Year-Round FunBut of course you will want to stop, because this is Canada’s No. 1 year-round recreation destination. Dozens of parks ring Okanagan Lake, offering myriad opportunities for hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, camping and other fun things to do. Bear Creek Provincial Park, about 9 kilometres (6 mi.) west of Kelowna off Hwy. 97, has many hiking trails to explore, all beginning from a common trailhead at the park entrance. Bear Creek runs through the bottom of a tree-walled canyon, and the trails above wind past ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, juniper and prickly pear cactus that frame expansive lake views.
The lakes are, of course, ideal for water recreation, whether it’s sailing, paddle boating, water skiing, jet skiing, kayaking, canoeing or freshwater fishing. Okanagan Lake is ringed with sandy beaches and sheltered coves, and numerous marina facilities provide equipment rentals.
For a northern Okanagan getaway head out to Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, about 8 kilometres (5 mi.) southeast of Vernon off Hwy. 6. Kalamalka is known as a “marl lake,” a process that begins when the water warms, forming calcium carbonate and limestone crystals that reflect sunlight. The water’s distinctive blue-green color is often shot through with ribbons of deep blue, earning it the nickname “lake of a thousand colors.” This largely undeveloped park encompasses rolling grasslands and forested ridges where Douglas fir and lodgepole pine grow; a paved trail leads to secluded beaches. Wildlife ranges from mule deer and minks to bobcats and western painted turtles. Bird-watching is rewarding, and the spring wildflower display is spectacular.
Nearly 40 golf courses are scattered from Vernon south to Osoyoos, with many of them concentrated around Kelowna. Due to the mild climate most courses open as early as March, and golfers frequently play into November. And this being the Okanagan, it’s only natural that water and fruit trees figure into course layouts; the grounds of the Kelowna Springs Golf Club include seven spring-fed lakes, while fairways at the Harvest Golf Club are set in the midst of a huge hillside apple orchard and have prime views of Okanagan Lake.
Kelowna is the Okanagan Valley’s largest city and a big summer vacation destination. Water sports—sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, fishing—rule the summer calendar, but downtown Kelowna also offers museums, art galleries, pretty lakeside parks, all kinds of restaurants and a lively nightlife. It makes a convenient base for touring the many small wineries in the vicinity.
Breezy Penticton has the best of both worlds; the north end of town fronts the southern tip of Okanagan Lake, while the south end brushes up against the north shore of Skaha Lake. Lakeside beaches give the city a summery feel, and families flock to Penticton’s amusement centers, go-kart tracks, miniature golf course and waterslides. Stroll along Front Street, the original business corridor, which is lined with restaurants and funky little shops.
Situated between Swan, Kalamalka and Okanagan lakes, Vernon started out as a camp on the Okanagan Valley trail during the fur trade years; by the turn of the 20th century it was a bustling ranching center. Downtown Vernon truly earns the description “quaint”: The tree-lined, flower-filled streets are packed with historic old buildings and specialty stores selling everything from Victorian crafts to homemade jams. Be sure to search out the 27 outdoor murals—some up to 91 metres (300 ft.) long—that depict Okanagan history, folklore and landscapes.
Just a stone’s throw from the U.S. border, Osoyoos (oh-SOY-yoos) means, in the local Inkaneep native dialect, “where the water narrows”—a reference to its location spanning a narrow portion of Osoyoos Lake. Vineyards and orchards abound in the surrounding countryside, and the lake is one of Canada’s warmest. Stroll along one of the lakeside parks in town while watching windsurfers and parasailing enthusiasts do their thing under sunny summer skies, and it’s not that hard to believe you’ve happened onto some undiscovered Mediterranean resort.
The Okanagan Valley has something to offer regardless of the season. Downhill and cross-country skiers, snowboarders and other winter sports enthusiasts can choose from four ski resorts: Silver Star Mountain Resort, north of Vernon; Big White Ski Resort near Kelowna; Crystal Mountain resort near West Kelowna (Westbank); and Apex Mountain Resort, southwest of Penticton.
Spring and summer are seasons to experience the valley’s agricultural bounty. In the spring fruit trees are in full glorious bloom. Spring into early summer also is the time when wildflowers make their appearance in the Okanagan’s wilderness parks.
Harvest time for the region’s famous fruits and vegetables begins in late June and lasts until mid-October. If you’re here in the summer or fall stop at one of the ubiquitous roadside fruit stands, which seem almost as plentiful as the trees themselves. Cherries are first in the fruit parade, ripening from late June through mid-July. Peaches appear from mid-July through September; pears in August and September; plums in September; and apples from August through October.
Practically every town in the valley has a farmers market, and you’ll want to check out every single one. In addition to all sorts of fruit, the markets offer tomatoes, pumpkins, squash, asparagus, organic preserves, homemade pies, artisanal cheeses, honey, herbs, flowers—just about everything. Most are open April or May through October.
Grapes are harvested September through mid-October, an ideal time to go winery hopping. Most of the Okanagan's roughly 100 wineries can be visited, many have an intriguing history to share, and practically all of them enjoy a picturesque rural setting. Before hitting the tasting bars, pick up information and maps at any local visitor center.
So when should you plan a trip? Come to think of it, just about any time is right.
Destinations in this region listed under their own names are Kelowna, Oliver, Osoyoos, Peachland, Penticton, Summerland, Vernon and West Kelowna (Westbank).
Okanagan Valley, BC
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