Travelling south of Penticton to Osoyoos and it’s hard to miss the sheer drop off that is McIntyre Bluff on the right hand side of the highway. Named after “Uncle Pete” McIntyre who lived at the base, the striking cliff rises 300 metres above the road and nearby Vaseux Lake. The hike to the summit of the Bluff provides awesome panoramic views of vineyards, orchards and arid lands. Our July visit to the viewpoint was a perfect representation of the crazy Canadian desert we are lucky enough to live in, not only due to the vista from the top but also the hot and dry conditions we hiked through to get there.
Through the vineyards
The trail starts as I think more hikes should do in this region….at a winery. Though the majority of the trail is on crown/provincial park land, the easiest access point is at Covert Farms just north of Oliver. It’s a family estate with a history dating back to the 1950’s. Covert Farms have kindly put aside parking for hikers in addition to trailhead signage and a brochure map. The trail starts just beside the wine tasting room and then along Covert Farms’ gigantic vineyards. Less than a kilometre later and the true hike (and elevation too) begins.
The ascent is dusty and exposed, but the trail is clearly worn with a handful of direction signs every 500m or so. We didn’t see any rattlesnakes but I’m quite sure they were out there somewhere. What did we see however was Rattlesnake Lake, a murky pond around 2.5km in. It was at this point the trail forked east and headed directly up to the summit of the Bluff. There was a small amount of shade here alongside some beautiful wildflowers. Despite being only a few kilometres from the highway, it was remarkably quiet in this area. Just goes to show you really don’t have to go too far to get a sense of peace and quiet, even during summer in the busy Okanagan Valley.
A desert spectacle
Towards the end of a long gradual ascent, the views start to appear. Vineyards stretch from one side of the valley to the other, with the highway almost the only interruption. We were able to see wonderfully turquoise Gallagher Lake for the first time ever, being that is a resort lake and cleverly hidden from the highway. Vaseux Lake, our favourite in the area, just peeks around the Bluff from the other direction. With only a couple of Inukshuks for company, we had the views from the top all to ourselves. A perfect morning hike!
The hike to the top of McIntyre Bluff is an easy 7km return trip taking around 2-3.5 hours. I say easy, but I will note that the trail, in general, is a continual ascent with some short steep sections. What does make this hike difficult though is the sun exposure – there is little to no shade so be sure to bring plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat in the summer. We ran out of water on our way down which was no fun at all in 33c heat. I would also recommend starting as early as possible in the day before the heat truly sets in.
Covert Farms is located a short 10-minute drive north of Oliver, 15 minutes south of Okanagan Falls. The turnoff (Secrest Hill Road) is cleared signed posted from Highway 97. Follow Secret Hill Road for 1.5km before turning right onto Covert Place. Continue on the main road (ignoring the turnoff to the Freestyle Ski ramp) before parking opposite the winery building in the allocated Bluff hiking parking.
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