The Okanagan Valley is almost dry enough to warrant being called a desert. After even one visit to this spectacularly diverse area, you’ll understand why superlatives are constantly used to describe it. Beloved by thousands of visitors and inhabitants alike for the unparalleled variety of its climate and landscape, the Okanagan Valley has something for everyone: hoodoos, orchards, vineyards, mountains, valleys, lakes, highlands, ski slopes, and trails. This is truly one of the most desirable locales in British Columbia for year-round outdoor fun.
Starting in the south, near the US border, you’ll find spectacular backcountry, with the remains of old mining settlements dotting the highway. After you pass through the arid Osoyoos and Oliver regions and head north up the valley, you will encounter orchards and vineyards, evidence of some of the best fruit- and vegetable-growing land in the world.
Location: The Okanagan Valley is located in south central British Columbia. There are a variety of entry points to the Okanagan Valley, which is about 155 miles (250 km) in length: from the west along Highway 3 via Keremeos and then Highway 3A; from the south along Highway 97 via Osoyoos; from the northwest along Highway 97C (the Coquihalla Connector) or along Highway 5 (the Coquihalla), both via Merritt; from the west or east along Highway 1 (the Trans-Canada); from the southeast along Highway 33; from the northeast along Highway 1 via Sicamous and then south along Highways 97A or 97B. Airline service to the Okanagan is through Kelowna.
The following towns are located in the Okanagan Valley, listed from south to north on or near Highway 97 and 97A.
Dozens of parks surround Okanagan Lake, an outdoor adventure playground where the only difficulty is deciding what to do with your time. Ski at Silver Star, Big White, or Apex Wilderness camp at Okanagan Mountain, or farther north at Monashee? Mountain bike at Kalamalka, or at Silver Star? Wait, wasn’t that where you were thinking of skiing? As you can see, the choice is dizzying: Many of the spots you love in one season offer a whole new set of opportunities in another. To put it simply, this is one area worth spending some serious time in.
You could spend months exploring the Okanagan Valley region. There are more than 60 provincial parks, and dozens and dozens of recreation sites. If you want the basic campground, with pit toilets, campsites, and firewood, the provincial parks will satisfy. They are popular, however, and souls looking for more undisturbed places will not want to miss wilderness camping in some of the remote areas, such as Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park. For details on a particular park, consult our Parks & Trails section.
The Okanagan’s open terrain makes for ideal hiking and backpacking, with little or no bushwhacking required. The parks in the Okanagan offer remoteness, breathtaking landscapes, and challenging outdoor adventure. You can walk or hike 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 15-mile (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.
Hiking & Backpacking in the Okanagan Valley.
The Okanagan Valley area is great for mountain biking. There’s a summary of some of the more notable trails and roads in our mountain biking section in Recreation, starting at Vernon in the north and ending at Keremeos near the Canada-US border.
Mountain Biking in the Okanagan Valley.
Golfing: Kelowna boasts 15 of the 37 golf courses scattered from Osoyoos to Vernon. Most courses open in March, and some years golfers play into November. Fruit trees and water hazards challenge the patrons on many courses. Kelowna Springs Golf Course has seven natural spring-fed lakes, and more than a thousand apple trees grow on the fairways of Harvest Golf Club. Gallagher’s Canyon Golf & Country Club straddles Gallagher’s Canyon, through which a river runs. Predator Ridge Golf Resort has undulating greens and dozens of bunkers set on the dry and hilly terrain near Vernon. Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
Flyboarding: Flyboarding is an exciting new watersport where a human is strapped by the feet to a flyboard that is attached to a hose that is attached to a personal watercraft (jetski) that provides the water propulsion that will power the now-excited human 15 metres into the air. Flyboarding is offered in two locations in the Okanagan Valley; Okanagan Lake at Kelowna, and Osoyoos Lake at Osoyoos. Flyboarding in the Okanagan Valley.
Diving: When diving at Paul’s Tomb in the Knox Mountain Nature Park in Kelowna, you can see, at a depth of 25 feet (8 m), a replica of Ogopogo, a mythological creature reputed to inhabit the waters of nearby Okanagan Lake. Otter Bay in Ellison Provincial Park in Vernon is the site of western Canada’s first freshwater scuba diving and snorkelling park. A number of objects have been sunk here to attract a variety of fish and other lake-dwelling creatures.
Wildlife: For a special wildlife-viewing experience, take a day to visit Vaseux Lake Provincial Park, about 15 miles (25 km) south of Penticton on Hwy 97. Here, the Vaseux Lake Nature Trust operates the Vaseux Wildlife Centre in a multiagency cooperative project. In addition, there is a Canadian Wildlife Service wildlife sanctuary adjacent to the park and two Wildlife Management Units ensuring protection of critical bighorn sheep winter range. The cliffs surrounding the park include spring and winter range of California bighorn sheep, and the area is famous for bird watching. Grasses, reeds, willows, and shrubs along the shore afford a home to many varieties of birdlife.
Waterfowl, including trumpeter swans, widgeons, Canada geese, wood ducks, and blue-winged teal, are common. In spring, the beautiful lazuli bunting has been seen. Other bird species present include chukar partridge, wrens, swifts, sage thrashers, woodpeckers, curlews, and dippers. Mammal species found here include beavers, bats, cottontail rabbits, muskrats, deer, and mice. Rattlesnakes, toads, and turtles also live in this area. Considerable populations of largemouth bass, rainbow trout, and carp make their home in the water, and in winter, the frozen lake offers excellent conditions for ice fishing as well as other ice-related activities.
If you’re in the town of Kelowna itself, you can watch kokanee salmon spawning mid-September to mid-October in Lion’s Park from a BC Wildlife viewing area off Springfield Road or during a guided tour; and you can take advantage of another BC Wildlife migratory bird-viewing site at Bertram Creek Regional Park.
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; however, as early as the end of June, the fruit starts ripening: cherries (late June through mid-July), peaches (mid-July through September), pears (August through September), apricots (mid-July through mid-August), plums (September), apples (August through October), and grapes (September through mid-October). There are even free Tree Fruit Tours.
Fruit aside, winemaking is the hot ticket in the Okanagan. British Columbians have long taken inordinate pride in their wines, even when those mostly came from a few largish factories. But ever since the province authorized estate and smaller farmgate wineries, many excellent wineries have popped up. Seventy two wineries operate in the Okanagan Valley from Vernon to Osoyoos; some have tasting rooms. Most are open summers and through the wine crush in September. Kelowna is the centre of the burgeoning wine industry. Maps for self-guided tours of the wineries are available from the British Columbia Wine Institute, 1855 Kirschner Road, Kelowna, BC V1Y 4N7.
Wineries in the Okanagan Valley
Okanagan Falls is a charming town best visited for its tasty pleasures: it’s home to the increasingly famous chocolate factory Snowy Mountain Chocolate; the largest ice-cream cone seller in the valley, Tickleberry’s; the world-famous fruit-snack producer, Okanagan Dried Fruit; and two prestigious wineries, Wild Goose Vineyards and LeComte Estate Winery. Samples of all these treats await you – enjoy.
Penticton takes full advantage of its dual lakefronts. The south end of town (with its go-cart tracks, amusement centres, miniature golf courses, water slides, and RV parks) touches the north shore of Skaha Lake. The north end of town sidles along the southern tip of 70-mile-long (113-km) Lake Okanagan. Visit the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, operated by the National Research Council, which draws astronomers from around the world. It’s open to the public during daylight hours, and tours are available Sunday afternoons.
On the east side of Lake Okanagan, Kelowna is the largest and liveliest of the Okanagan cities, with some noisy nightlife, a bit of culture (an art museum and summer theatre), a range of continental and ethnic restaurants, a big regatta in July, and an interesting historical preserve at Father Pandosy’s Mission. Kelowna even has its own version of the Loch Ness monster: Ogopogo. Keep a lookout for him (her?) while supping on the gaily decked-out paddle wheeler Fintry Queen or touring aboard the Okanagan Princess.
Summerland is a theme town done in the same spirit as Osoyoos, only this time they chose to do it Tudor style. Old Summerland is down on the water, but most of the town’s business now thrives up on the hill. Pick up the pamphlet A Walking Tour of Summerland, available at the museum or Visitor Centre. Also of note is the Agricultural Research Station, the only active agricultural research centre in the Okanagan. Its interpretive centre, research facilities, and ornamental gardens have become a draw for thousands of international visitors every year.
There are many festivals in this region – too many to mention here. For a complete listing, contact the Visitor Centre of the area you’re visiting.
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.