Mountain Biking in the Okanagan Valley

The Okanagan Valley area is great for mountain biking. Here’s a summary of some of the more notable trails and roads here, starting at Vernon in the north and ending at Keremeos near the Canada-US border.

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. The National Altitude Training Centre and Silver Star Mountain Resort have hosted the 1994 Grundig/UCI World Cup Finals, the sixth event of the Canada Cup series in 1996, and the 1997 Canadian Mountain Bike Festival. Several trails are designated as bike-only. Silver Star offers bike rentals, guided tours, mountain-bike camps, and national and world mountain bike competitions. Bring extra clothes along. At 6,000 feet (1830 m), it can be chilly here, even on a warm day. The Silver Star Mountain Bike Club hosts bike clinics and stages mountain-bike races on Wednesday evenings in July and August. Daily mountain-bike tours for all ages and abilities are offered by the club, which is based at the National Altitude Training Centre.

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 miles (40 km), almost all of it downhill. The Trinity Ricardo Trail System is popular among the snowmobiling crowd, but is practically unknown to mountain bikers. Detailed descriptions of some rides appear in Mountain Biking British Columbia by Darrin Polischuk.

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 at the lake itself.

Around Kelowna, the Glenmore Trails in Knox Mountain Regional Park also offer interesting 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 Road. 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 Road 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 (Kettle River Recreation Area). It weighs in at 12 miles (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, some trestles are in a state of disrepair. The Myra Canyon section is part of the historic 133-mile (215-km) route (also known as the Carmi Subdivision) between Midway and Penticton. This is part of a much longer biking trip. For more information, consult Cycling the Kettle Valley Railway by Dan and Sandra Langford.

Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park, on the east side of Okanagan Lake, is good for mountain biking. Remember that there is no access to the park by road; it’s boat, bicycle, or hike-in only. One of the most popular rides is a two-day excursion around the border of the park (just bring the spare tube and pump; it’s a long hike back). Almost all the trails are open to mountain bikers. Popular trails include Commando Bay Trail (lengthy, moderate) and Boulder Trail (short, technical).

The Casa Loma Trails (easy; 3 miles/4.5 km) provide an easy ride along the shores of Okanagan Lake. Get there by heading south on Hwy 97 from Kelowna, taking a left on Boucherie Road, then taking a left again on Sunnyside. The trail starts at the end of Sunnyside.

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 2 miles (3 km) past the cattle gate. If you are driving, park at the cattle gate. This isn’t a difficult ride, but don’t push your limits. The trail skirts the canyon in places, and you 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 Road 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.

Apex Mountain Ski Resort operates a chairlift, but it is only open to mountain bikers on a guided tour. Soloists with iron lungs can always pedal up Grandfather’s Trail, which leads right to the top of Beaconsfield Mountain from the resort’s main parking area. Maps are available from the resort.

Riddle Road is located about 3 miles (5 km) from Penticton on Naramata Rd. If you take Riddle Rd to its end, you’ll find another mountain-bike haven that gives credence to the oft-repeated Okanagan phrase: ‘Vancouver’s got nothing to ride on compared to here.’ Great views, great singletrack, great downhill.

The International Bicycling and Hiking Society has developed a lovely little river ride between Oliver and Osoyoos (12 miles/20 km). This is an easygoing ride, perfect for a summer day. The Oliver Trail meanders along the west side of the Okanagan River from the head of Osoyoos Lake to McAlpine bridge north of Oliver. The path offers superb views of rural farms, wildlife and the only desert ecological reserve in Canada. It is a superb family outings with picnic sites en route. To find it, just head east on any of the turnoffs from Hwy 97 between McAlpine Bridge (the northern terminus of the trail) and Road 22.

The Osoyoos Trails are a great series of old jeep roads and singletrack on the slopes west of Osoyoos. From town, head west towards the golf course and turn left on Fairwind. Park at the first cattle gate. The trail dances around the perimeter of the golf course. Most of the routes are quick and moderately easy, but frustratingly short for those looking for the eternal descent.

Mountain Biking in the Similkameen/Crowsnest Highway

Half a dozen trails in Manning Provincial Park, as well as designated vehicle roadways, are open to mountain bikers. The shortest is the Lone Duck Trail (easy; less than 1 mile/1.6 km one way), between the Lightning Lake campground and 20 Minute Lake. There are also three 2-mile-long (one way) trails beside Lightning Lake for intermediate to advanced riders. For the more advanced rider, there is the 9.3-mile (15-km) return ride on the Windy Joe Trail from the Beaver Pond over the top of Windy Joe Mountain. For a full list of mountain-bike trails, cyclists should obtain a park brochure and map from the visitors centre.

How about a ride down the Coquihalla Highway from the summit to Hope? It’s a 40-mph (65-kph) blast! If that’s a little too rambunctious, you’ll find standard-issue, single-track, mountain-bike trails at Stake Lake in the Stake-McConnell Lakes Provincial Recreation Area near Lac Le Jeune.

The many cross-country ski trails in the Kane Valley cover varied terrain and double as mountain-bike trails in summer. A map of the trail system is available from the Merritt Forest District office at the intersection of Hwy 5A and Airport Road, or at many local hotels in Merritt.

A branch line of the Kettle Valley Railway (Kettle River Recreation Area) leads between Hope and Merritt, passing the Coquihalla Tunnels and Brookmere, a distance of about 87 miles (140 km). Due to washouts and the construction of the Coquihalla Highway, not all of the line is suitable for biking. One of the best places to begin is Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park. Much of the railbed north to Brookmere is intact.

Mountain Biking in Boundary Country

The Kettle Valley Railway, a Canadian Pacific Railway spur line, opened in 1915-16, completing the link between southern Alberta and the Pacific coast. Prior to that time, the southern Okanagan Valley did not have direct rail access to the West Coast but depended heavily on US railways and river boats for transporting goods and people.

The Kettle Valley Railway discontinued service between Beaverdell and Penticton in 1973, and the track was removed between Midway and Penticton in 1979-80. Much of the 370 miles (600 km) of abandoned right-of-way now serves as the Kettle Valley Mountain Bike Trail, accessible from many places along Hwy 3, including the Kettle River Provincial Recreation Area. For a detailed look at the route, consult Cycling the Kettle Valley Railway by Dan and Sandra Langford. Other than the rail-trail routes, the terrain around Grand Forks caters to hardy cyclists only.