Cradled within tree trimmed mountain slopes, dramatic clay cliffs and bordered by the Okanagan and Skaha Lakes, Penticton is one of the larger cities in the BC interior, and a popular destination for visitors of all kinds.
The town name, translated from native Salish, means a place to live forever, and many heed that advice, at least partly, spending a large part of their holidays here each year. There’s literally something here for everyone, from water skiing to quaint boutiques, golfing to exploring local hiking trails.
During the early days, Fur Brigades consisting of up to 200 head of pack horses travelled down from the north, through the Okanagan, and on south to the mouth of the Columbia River. At that time, it was possibly the easiest route to travel in order to be able to get the fur pelts to world markets. There were occasions when these brigades would set up camp several miles west of Penticton. Transportation was important in Penticton’s history, when sternwheelers plied the lakes and the Kettle Valley Railway had its headquarters here.
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 the 113-km-long Lake Okanagan.
Penticton is on the edge of what many consider to be the only true desert in Canada. Although the large exotic type of cactus seen in Arizona is not found here, there is a species that is small, with very sharp spikes. They can be found in some of those rarely occupied spaces where there is little or no irrigation. Walkers in these areas are advised to wear heavily soled shoes that completely cover the foot.
Location: Penticton is located on Highway 97 in the south Okanagan, between Okanagan Lake and Skaha Lake, 43 miles (68 km) south of Kelowna and 38 miles (60 km) north of Osoyoos. To the south of Penticton is Okanagan Falls, and to the north (on either side of Okanagan Lake) are Naramata and Summerland.
Okanagan 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.
Okanagan 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.
Wineries in the Okanagan Valley
R.N. Atkinson Museum: Experience the tumultuous lives of the gold seekers and railway men and envision the sternwheelers that ran up and down the waterways of the Okanagan. Explore the fine displays of pioneer life, natural history, military artifacts and First Nations collections.
Tour the S.S. Sicamous – the historic sternwheeler sits majestically on the south shores of Okanagan Lake. Launched in May 1914, the 200-foot long paddle steamer used approximately 17 tons of coal per trip, at a speed of 17 knots, before completing its last commercial run on October 11th, 1936.
Along with the SS Sicamous, the S.S. Naramata plied the waters of Okanagan Lake, carrying freight and passengers to the growing settlements along the shoreline of this great inland lake. Launched in 1914 at the peak of the Okanagan Boom period, the ships came prefabricated from the Port Arthur Ontario shipyards, by train to Okanagan Landing. The Naramata operated barge transfer service until 1965.
Rock Climbing: Ready for the Granite challenge? Penticton supplies some awesome terrain and spectacular vistas. Check out Skaha Bluffs, internationally known amongst climbers as one of the finest rock climbing areas in the Pacific Northwest, and perhaps even the world, with more than 600 sport climbing routes to choose from.
The Art Gallery of the South Okanagan exhibits, collects and preserves the finest visual artistic heritage of the region, the province and the nation. Considerable emphasis is placed on the work of the artists working in the region.
A stargazer’s delight, the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory keeps its telescopes pointed skyward. Operated by the National Research Council, the observatory draws astronomers from around the world. Tour the property on a self-guided tour, during daylight hours, and listen to informative recorded messages. Located south of Penticton on White Lake Road.
Front Street: Discover the excitement of Penticton’s colourful Front Street, with its unique shops and fabulous restaurants. Front Street was Penticton’s first business corridor, and many of the original buildings can still be seen, some dating back to the early 1900s. The street has undergone extensive restoration, with street banners, painted wall murals, trees and flowers.
Beaches: Sun seekers can enjoy miles of warm sandy beaches. There are three developed beaches near Penticton on Okanagan Lake at Kickininee Provincial Park: Kickininee, Pyramid, and Soorimpt (which features a boat launch). Take Hwy 97 about 14 km north of Penticton, and bring your snorkelling gear to explore the lake’s treasures. Sun-Oka Beach Provincial Park, 6 km south of Summerland on Hwy 97, has Sunoka Beach, one of the most superb beaches in the valley, and features two public boat launches nearby. Its name combines the words ‘sunny’ and ‘Okanagan’. Also on Okanagan Lake are Okanagan Beach, Penticton Lakeside Resort Beach, and Three Mile Beach off Naramata Road. To the south of Penticton, Skaha Lake offers Sudbury Beach, Skaha Lake Park Beach, and Airport Beach, where the access is tough, but the sand is tops! For something different, take a leisurely two-hour float down the Penticton River Channel between Okanagan Lake and Skaha Lake.
Okanagan Lake Provincial Park: There are 168 campsites in two separate campgrounds on the west side of the lake in Okanagan Lake Provincial Park, 24 km north of Penticton. This is a scenic, well-developed site, with sandy beaches along the lake backed by uplands of ponderosa pine and sagebrush. The park is open year-round and is suitable for day use and picnics, but campers should be prepared for crowds during the peak season.
Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park: Across Okanagan Lake, opposite Peachland, are 10,000 hectares of remote wilderness in Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park. There is no road access into the park; it’s boat, bicycle, or hike-in only. Secondary roads from Kelowna offer access to parking lots on the park’s northeastern boundary. 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. The lake and mountain views are good from the top of Okanagan Mountain, but wear sturdy footwear (this park is in rattlesnake country) and carry water between camping areas if you’re hiking in summer. In addition to the backcountry campsites, facilities also include horse-loading ramps in the north and south parking lots, as well as marine campsites and mooring buoys on Okanagan Lake. Hike to the top of Okanagan Mountain on the Divide Lake North Trail (moderate; 16 km return) from the Rimrock Road parking lot for beautiful views of the lake to the west and the Monashees to the east, and check out the four archaeological sites in the park.
Apex Mountain Ski Resort near Apex Mountain Provincial Recreation Area is located 32 km southwest of nearby Penticton off Hwy 97. Justly renowned in western Canada as one of the three prime ski and snowboard destinations in the Okanagan Valley, it’s fast becoming a popular destination for summer hikers and mountain bikers. The provincial recreation area covers Mount Riorda and Beaconsfield Mountain. From the summits of these mountains, you will enjoy the vistas of Manning and Cathedral Provincial Parks, Peachland Hills, and the rolling Okanagan Highland. More than anything else, skiers and snowboarders will love the fluffy powder snow that accumulates here. Powder fills the gun barrels of twelve steep chutes that lead skiers down from the peak of Beaconsfield Mountain (elevation 7,187 feet/2178 m), reached by the high-speed quad Westbank chairlift. The mountain is also served by a triple chair and a T-bar. Total vertical rise from the base to the peak is 2,000 feet (605 m). The 50 trails at Apex are divided between 16 percent novice, 48 percent intermediate, 18 percent advanced, and 18 percent expert ability levels. Almost anything’s possible when you have ideal conditions, and light crowds to boot. Apex Alpine also offers 7.5 miles (12 km) of cross-country trails. The trailhead is located beside the resort’s RV park. Skiing & Winter Activities in the Okanagan Valley.
Kettle Valley Railway: There are countless hiking and biking trails offering unsurpassed scenery along rocky bluffs, abandoned railway beds, waterways and valleys. Perhaps one of the most incredible trails in the area is the Kettle Valley Railway – it winds down to Naramata, around Penticton and on to Princeton, Coalmont and Tulameen.
Mountain Biking: High above Penticton, along the Ellis Creek Canyon, is the Ellis Ridge Trail. From Carmi Avenue in town, turn right at the cross-country area and take the trail from the parking lot 3 km past the cattle gate. If you are driving, park at the cattle gate. This isn’t a difficult mountain bike ride, but don’t push your limits. The trail skirts the canyon in places, and you really don’t want to miss a turn. Just to the north of Ellis Creek is Campbell Mountain, a maze of interconnected single- and doubletrack: not technically difficult, but not for the faint of heart, either. To reach it, take Reservoir Road off Upper Bench Rd in Penticton. Take the right fork in Reservoir Road to the parking lot at the foot of Campbell Mountain. Ski areas that used to sit fallow during the summer have of late been appropriated by mountain bikers.
Golf: Penticton offers many fine golf courses: Twin Lakes Golf Resort features spectacular golf in a serene mountain setting. The 18-hole golf resort is nestled in a scenic valley surrounded by towering rock cliffs, 12 miles southwest of Penticton and 35 miles north of the Canada/US border. Penticton Golf & Country Club offers a challenging 18-hole course, with narrow fairways and water in play on twelve holes (6,131 yards, par 70). Located at the north end of Penticton. Pine Hills Golf & Country Club is a 9-hole public course offering panoramic views of Penticton and Okanagan Lake (2,127 yards, par 28). Located on Pine Hills Drive in Westbench, 1 mile North of Penticton on Hwy 97. Sage Mesa Golf Club is perched high on a plateau overlooking Penticton and Okanagan Lake (9 holes, 3,218 yards, par 33). Facilities include a superb practice facility and one of the best driving ranges in the Okanagan. Pleasant Valley Par 3 Golf course is a privately-owned, public golf course uniquely positioned between Campbell Mountain and Penticton Creek. The delightful executive course is perfect for the casual, recreational, or avid golfer (1,191 yards, par 27). Riverside Par 3 Golf is a 9-hole, par-27 public golf course located on Riverside Drive in Penticton. Skaha Meadows Golf Course is a public 2,435-yard, par-35 course located on Skaha Lake Road. St Andrews by the Lake Golf Course lies within the picturesque Kearns Valley, surrounded by dry hills, sagebrush and cactus plants (2,070 yards, par 32). Located on White Lake Road in Kaleden, south of Penticton. Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
Windsurfing: Penticton is considered to be an excellent windsurfing spot, since there is usually a good breeze, or even a stiff wind, at some time during most days of the year.
Just 6 kilometres from Apex Mountain Resort is the Nickel Plate Nordic Centre in Nickel Plate Provincial Park. Access to the 30 km of groomed and track-set trails here is from Hwy 97 in Penticton on the Apex Mountain Road or northeast of Hedley via a 30-km gravel road off Hwy 3A. The weather conditions that make downhill skiing at Apex such a joy provide light powder snow at Nickel Plate.
If you’re passing through in August, you won’t want to miss the biggest summer festival in the Okanagan Valley. The annual Penticton Peach Festival is an annual South Okanagan Valley tradition to celebrate the peach harvest, and is the biggest free five-day festival in the whole of Western Canada.
Northeast of Penticton is Summerland, drenched in sunshine on the west shore of Okanagan Lake in the Okanagan Valley.
Northwest of Penticton is Naramata, nestled in the heart of the sunny Okanagan Valley on the east shore of Lake Okanagan.
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.