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BC Road Trip: The Okanagan Region

Looking for a great BC Road trip? The Okanagan Valley should be on your list! With large and small communities dotted along the shores of a chain of lakes, this central British Columbia valley is known for wineries, fruit orchards, sandy beaches, ski resorts, outdoor adventures, and golf courses. With a wide range of accommodations, activities and dining choices, this BC Okanagan road trip route promises something for everyone.

a lake surrounded by sparsely vegetated hills at twilight.
Sunset in Peachland

 

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An Okanagan Overview


The area's first inhabitants were the Syilx (SEY-uhk) First Nations people who lived off the resources of the land. During the 19th Century, European explorers arrived bringing trade and forever changing the lives of the people living in the valley. Later, the Gold Rush and the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway attracted more settlers. Orchards and vineyards began to speckle the landscape. More recently, the tech industry has expanded the region's economic diversity.

A vineyard with rows of vines stretching f into the distance to the foot of a rocky mountain range.

The Okanagan Valley is a year-round destination. Spring and Fall bring mild temperatures and are ideal for outdoor exploration. Spring decorates the Valley with blossoms, while Fall hosts many Harvest Festivals. Summer is filled with long, sun-drenched days, averaging 30°C, perfect for water activities, beach outings, and sipping wine on a shaded patio. During the winter temperatures hover around freezing. Snow is not uncommon. Winter sports enthusiasts will enjoy the range of activities available while others will enjoy cozy winery experiences and luxurious spas.


BC Okanagan Road Trip Route

From Vancouver, you'll follow Highway 1 (the TransCanada Highway) through the Fraser Valley to Hope, BC. If you've got a bit more time to meander, check out the Fraser Valley Loop Road Trip post for some things you might want to do between Vancouver and Hope.


Once in Hope, you have two choices. Option One will follow Highway 3 east (The Crows Nest Highway) to the town of Osoyoos where you'll join Highway 97 (The Okanagan Highway) at its southern point. For ideas of places of interest between Hope and Osoyoos, check out the BC Boundary Country Road Trip Itinerary This route will return to Vancouver using Highway 5

a map marked with all the stops listed in this post

Option Two follows Highway 5 (The Coquihalla Highway) north to the city of Kamloops, where you'll join Highway 97 to begin the route from Vernon and return to Vancouver via Highway 3.


Both options will take you to all the same places as this route is designed to loop from Hope, so it is up to you. Plan a minimum of 3-4 days but I suggest you stretch it out to better experience all that the Okanagan Valley offers.


The BC Okanagan Road Trip Communities

The Okanagan Highway only takes about 2.5 hours to drive between Osoyoos and Vernon at each end. The widest selection of accommodations will be found in the larger communities of Osoyoos, Penticton, Kelowna, and Vernon but each community and the areas between will have vacation rentals as well as provincial and private campgrounds. Those travellers with less time might want to choose one central location as a base for exploring the rest of the Valley on day trips.

a display of fresh plums aand peaches
image credit: Go to Van - flickr

Small grower-operated fruit stands are common throughout the valley. These stands are more than just fruit, you are likely to find artisan foods and crafts also. The fresh-picked flavours will excite your taste buds and make you vow to never buy fruit at the supermarket again.


Osoyoos

At the southern end of the Okanagan (BC97) Highway, right next to the Canada-U.S. border, is the quiet lakeside town of Osoyoos (oh-SOY-yoos). This part of the Okanagan Valley has a unique microclimate as a part of Canada's only desert. Prepare to be surrounded by bare dusty hills, neatly planted orchards, and rows upon rows of sun-soaked grape vines. Beach lovers, hikers, boaters, and anyone who enjoys craft beverages will find many reasons to linger.

lake front beeach with pople on chairs under beach umbrellas in the shade of trees.
Osoyoos

Things to Do

Osoyoos is a beach town so grab an inflatable tube or raft (sold everywhere) and head to one of the many beaches. (Pro tip: consider adding an air pump to your purchase.) There are several places where visitors can rent a kayak, paddleboard, or boat to get out onto the water.


The Nk'mip (in-KAH-meep) Desert Cultural Centre is a treat. You'll learn about the desert environment and the local indigenous connections to the land. Nearby is the Nk'mip Cellars where visitors can wines produced by the first indigenous-owned winery in North America.


a metal sculpture depicting a First nations warrior on a horse.
Nk'mip Desert Cultural Centre

For details about other activities in the area, refer to the Osoyoos: BC's Desert Oasis post.


Places to Stay Visitors will find that Osoyoos has a wide range of accommodations from beautiful resorts and comfortable vacation apartments to self-catered cabanas and campgrounds. Read the reviews on your favourite booking site carefully. The Okanagan Valley is very popular so booking in advance is recommended. Having said that, during my van life road trips, I never book ahead and have always found something suitable for my needs.

Spirit Ridge is a popular resort featuring vineyard and lake views with a heated outdoor pool, hot tub and a well-reviewed restaurant.


Lakeview Motel and Suites is a highly rated mid-range option, close to the beach

Nk'mip Campgrounds is a fully serviced campground located beside the lake with RV and tenting sites.


Brookvale Holiday Resort is a comfortable family-oriented campground with RV sites and self-catered cabanas, located on the quieter eastern side of the lake.

Oliver/Okanagan Falls

The charming town of Oliver has claimed the title of "Wine Capital of Canada". Tucked beneath the majestic McIntyre Bluff, this picturesque town is home to over 30 wineries -- many have earned international awards.

A vineyard, winery overlooking a valley with hills in the background
Okanagan Falls

Okanagan Falls, north of Oliver, is also proud of its reputation for wines but its location on Skaha Lake also appeals to visitors looking for outdoor adventures.


Things to Do

There are many excellent wineries. Use Oliver's Wineries List to select which you want to visit. Consider using the OK Wine Shuttle or join a tour to safely visit multiple wineries. My personal favourites are the Platinum Bench Estate Winery (tastings include homemade bread and cheese) and the Burrowing Owl Estate Winery (the wine is good, and the vineyards and grounds are even better). Another option is the District Wine Village with 13 wineries, a brewery, and a distillery.


a close up of a glass of blush wine

Vaseux Lake, between Oliver and Okanagan Falls, is a picturesque stop for a picnic, paddle or swim. I enjoy the migratory bird sanctuary area, on the other side of a short boardwalk, at the northern end of the lake.

A wooden sign post for the Vaseux wildlife Centre

Science and space nerds will be thrilled to take a tour of the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory. Tours of the telescopes run from March through the summer.

a large radio telescope outside aa brick building.
Dominion Observatory

The White Lake Grasslands Protected Area has multiple trails for hikers. Be aware of the scorching summer heat and plan hikes for the mornings to take advantage of the cooler temperatures. Be sure to take plenty of water and wear a hat. There is little to no shade on these unmarked trails.

a small pond of water in a rocky gully
Peach Cliff Trail

My favourite hike is the Peach Cliff Hike, near Okanagan Falls. It's a fairly short trail with gobsmacking panoramic views.

Penticton/Naramata

Penticton is the only Okanagan community with two lakes. It's particularly lively during the warmer months with visitors indulging in all kinds of water-based fun. It has also become known as an artsy community with many festivals and galleries. Look for the large Penticton Peach that celebrates the town's orchards.

Looking down on the city across vineyards with a large mountain in the background
Penticton

Foodies will be delighted by dishes featuring fresh local ingredients served from food trucks, pubs, restaurants, wineries, distilleries and breweries.


Naramata, on the east side of Okanagan Lake, is a quieter community with another unique wine area. The Kettle Valley Trail that winds through this area attracts hikers and cyclists.


Things to Do

Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park has hundreds of climbing routes and challenging hiking trails for the adventurous traveller. Hikers can also join the Kettle Valley Rail Trail at Vancouver Hill.

a low perspective of the deck of a wooden trestle bridge.
Kettle Valley Rail Trail

SS Sicamous Museum and Heritage Park features an old sternwheeler permanently docked on the beach. Sternwheelers were used extensively on these lakes to carry passengers and cargo in days long past.

An early 20th century strn wheeler beached on the  edge of the sand
SS Sicamous

The absolute best summertime activity is The Channel Float where you lazily float along the 7km channel between the lakes. If you own a floatie, there is no charge. If you don't have your own, rentals are available and arrangements can be made to transport you back to your starting point. This is a very popular activity and the channel can get quite crowded.

viw from a floating chair in a channel: Many other float chairs can be een in front.
Floating my afternoon away

Penticton is known for its craft beverages including 8 breweries, 2 cideries, and 2 distilleries. Search your favourite tour sites (I like Viatour) to find a Naramata Bench Wine tour.


Regular readers know that I love cheese. I recommend visiting Poplar Grove Cheese at the Lock & Worth Winery to enjoy some locally-made cheeses to accompany your wine tasting. I have yet to walk away without purchasing multiple types. I enjoy the soft Bench Blanc and the Harvest Moon cheeses.

a person holding aa wooden cheese tray with the words "Poplar Grove Cheese". 2 types of wrapped cheese are on the tray y"
imag credit: Poplaar Grove Cheese

Places to Stay

The Penticton Lakeside Resort is one of the best-known resorts in the area with impressive views, an on-site Wine Experience, and a location right on the waterfront.


The Inn at Therapy Vineyards combines a winery and luxury suites. This is a great choice for those looking for a quiet and pampered stay.

a view aalong a laake  beach lind with trees. On the other side of the lake are mounains.
Okanagan Lake Provincial Park

Campers have plenty of choices with multiple private and provincial campgrounds in the area. Some of the private ones are very luxurious with every amenity and service you could imagine (with prices to match). On the other end of the spectrum is the Arawana Free Campsite, a user-maintained spot found on a forestry service road on the Naramta side of the lake.


Summerland/Peachland

Peachland and Summerland are small lakefront communities that continue the beach life, orchards and wineries theme. Peachland's Peach Orchard Park is home to one of the oldest orchards in the Valley. In Summerland, the "land of sun and wine". the historic downtown has cafes, restaurants, and boutique shops with artisan wares.

The moon rising over black hills at dusk
Moonrise in Peachland


Things to Do

The Summerland Ornamental Gardens are a lovely place to enjoy a picnic and learn about the drought-resilient plants that thrive in this environment.

 

Hardy Falls Regional Park includes an easy flat trail that leads through a canyon to the falls.


Cideries are tops in Summerland and you have a choice of should travel along Bottleneck Drive to choose a craft cider tasting room. My favourite is Summerland Heritage Cider Co. I'm particularly fond of the plum and raspberry blends.

a flight of four ciders in rounded glasses on a table with a blurred landscape
image credit: Bottleneck Drive

To taste sparkling wine, check out the 8th Generation Vineyard with sparkling white and rose wines plus a full range of still wines.


In Summerland, you can slide back in time to ride a steam train along the last working section of the Kettle Valley Railway. The 16km journey winds through orchards and wineries and crosses the Trout Creek Trestle Bridge.

the front of a steam train with a trestle bride in the background.

If you have a kayak, consider paddling from Peachland to Rattlesnake Island. This tiny island has a dramatic history that included a hostage-taking at the Canadian Embassy in Beirut (read more about it here). Rattlesnake Island is also rumoured to be the home of the lake creature Ogopogo -- British Columbia's version of the Loch Ness-style monster.


Kelowna

The city of Kelowna is the largest community on this route and blends both the bustling urban city and maintains its small-town feeling with the farms, orchards, and vineyards close by. I prefer to find accommodations outside of the city but urbanites will enjoy the services and choices that come with an urban environment. When driving, try to avoid the commuter hours as traffic can come to a complete stall along the main highway.

A view of the city from the water. A mina full of boats is in front of many high rise buildings with a mountain in the background.
image credit: Jeffry Eisen - unsplash

Things to Do

Check out the Kelowna Art Gallery for historical and contemporary art.


Do a craft beer crawl of the downtown breweries. Look for the locations and descriptions on the city's website.


My favourite trail walk in the area is the Myra Canyon Trestle Trail, part of the Kettle Valley Rail Trail. it includes tunnels and several trestle bridge crossings. This is a moderately challenging, flat, 25 km trail that will take most of the day to complete. Plan to start early.

a woodn pedestrian trestle bridge leading into a tunnel
Myrra Canyon Trail

For a beach experience, Rotary Park Beach is usually one of the quieter beaches in the area.


Places to Stay

Hotel Zed Kelowna proudly boasts of its funky style and amenities. They provide free bikes and have roller skates available for rent. It is located downtown and is within walking distance to everything. The rooftop patio is the perfect place to enjoy one of those adult beverages you picked up on a winery or craft beer tour.


For those looking for a more luxurious experience, The Royal Kelowna is an upscale resort with hot tubs and a rooftop infinity pool.


Campgrounds are further out of town and tend to be more expensive. I usually prefer a more basic site in a less urban environment and am more likely to choose to plan my overnight stays elsewhere in the Valley.


Vernon

Vernon is my favourite Okanagan community with lots of outdoor activities and an artsy vibe without feeling too urban. It attracts visitors throughout the year with fabulous summer and winter activities.

3 painted Adirondack style chairs on a pedestrian plaza. multiple picnic tablles with awning and other conversation areas can be seen in the background..
The quiet before "Plaza Day" begins.
Things to Do

The stunning Kalamalka Lake in Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park will mesmerize you with its brilliant colour. Limestone deposits left by glaciers turn the water into a brilliant turquoise-green colour during the summer months. There are plenty of trails around the lake so you can find your perfect viewing spot!

A brillliant turquoise green lake surrounded by barren rocky hills
Kalamalka Lake

After all the wineries, cideries, breweries, and distilleries, the Honeymoon Meadery is a change of pace and taste with its hand-crafted honey wine.


A winter highlight is the Vernon Winter Carnival which runs for a week in early February. The festival includes ice sculptures, parades, and many events. Check out their web page for details.


The O'Keefe Ranch is a living museum with heritage buildings and interactive exhibits and experiences that focus on ranching history in the Valley. It is open daily for visitors from May to August, on weekends in September and October, and on select days in December.

a small wood cabin with a porch ad white railings. planters re hnnging from the porch.sign above the door says 'General Store'
O'Keefe General Store

The Silver Star Mountain Resort is a ski hill during the winter and is used for hiking and mountain biking during the summer.

Places to Stay

Pamper yourself with a stay at the amazing Sparkling Hill Resort. This is an adults-only spa resort that overlooks Okanagan Lake. It is pricey but those visitors with a healthy budget and a love for being pampered will find the services to be worth the fee.


The Days Inn is a comfortable budget option for travellers looking for clean basic rooms.


For camping options, check out the city's RV and Campground webpage to see all the options available in the area. Most are located further away from the town.

Return to Vancouver or Extend Your Road Trip

Once you have travelled the length of the Okanagan Highway, it's time to return to Vancouver or extend your road trip into other areas of BC. If returning to Vancouver from Osoyoos follow Highway 3 (The Crow's Nest Highway back to Hope and then Highway 1 (TransCanada Highway) back into the city. Scroll back for links to the Boundary Country and Fraser Valley Loop Road Trip itineraries for interesting stops along the way. If you want to explore more of BC, head east on Highway 3 for further explorations in Boundary Country. If returning to Vancouver from Vernon, take Highway 97 west to Kamloops to join Highway 5 (The Coquihalla Highway) back to Hope before connecting to Highway 1 through the Fraser Valley and back to the city. Alternatively, if you have more time, you might want to head into the Shuswap region for more lakes, wineries, and fun. Below is a map of the road trips currently published. There are more coming, so subscribe to make sure you don't miss any future posts.


Final Thoughts

This road trip has taken you through the stunning Okanagan Valley and has shared only a small portion of the highlights along the way. There is much to explore from the warmth of the communities, local cuisine, festivals, trails, and incredible adventures. Feel free to reach out with questions, I'm here to help.


If you are enjoying the content and would like to be kept up to date with new posts become a member/subscribe (it's free!) and follow along on the RamblynJazz Facebook page, Facebook Group, Twitter, and Instagram. You can help the blog to grow by sharing the link with a travelling friend or through social media. I truly appreciate your comments and encourage you to share your thoughts below.


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