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. Here, 15 minutes from downtown Kelowna, is everything from soft beaches to a wild, rocky canyon. On the lakeshore are beautiful, sandy beaches and a parkland campground with showers, a sani-station and an amphitheatre.
Camping: The park has one campground, though it is divided by Lambly (Bear) Creek. There are 122 vehicle accessible sites in the park, including 18 doubles. All campsites require reservations at this park.
Sites are # 1-80 on the north side of the creek in two loops. These medium to large sized sites are found amongst well spaced trees and irrigated lawns. The trees are well trimmed and a mix of both coniferous and deciduous with many non-native species present. The effect is of fairly open, well manicured grounds. The sites are gravel and have a fire ring and picnic table on a cement pad. There are no BBQ table attachments. Nine of these sites back onto the creek and are slightly smaller and surrounded by more dense vegetation. Crossing the creek within the campground leads to sites 81-122 on the south side of the creek. This area has its own shower/washroom building and taps.
A gatehouse is situated near the park entrance just off Westside Road with three payphones and an information shelter. There is a gate on Westside Road which is locked from 11:00pm to 7:00am during the operating season, and then locked during the off-season.
Hiking: Gentle trails take hikers around the campsites and along the creek as it passes through the campground. The Bear Creek Canyon trail is a popular, more demanding hike offering spectacular views of the creek and the surrounding area. The trail leaves the parking lot and makes a loop of the canyon. Hikers can cross the creek on a footbridge to the north side of the canyon and begin their ascent of the slope. A sturdy staircase of milled lumber makes the climb a little easier and reduces impact on the plant life and soil structure. A viewpoint after the first flight of stairs offers a place to rest and look down at the creek. The wide, hard-packed trail continues up the rim of the canyon with two more viewpoints perched on the edge of the canyon wall and hemmed in by chainlink fence. The view of the creek, as it meanders through the steep-walled canyon forming various ripples and small waterfalls, is fantastic. Gradually the trail levels out and then begins a descent to the creek. A pit toilet is located here.
The trail follows the creek for a short distance before crossing to the south side. The canyon forms a microclimate with noticeably different vegetation on the two sides of the creek. The slope on the north is dry with Ponderosa pine and bunches of grass while the cooler south side has Douglas fir and carpets of moss, evidence of more moisture and shade. Allow 1 hour to hike Canyon and for your own safety and preservation of the park, obey posted signs and keep to designated trails. Shortcutting trails destroys plant life and soil structure. The Canyon Trail was affected by a wildfire in 2011. Wildfires have produced many hazards in the area. You should be aware of these hazards and the increased risk of injury prior to entering the area. The hazards include: unstable trees, holes and loose rock. The hazards have been reduced along the main trail system and campground areas. Travel off the main trail system has an increased level of risk.
Bear Creek flows through the bottom of the tree-walled canyon, bringing with it small flakes of placer gold. Along the trails above the canyon, ponderosa pine and Douglas fir compete with juniper, bunchgrass, and prickly-pear cactus for the area’s meagre rainfall. Below, moistened by the mist rising off the waterfalls, is yet another world, one of maple and birch, wild rose, horsetail, and moss. Wildlife abounds here.
Wear sturdy footwear because the prickly pear cacti on the more exposed rocky slopes of the upland region of the park can puncture skin even through clothing and running shoes. This area is a feast for the senses, with its expansive views of the lake and canyon; its scent of cottonwood, pine, and fir forests; and its splashes of colourful wildflowers.
Swimming: Over 400 metres of coarse sandy beach stretches the length of the campground from the day-use area to the creek. There are pebbles on the beach but no big rocks in the water. The beach is narrow and the swim area is marked with buoys. There are no lifeguards on duty at provincial parks.
Freshwater fishing is allowed on Okanagan Lake. The boat launch at Bear Creek adjacent to the park, which is operated and maintained by the Regional District of the Central Okanagan, was closed indefinitely effective April 4, 2011. Kayak and peddle boats are available on site for public rental. Okanagan Lake provides many waterskiing and jetskiing opportunities. Jetski and boat rentals are available at Lake Okanagan Resort ten minutes north of the park on Westside Road.
Picnic Areas: The large day-use/picnic area has 59 tables, 12 with BBQ attachments. The tables are spread out on lawns overlooking the beach, and shaded by well-spaced mature cottonwood and oak trees. The tables have a great view across the lake to the city of Kelowna and Knox Mountain. Right next to the parking lot is a bathroom/change house with flush toilets that are wheelchair accessible.
During the collecting season a sani-station/dump is available and a fee is charged for the service. The sani-station/dump is located across Westside road from the gatehouse next to the Canyon Trail parking area.
Bear Creek Provincial Park is located on Westside Road, 9 km off Highway 97, west of Kelowna. Travelling south on Highway 97, cross the floating bridge on Highway 97 and travel 2 km, then turn west onto Westside Road at the main intersection, and follow for 7 km. The entrance to the park is just passed the bridge over the Lambly (Bear) Creek.
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