a stream winding through the canyon bottom far below. The nine-hole Pinnacle Course is set amid groves of ponderosa pines. Gallagher's Canyon is a 20-minute drive east of downtown Kelowna; phone (250) 861-4240 or (800) 446-5322.

If you're a destination golfer, consider the South Okanagan Golf Trail. Four challenging courses—the Fairview Mountain Golf Club and the Nk'Mip Canyon Desert Golf Course in Oliver , and the Park Meadows and Desert Gold courses at the Osoyoos Golf Club—take full advantage of the striking desert and mountain scenery and near-ideal weather that characterize the valley's southern end. And if your short game is letting you down or you just feel like doing something different, there are numerous nearby wineries waiting to be explored. Contact the individual courses for additional information and tee times; phone (250) 498-6050 or (866) 534-7264 for the Fairview Mountain Golf Club, (250) 498-2880 or (800) 656-5755 for the Nk'Mip Canyon Desert Golf Course or (250) 495-7003 or (800) 481-6665 for the Park Meadows and Desert Gold courses at Osoyoos Golf Club.

What to Do in Winter

When golf slows down, winter sports take over. The valley has four ski resorts: Silver Star Mountain Resort, about 22 kilometres (14 mi.) northeast of Vernon; Crystal Mountain resort, about 16 kilometres (10 mi.) northwest of West Kelowna (Westbank) (take the Glenrosa exit off Hwy. 97); Big White Ski Resort, off Hwy. 33 about 55 kilometres (34 mi.) southeast of Kelowna; and Apex Mountain Resort , about 33 kilometres (21 mi.) west of Penticton. Downhill and cross-country skiing and snowboarding are the activities of choice; the season extends from early December to late March.

Silver Star Mountain Resort is the northernmost of the Okanagan Valley's winter playgrounds. In addition to its variety of ski runs and Nordic trails, Silver Star Mountain has a snow tubing park and a frozen outdoor pond for ice-skating and hockey, plus a Victorian-themed shopping and dining village. Crystal Mountain is a good choice if you're looking for things to do with kids and teens; most of the runs are suitable for novice- and intermediate-level skiers, and there are programs and clinics for different age groups. Big White Ski Resort is celebrated for its surplus of fluffy powder and 25 kilometres (15.5 mi.) of groomed cross-country ski trails. Apex Mountain also benefits from high winter precipitation and low humidity combining to create a dry powder that blankets terrain ranging from gently rolling slopes to thrillingly steep, narrow runs.

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Okanagan Valley, BC

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