Amid summer sunshine, sparkling waters and warm Okanagan smiles, the city of Kelowna is the Okanagan’s largest and liveliest population centre, and one of Canada’s most popular vacation destinations. It’s such a perfect lakeshore community that it’s known to some as the Summer City.
If you enjoy water sports – sailing, houseboating, kayaking, windsurfing, and fishing – you may never want to leave Kelowna.
Located on the east side of Lake Okanagan, mid-way between Penticton in the south and Vernon in the north, downtown Kelowna offers a spectacular landscape of lake, mountains and parks. There’s a wide range of cafés, continental and ethnic restaurants, and noisy nightclubs to choose from, as well as unique shops and boutiques, heritage buildings and modern architecture, art galleries and museums, music and live theatre, and even a symphony and ballet.
The original inhabitants of this Central Okanagan region were the Interior Salish people, who harnessed the area’s natural resources and followed seasonal cycles of food gathering, hunting and ceremonial life. Father Pandosy settled in this area in the early 1860s, pre-empting land near Mission Creek, which was to become one of the Valley’s largest farming operations. The settlement was later to be called Kelowna, meaning Grizzly Bear in Indian dialect.
Early pioneers focused on cattle ranching, an industry that fed the Cariboo gold miners and other early settlers. With a new rail line reaching Okanagan Landing at the head of Okanagan Lake, the CPR sternwheeler included scheduled calls at Kelowna, a brand new townsite laid out in 1892, spurring immediate growth in the region.
Kelowna was incorporated as a city in 1905, and continued to experience moderate growth through both the First and Second World Wars. The opening of the floating bridge by premier W.A.C. Bennet and Princess Margaret in 1958 paved the way for unlimited expansion of Kelowna, which still continues until today.
The lake is the home of the legendary Ogopogo, the Okanagan’s own version of the Loch Ness Monster. N’ha-a-itk, as the Indians called him, is said to live in an underwater cave beneath Okanagan Lake. It remains a mystery to this day, open for anyone to solve, and if you’re travelling in the Okanagan this summer, keep you eyes open – you could be the one to solve the legend … and claim the $2 million reward for doing so!
With its moderate climate and year-long calendar of regattas, rodeos, triathlons and festivals, Kelowna has virtually no off-season. Whatever the season, whatever the reason, it’s always a good time to visit Kelowna, where a world-class destination for business and pleasure awaits you in the heart of the Okanagan.
Location: Kelowna is located at the junction of Highway 97 and Highway 33 on the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake in the Okanagan Valley, 29 miles (46 km) south of Vernon and 43 miles (68 km) north of Penticton. The Kelowna International Airport is the 3rd busiest in British Columbia and the 11th largest in Canada. Kelowna is serviced by Air Canada Regional Airlines, Westjet and Horizon Air, with non-stop flights from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Seattle, and Victoria.
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Orchards: The Okanagan Valley, stretching from Osoyoos at the US border north to Vernon, is laden with orchards, making it especially appealing in spring when the fruit trees are in full bloom. The best time to pick up some of the valley’s bounty is mid-August through early September.
Wineries: Fruit aside, winemaking is the hot ticket in the Okanagan, and British Columbians have long taken inordinate pride in their wines. Ever since the province authorized estate and smaller farmgate wineries, many excellent small wineries have popped up. Nearly three dozen quaint wineries set in lush vineyards operate in the Okanagan Valley, welcoming visitors to sample world class wines while enjoying the scenery of nearby lakes and mountains. Take a self-guided wine tour, and experience the magic first hand. All aboard the wine train – experience fabulous Okanagan wines on a restored vintage CN Supercontinental train from Kelowna to Vernon. At Vernon, disembark for a musical review before reboarding for the trip back. Day and evening trips take about severn hours. Dinner is served on board.
Explore Kelowna’s history at the Kelowna Museum. Exhibition themes include natural history, Native history and local history, plus the only Ethnography Gallery in the interior of the province.
Learn the story of the Okanagan Valley’s transformation from wide open cattle range to beautifully manicured, symmetric orchards at the British Columbia Orchard Industry Museum. Displays include exhibits on packing, processing, home preserving, picking, hands-on artifacts, rare photographs, and a 50-foot model railroad set. The museum is located in the historic Laurel Packinghouse at the corner of Ellis Street and Cawston Avenue. Built in 1917-1918, it is the city’s first designated heritage building.
Two wonderful heritage parks are managed by the Central Okanagan Heritage Society. Guisachan Heritage Park features Guisachan House, which was built for the Earl and Countess of Aberdeen in 1891, and named after the family estate in Inverness-shire in Scotland. Designed in the Indian colonial bungalow style, Guisachan became the focal point of a 480-acre ranch. Now a City Park, Guisachan features the Cameron Gardens, The Milk Shed Shop, and McDougall House. Benvoulin Heritage Park features the 1892 Benvoulin Church, the first Protestant Church south of Vernon. The Gothic Revival style, with high ceilings, vaulted arches and steeple was based on the Crathie Kirk, the Aberdeenshire, Scotland home of Lord and Lady Aberdeen.
Visit an interesting historical preserve at the Father Pandosy Mission, the site of the first vineyard and orchard in the Okanagan Valley, dating back to 1859. In 1860, Father Pandosy started his mission in order to convert natives, traders and new settlers.
Whether you enjoy contemporary or historical paintings, sculpture or crafts, photography or printmaking, the Kelowna Art Gallery displays a wide range of art from around the world.
The Kelowna Community Theatre, located in the heart of downtown Kelowna, is proud to be home to the Sunshine Theatre Company and the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra. These two professional organizations delight audiences year round with plays and music.
Parks Alive! presents and produces over 52 events and activities from June to September each year. Events range from children’s activities, to a weekly theme concert series, to all-day music festivals, arts & crafts shows, and youth activity programs.
Prospera Place, a 6,000 seat multi-purpose facility that’s home to the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. Prospera Place provides a state-of-the-art entertainment facility to the B.C. Interior, and a focal point for sports, business, culture, and community activities. Kelowna’s growing Cultural District covers a six-block downtown area and features a concentration of galleries, museums, theatres, a casino, artists’ studios, fine dining, unique shops and a vibrant cultural life all year long.
Created by Kelowna farmer Roy Tanaka, the splendid Japanese Kasugai Gardens is a serene harbour of peace for visitors to enjoy, a re-creation of nature in miniature. North of Queensway behind the City Hall.
Take a cruise on the MV Fintry Queen, the pride of the Okanagan Lake since 1949. Docked at the foot of Bernard Avenue on Okanagan Lake, the Fintry Queen operated as a passenger and vehicle ferry connecting Highway 97 until the floating bridge was built in 1958, after which she became a floating restaurant.
Experience the nostalgia of passenger rail travel as you enjoy the magnificent scenery of the Okanagan Valley aboard the Okanagan Valley Wine Train. Travel in the vintage cars that toured across Canada in the 1950s and 1960s, past pristine lakes, rolling hillsides and beautiful orchards between Armstrong and Kelowna, with a visit to Vernon’s 1911 railway station en route.
Cool off at the Okanagan’s largest waterslide park. Mariner’s Reef offers thrilling twister slides, kamikaze slides, children’s slides and gigantic hot tubs – everything you need for a day of great excitement and fun.
Birdwatching: With its lush parks, glorious trails, forests and streaming waters, there’s no better place to birdwatch than Kelowna. Visit the Chinchester Bird Sanctuary, Carney Pond , Roxby Bird Sanctuary, Munson’s Pond and Robert Lake. British Columbia is one of the richest wildlife viewing areas in Canada, with diverse and extraordinary creatures ranging from Aise Swallowtails, and Green Herons, to Trumpeter Swans.
Kids can fly down slides and dive into a deep sea of balls at Planet Spacewalkers, a children’s play centre in the Capri Mall. Other facilities include climbers, some games, a snackbar, party rooms for birthdays, a tot area, and seating for parents. Spacewalkers is an exciting place to play, and a whole new adventure in fun!
Wander along relaxing pathways or the long and sandy beach at the City Park, where water-skiing, parasailing, boating, and fishing are popular activities. Keep your camera handy, as you might spot Ogopogo … the lake-dwelling serpent! Located within City Park are the beautiful Veendam Gardens, a tribute to Kelowna’s Dutch sister city, Veendam. The gardens offer a multitude of colourful flower displays as well as a cenotaph.
Salmon Spawn: In the town of Kelowna itself, you can watch kokanee salmon spawning mid-September to mid-October in Lion’s park from a wildlife viewing area off Springfield Road, or during a guided tour.
Golf: Kelowna offers more than a dozen of the best golf courses in the Okanagan, including Gallagher’s Canyon Golf & Country Club, The Harvest Golf Club, Predator Ridge Golf Course, and The Okanagan Golf Club (Quail Course and the Bear Course). Other golf courses in Kelowna are: Kelowna Springs Golf Club, Kelowna Golf & Country Club, Mission Creek Golf Club, Orchard Greens Golf Club, Ponderosa Golf Club, Shadow Ridge Golf Club, Bell Mountain Golf Course, Lake Okanagan Resort and Golf, Michaelbrook Ranch Golf Club, and Black Mountain Golf Club. Okanagan Golf Vacations.
Bear Creek Provincial Park: If you’re looking for a short break from the central Okanagan’s summer heat, Bear Creek Provincial Park may be the place to visit for easy camping and picnics. Just 15 minutes from downtown Kelowna, the park has everything from soft sandy beaches to a wild, rocky canyon, waterfalls, and 23 km of hiking trails to explore. Bear Creek flows through the bottom of the tree-walled canyon, bringing with it small flakes of placer gold.
Fintry Provincial Park , is a getaway with an historical flavour. Located on the west side of Okanagan Lake, the park site was the transportation hub of the valley, and Hudson’s Bay Company fur traders. Features in the park include waterfalls and deep pools on Shorts Creek, and old ferry wharf from which freight boats operated, a preserved Manor house, campsites, and a large picnic and day-use area. The park is home to black bears, bighorn sheep, deer and bald eagles.
Bordering Mission Creek, Mission Creek Park offers a playground, picnic tables and hiking trails in a quiet setting. Come and see the spawning salmon from mid to late September. On Springfield Road past Orchard Park Mall.
Twenty kilometres south of Kelowna is the 10,000-hectare remote wilderness of Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park, a favourite destination for hikers. Secluded beaches, coves and historic trails traverse this northern desert wilderness region. There is no road access into the park; it’s boat, bicycle, or hike-in only. Souls looking for more undisturbed places will not want to miss the wilderness walk-in campsites in the park, which is well suited to backwoods camping. Hiking trails provide an excellent opportunity to ramble around and see unique plants and animal life in this semidesert wilderness region.
Kettle River Recreation Area: You can walk, hike or mountain bike as much or as little of the Kettle Valley Railway Trail, south of Kelowna, as you feel inclined to tackle. Stamina, more than conditioning, will determine if you complete the 24-km round trip between the trailheads on the Little White and Myra Forest Service Roads. As the trail follows an abandoned railbed, the grade is moderate. This was one of the more challenging sections of the route to engineer, and required 18 trestles and two tunnels.
Climb Knox Mountain Park and take an unparalleled view of the lake and the city. A photographer’s must! Follow Ellis Street north, all the way to the end.
Good swimming spots in Kelowna are at Kelowna City Waterfront Park and Bertram Creek Regional Park.
Mountain Biking: The Glenmore Trails in Knox Mountain Regional Park offer interesting mountain bike paths with great views over Lake Okanagan. One caution: This is an area in which you can easily get lost, so be forewarned. A paved road leads to the top of Knox Mountain (elevation 1,970 feet/600 m) from the park entrance off Clifton Rd. Once on top, a variety of unmarked trails lead off in several directions. Like most mountain-bike areas, it is a mix of logging roads (mostly up) and singletracks (mostly down). To get to the park, take Clifton Rd in Kelowna’s Glenmore neighbourhood to Grainger Road, then turn right and head to the dead end. Ride north and pick one of the trails that will appear in front of you. Just south of Kelowna is Myra Canyon, a lovingly restored section of the Kettle Valley Railway Trail. It weighs in at a 24-km round trip, but there are no steep climbs or hairball singletracks – just some fun, casual riding. What makes the Myra Canyon section special are the 18 trestles and two tunnels you’ll pass over and through. Exercise caution when riding across the trestles. The Myra Canyon section is part of the historic 215-km route between Midway and Penticton.
Fishing: When spring hits the Okanagan Similkameen lakes and rivers, the nymphs start hatching, the fish start feeding and angler’s lines spin out over expanses of waters. Trim the tackle box, tie a few flies, update your lures and head for the hundreds of fishing lakes, rivers and streams. This region is famous for its fighting Kamloops trout and kokanee, as well as bass, whitefish and perch.
Diving: When diving at Paul’s Tomb in the Knox Mountain Nature Park in Kelowna, you can see, at a depth of 25 feet, a replica of the Ogopogo, a mythological creature reputed to inhabit the waters of nearby Okanagan Lake.
There are three Wine Festivals held in the Okanagan Valley with many events taking place in Kelowna. Sample award-winning wines, attend an educational seminar, or celebrate with live entertainment and wine paired with fabulous local cuisine.
If you’re here in August you won’t want to miss Kelowna’s colourful Mardi Gras.
Big White Ski Resort on Big White Mountain, one of the highest peaks in the southern Monashees, truly lives up to its name, with well over 100 marked runs fanning out from the summit of Big White. There is tremendous bowl skiing on top, wide-open glades at mid-mountain, and great fall-line cruising virtually everywhere. Skiing & Winter Activities in the Okanagan Valley.
Whether you ski the diamond slopes or challenge the all-natural snowboard park, the ski resort at Crystal Mountain can be addictive. Watch for signs of rosy complexion, a steady smile and a general feeling of well-being.
Circle Tours: See the best of the area on Okanagan and Kootenay Rockies Circle Tour. Travel the sunny interior of British Columbia, north through the Okanagan to Sicamous, following Highway 1 into the mountains of the BC Rockies. From Golden, head south through the Columbia Valley to Creston, and west through the Southern Okanagan, starting and ending your sun-drenched voyage in Osoyoos, the place where two lakes come together. Circle Tours in British Columbia.