The Okanagan Valley is hard to beat for a lazy summer road trip. The views are epic, distances are short (it’s only 170km from Osoyoos to Vernon), the local produce plentiful, the weather wonderfully warm. Plus, there’s a lake everywhere you look. With surroundings as beautiful as this, you can’t really go wrong whatever you do on an Okanagan Valley road trip. Having said that, some of my favourite places are slightly off the beaten track and so are so often overlooked. Here’s just a taste of some underrated gems, travelling north from Osoyoos to Vernon on an Okanagan Valley road trip.
osoyoos and more
The town of Osoyoos is the perfect introduction to the Okanagan Valley. Hot, dry and yet also wildly abundant with local produce, this is the Canada that overseas visitors never imagine. The warm waters of Osoyoos Lake are enticing, no matter whether you like swimming, floating, sunbathing, paddling or boating.
Shake things up with a trip to Spotted Lake (A), an unusual natural formation just off Highway 3A. Dozens of small mineral rich coloured pools remain after the lake water evaporates in summer. For views, head the other direction to Anarchist Mountain (B) – this steep, winding section of the highway offers the best panoramas of the town. If you want to get higher, check out nearby Mt Baldy for alpine hiking.
Oliver and around
Fiercely hot in summer, the area between Osoyoos and Oliver produces the best red wines the Okanagan Valley (perhaps Canada?) has to offer. If you like your reds, take a detour on your Okanagan Valley road trip and turn off Highway 97 onto Black Sage Road. Meander between the many wineries found on this parallel drive but don’t miss Platinum Bench Estate Winery; wine tastings here are offered with samples of home made bread and cheese.
For those feeling more active, an essential place to visit McIntyre Bluff (C) between Oliver and Okanagan Falls. The four-hour return hike to the summit provides awesome panoramic views of vineyards, orchards and arid lands. A glimpse of pretty Vaseux Lake (D, another worthwhile stop on any Okanagan Valley road trip) can be seen to the north. Head out on the trail early in summer, with lots of water and sunscreen!
the best of penticton
I may be more than a little biased, but Penticton is the perfect place to base your Okanagan road trip. Yes, Kelowna is bigger, but Penticton has that small town charm and easy accessibility that Kelowna simply does not have.
My top things to do in Penticton include the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market, walking the KVR trail (E), walking wine touring on Naramata Bench, floating the channel, hiking or climbing in Skaha Bluffs and downtown brewery hopping. And of course, with Penticton being one of the few towns in the world located between two lakes, there are plenty of wonderful local beaches for swimming and chilling.
Summerland and Peachland
Summerland, just to the north of Penticton, should be your top destination if you like cider. There are no less than three local craft cider companies with tasting rooms here, nestled between yet more wineries and a brewery. Stretch your legs on Giant’s Head Mountain (F), the hike is breathtaking in more ways than one (…it’s uphill all the way)
Lying directly opposite from Peachland is tiny Rattlesnake Island (G), a place with a surprisingly dramatic history. Simply too interesting to summarise here, paddle the short distance over to the island or check out the full history in my Rattlesnake Island post.
The city of Kelowna is a place of contrasts. The commercial side is undoubtedly busy and bustling as you would expect, yet farms, orchards and vineyards (and beautiful beaches too!) lie only a ten-minute drive away. Check out East Kelowna Cider Co, run by one of Kelowna’s oldest farming families.
To the east of the city, Bertram Creek Regional Park (H) is a great place to have a picnic, especially after a trip to nearby Carmeli’s Goat Cheese Shop just up the road. Also on this side of town are the most excellent Myra Canyon trestles (I). These intricate wooden bridges provide a walking or biking experience like no other.
The whole of the Okanagan Valley is true lake country, but Vernon may be positioned on the most beautiful of them all. The stunning Kalamalka Lake turns an emerald green colour every year due to limestone deposits left by glaciers. Be sure to check out the views from the Kal Lake Lookout before heading into the city.
Vernon is home to a few other unique Okanagan attractions. Just to the west of downtown, Honeymoon Meadery breaks the local winery trend and produces hand crafted honey wine. Another one-of-a-kind is Starlight Drive In (J), one of BC’s three last remaining drive in movie theatres. Watching a movie under the stars has to be the perfect end to an Okanagan Valley road trip.