Okanagan Lake is big. Around 135km long to be precise. It’s also the most local lake in our new home of Penticton, BC. So local that is basically across the street from our home. You can see why it made sense for our first camping trip in the Okanagan to be exploring our new neighbour lake. We weren’t planning to canoe the whole thing though, just around 25km to reach Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park.
A 7am departure
Being so enormous, Okanagan Lake is also subject to strong winds. These create large waves, which can be dangerous to small craft like canoes and kayaks. Sometimes even to boats. Waking up at 5.30am, we managed to launch around 7am from Okanagan Lake Beach. It was a beautiful day (as almost always during Penticton summers!) but there was already some small waves. Things calmed down the further we paddled, becoming very still around 8km in.
So close yet so far
Within only a few hours we had paddled past the 25 or so vineyards on the Naramata Bench and were approaching the Mountain Park. Everything was seemingly calm. Then disaster! Around 4km from the border of the park, we hit some serious waves. Being pretty loaded up with food and drinks (plus other luxuries such as chairs and a ukulele) for my birthday weekend, we pulled off to wait it out.
Chilling out on a little peninsula for the next four hours was not so bad, but it was frustrating being so close to our destination and unable to reach it. The weather just seemed to be getting worse, with heavy clouds coming in from the north. Following food, a nap and lots of reading, we decided to just go for it. Despite the journey being a little scary at times (mostly for me, JR is very cool about these kind of things), we finally made it to the first campsite in the park at 5pm.
Van Hyce beach wasn’t even technically our destination. I had hoped to reach one of the other free marine campsites further along the coast, one of the handful that have trails into the interior of the park. While there was sadly no trail leading from our campsite, we did have a lovely beach and pretty awesome views in exchange. It was much better than being stuck on the peninsula we had just left!
The wind was still blowing pretty hard when we got off the lake. Thinking that the hardest part of the trip was over, we set up our camping gear and got out the wine. The wind had other ideas. Within half an hour of landing, we had gales of what must have been 30-40km/h surrounding us. Our tarp went down, our tent threatened to fly away and my FULL wine glass fell over. It was a travesty!
Wondering what the heck we had let ourselves in for, there was a lot of relief when things started to calm down a bit again. I let go of the tent, refilled my glass and used the picnic bench as a windbreaker. We went to bed in the wind and woke up in the wind…I don’t think I’ve ever been so windswept in my life! It was a different sort of birthday, but still full of wine, sunbathing, swimming (FREEZING!) and exploring! Oh, and windbreaker creation. Turns out that the canoe is pretty good for that, in combination with a tarp.
There was also plenty of phone signal, which felt very strange for us! We’re usually always off the grid for our birthday camping trips.
A unusual weekend
In the 38 hours we were at Van Hyce, three or four boats passed us. For Okanagan Lake, that is very unusual. It’s a extremely busy lake for day tourists. That’s how we knew the winds must have been bad. When the gales were at their highest, we actually saw a 30 foot sailboat almost capsize. It was a good thing for us though (the lack of boats, not the sailboat incident!) since less vessels on the water meant less wake to deal with.
Despite having a great time on my birthday, we were a little nervous about paddling back. Again, we tried the early morning paddling thing again. The waves were still reasonably big, but the wind was at least on our side this time. It took around four hours to paddle the 25km back to Penticton (compared to 5 on the way up, against the wind) and it was quite satisfying to land on the beach, portage the 600m home and be done by 2pm.
A good, but challenging-at-times trip!