Ideally nestled between the beautiful Swan, Kalamalka, and Okanagan lakes in the North Okanagan Valley, is the city of Vernon, the oldest community in British Columbia’s interior.
Originally inhabited by the Interior Salish People, the discovery of gold and the luxuriant growth of bunchgrass in the valley attracted both gold miners and cattle ranchers to the region in the 1860s and 1870s.
By the turn of the century, Vernon had become a bustling town, and was ideally located for the river traffic and sources of irrigation that caused it to prosper as a major ranching and orchard centre.
Today, Vernon is a major vacation destination for those flocking to the Okanagan Valley, and is one of those rare cities where unsurpassed beauty and an abundance of recreational and cultural activities combine to create an exceptional quality of life enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.
Location: Vernon is located at the junction of Highway 97 and Highway 6 in the Okanagan Valley, 29 miles (46 km) north of Kelowna and 73 miles (117 km) southeast of Kamloops. To the east of Vernon is Lumby, and north of Vernon is the community of Armstrong.
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.
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
Visit the Vernon Museum and Archives on 32nd Avenue for information on walking and driving tours of the historic and heritage sites in the Vernon area. Highlights are the Vernon Electric Power House, built in 1902 as a steam plant and presently known as the Power House Theatre, Paddle Wheel Park, which was the 1886 terminal for the Shuswap-Okanagan Railway, and today is the home for the Okanagan Landing Railway Station, the Smith House, and the 1892 Vernon Court House.
Murals: Take a glimpse into the past…explore downtown Vernon’s Outdoor Historic Murals. Each mural will take you on a journey of Vernon’s rich heritage that has lead to its unique Okanagan lifestyle. Pick up a self-guided tour brochure, available at Vernon Visitor Centres, local downtown merchants or at the downtown Vernon Association.
View unique art exhibits at the Vernon Art Gallery, the main gallery serving the North Okanagan. Founded in 1945, over 27,000 visitors per year make the Vernon Art Gallery part of their Okanagan experience.
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 Kelowna and Armstrong and back, with a visit to Vernon’s 1911 railway station en route.
Step back in time to the late 1800s at the historic O’Keefe Ranch, founded in 1867 by Cornelius O’Keefe. At that time, huge cattle ranches occupied the valley, and ranch headquarters were self-contained settlements. By the turn of the century, O’Keefe and his partner owned 20,000 acres of prime land, and were driving cattle north to sell to the hungry miners in the gold fields. Rain or shine, there’s always something to do at O’Keefe Ranch, where kids and adults alike can experience the history and adventure of pioneer days. Open daily 9am to 5 pm, May through Thanksgiving.
There is fun for the whole family at Atlantis Water Slides, which offers slides for all ages, a hot tub, mini golf, and volleyball. Located 5 km from Vernon on Highway 97.
The Kalamalka Forestry Centre plays an important role in the future of British Columbia’s forests, and is open to the public on weekdays.
The Allan Brooks Nature Centre provides visitors a first-hand opportunity to see and learn about the North Okanagan’s unique and diverse natural heritage through views, information, programs and displays of the region’s natural areas.
Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, 8 km south of Vernon off Kalamalka Rd and Hwy 6, has year-round appeal, especially if you’re looking for a north Okanagan getaway that doesn’t involve really getting away. On the northeast side of Kalamalka Lake, noted as one of the top 10 most beautiful lakes in the world by National Geographic and often referred to as The Lake of a Thousand Colours, this park is a well-preserved remnant of the natural grasslands that once stretched from Vernon to Osoyoos. Over 10km of walking/hiking trails wind through the grassland slopes and along lightly forested ridges. Scenic cliff-top viewpoints overlook a rocky shoreline indented with bays and tiny coves. From the spectacular wildflower display in the spring to the relative seclusion of the beaches and boating spots in summer; from the golden-hued forests in autumn to the rolling, cross-country ski trails in winter, this park is a favourite with visitors year-round. Two archaeological sites lie within park boundaries, and you may see coyote, deer, or black bear but are most likely to observe Columbian ground squirrels and yellow-bellied marmots. Pacific rattlesnakes, shy creatures that wish only to be left alone, are an important part of this fascinating ecosystem.
Be sure to visit the farm market at Davison Orchards, for bins of fresh homegrown fruit and vegetables, apple pies, freshly pressed apple juice, and more. This unique family orchard on 50 acres overlooking Vernon features heritage displays, farm animals, a picnic area, a children’s play area and self-guided orchard tours.
Ellison Provincial Park: The rocky, forested headlands and sheltered, sandy bays of small Ellison Provincial Park await you on the east side of Okanagan Lake, just a few miles south of Vernon. Walking trails provide access to the headlands that separate two beautiful bays, offering boulder-climbing excitement and wildflower photo opportunities. The bays are good fishing spots, attracting carp, burbot, kokanee, and trout. A car-top boat launch is located just north of the park, and a full boat-launch facility is about 8 km north of the park. This is an area of undulating benchland dominated by stands of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir, set between the rolling hills of the Thompson Plateau to the west and the peaks of the Monashee Mountains to the east. There are six archaeological sites within the park. Take Hwy 97 for 16 km south from Vernon.
Opals: Find your own opals in the Okanagan outback! Experience a unique outdoor light adventure in the mountains west of Vernon. Digging tours at Canada’s first precious gemstone mine operate from June to September at Okanagan Opal, at the junction of Hwy 97 and 97A, 8 km north of Vernon.
Kekuli Bay Provincial Park , on the west side of Kalamalka Lake, 11 km south of Vernon, is located on a lovely bay. The only development so far is the access road, parking lot, and boat launch, but the launch is already deemed the best on Kalamalka Lake, and the sandy beach promises to become a lure visitors. Kekuli refers to the semi-subterranean homes built by the Interior Salish natives.
Fintry Provincial Park is a getaway with a historical flavour. Located on the west side of Okanagan Lake, its site was the transportation hub of the valley; Hudson’s Bay Company fur brigade traders passed through here. Easy walking through the park will bring you to the waterfalls and deep pools of Shorts Creek, as well as a suspension bridge and the remains of irrigation and power generation structures. Other features from the past are a ferry wharf from which freight boats operated, a preserved Manor house, a caretakers’ house, and several barns. The surrounding hillsides have a canopy of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. In addition to the campsites, there is a large picnic and day-use area.
Silver Star Provincial Park in the Shuswap Highlands is home to Silver Star Mountain Resort, the most northerly winter playground in the Okanagan Valley. Skiers and snowboarders will find a year-round resort here, with hotels, restaurants, a saloon, lounges, and a grocery store all clustered at the base of the resort’s chairlifts. There’s no need for a vehicle once you arrive here, as everything is within easy walking or skiing distance. Skiers and snowboarders here have 2,500 feet (760 m) of vertical drop in which to defy gravity. There are over one hundred designed trails serviced by 12 lifts. The park and resort are located north of Vernon on Hwy 97, then east on well-marked Silver Star Rd, for a total distance of 22 km. Skiing & Winter Activities in the Okanagan Valley.
Cross-country skiers receive just as much welcome at Silver Star as do other winter enthusiasts. Beginning from the trailhead at the entrance to the resort, the 37 kilometres of tracked and groomed trails fan out through the park. An additional 50 km of groomed trails lead through the adjacent Sovereign Lake area. The trailhead for the Sovereign Lake cross-country area is located just west of the entrance to the resort and has its own parking area. A fee is charged for cross-country skiing here and at the resort.
The National Altitude Training Centre, a world-class sport and recreation facility, is also located at Silver Star. The centre, in addition to being a professionally equipped facility with a weight room and a wax room (bring your own waxing equipment), has been host to a number of downhill and cross-country ski and mountain-bike competitions, and is the year-round training base for several ski, bike, and luge teams. A connector bus service is available to Silver Star Mountain Resort from the Kelowna airport, about 100 km south of Vernon.
Hiking: Silver Star Provincial Park is also a great place to visit in summer for hiking and nature rambling. In summer, Silver Star Mountain operates a chairlift for visitors to ascend to hiking trails in the subalpine zone with fabulous views of the Monashees in the north and east, the Shuswap Highlands in the north and west, and the Okanagan Plateau in the south.
Mountain Biking: The Okanagan Valley area is great for mountain biking, and a trip to Vernon is not complete without a spin down Spanky’s, possibly the most popular ride in Vernon. The trailhead is right across from the Sovereign Lake cross-country ski area in Silver Star Provincial Park, which can be reached via the Silver Star Road east of Hwy 97. Spanky’s features a 2,625-foot (800-m) vertical descent, spread over 13 km of trail. If you’re feeling ambitious, take your bike up the chairlift at Silver Star Mountain Resort and spend time bombing around the peak of Silver Star Mountain first before starting your descent. Silver Star is one of the more ‘mountain-bike-friendly’ provincial parks, and maps of the mountain are available at the resort.
If Spanky’s doesn’t seem ambitious enough, try the Trinity Ricardo Trail System, which runs north from Silver Star Mountain Resort to Ashton Creek, a small town east of Hwy 97 at Enderby. This trail is a whopping 24 40 km long, almost all of it downhill. The Trinity Ricardo Trail System is popular among the snowmobiling crowd, but is practically unknown to mountain bikers. Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park south of Vernon is another bike-friendly area. A large portion of the park contains multiuse hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking trails. A word of advice: Kalamalka Lake was an artillery range during World War II, so give any suspicious, bombshell-shaped objects a wide berth and report these objects to a park official. Maps of the trails are available from BC Parks, or at the lake itself.
Golf: The Okanagan boasts some of the finest golf courses in Western Canada, and Vernon and the surrounding area will delight the avid golfer with 9 golf courses, including: Predator Ridge Golf Resort has consistently been ranked as one of the finest golf courses in Canada. The 27 holes of golf at Predator Ridge are comprised of three exciting 9-hole courses; The Osprey, The Peregrine, and The Red Tail, each with its own style, beauty and signature holes. Hillview Golf Course is a relaxed, 18-hole, 3,400-yard, par-56 public course located on the east edge of Vernon just north of Highway 6 at 15th Street. Spallumcheen Golf & Country Club offers 2 distinct challenges; a 9-hole executive length course (2,624 yards), and an 18-hole, par-71 championship layout course of 6,423 yards. Both feature lush, green fairways, with water in play on 12 holes. Vernon Golf and Country Club, situated between downtown Vernon and Kalamalka Lake, is a lovely par-72 course established in 1913, with magnificent hillside views and a creek meandering through the course (6,185 yards). Highlands Golf Short-Game Excellence is a 9-hole, par-3 golf course located on a scenic south slope, just 10 minutes east of Vernon. Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
Fishing: Fishermen should bring their rods and reels as the fishing here is tremendous – over a hundred lakes within an hour’s drive of Vernon. Fishing in British Columbia.
Ellison Provincial Park: 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.
A side trip to Falkland is not complete without stopping at Pillar Lake. Like a giant bony finger pointing skyward, balancing a precariously perched eight-tonne boulders on its tip, B.C.’s 30-metres-high Falkland hoodoo at Pillar Lake is an inexplicable phenomenon of mythical porportions.
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.