One of our favourite things about living in Penticton is the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) Trail that passes approximately 500 metres away from our home. The KVR is an abandoned railway line that was built in 1915 and ran between Midway to Merritt in British Columbia, Canada. Since the 1990s, it has been a multi-use (cycling, hiking, horse riding) trail, taking users around the mountains, vineyards and lakes of the beautiful Okanagan Valley. It is part of the almost-finished Trans Canada Trail.
The full length of the trail is 600km but the majority of visitors are on short day hiking trips and bike rides, taking advantage of the easy grade (less than 2.2% the whole way) and great accessibility. We’ve spent many a weekend afternoon exploring the trail, during every season of the year. The 8km section from Vancouver Hill to the McCullough trestle is our favourite local walk to take visitors on – it helps that the start is a short distance from our house and there are a couple of wineries that can be included in the trip.
Railway to riches
The KVR was primarily built to serve mining interests in BC’s Southern Interior region. Canada’s Transcontinental Railway was completed in 1885 but proved to be located too far north to assist with the transportation of goods in the western Kootenay and southern Okanagan region. Being a border region, officials in the area were also concerned about American miners flooding the area and taking control. A railway was decided to be the key to maintaining Canadian sovereignty and providing economic prosperity.
Not only used for transporting ore, fruit and other goods from the Okanagan and Kootenays, the KVR had passenger trains too. It was also a back-up train of sorts for the northern Transcontinental line when avalanches and rock slides caused closures. Taking twenty years to complete, the KVR was not in service very long. Portions of the railway began to be discontinued from the early 1960s.
A trail for all the seasons
One of our most memorable walks on the KVR was in January, when there was still some snow on the ground. Penticton winters aren’t particularly cold, so it was a pleasant trip along the top of the clay cliffs. We didn’t see a single person on the trip, which is quite a difference compared to the spring when the route is full of families, dog walkers and lycra-clad cyclists. The surrounding vineyards and orchards however were full of birds, chirping while they feasted on leftover grapes and apples. It certainly didn’t feel like a cold and bleak January day with all that noise around us.
Through the tunnel
Another day, we ventured out to the Smethurst Road parking lot in Naramata and walked the 8km trip to the KVR’s ‘Little’ Tunnel. This is a really lovely section with outstanding views of the valley and the very blue Okanagan Lake below. The Tunnel itself is only about 100 metres in length, but it still is a step back in time; the ceiling is black with soot from the steam engines and the blocky walls look like they were blasted yesterday. There is a detour from the Little Tunnel section where it is possible to see rock ovens that were built by the KVR workers so they could bake bread during construction.
The KVR had a huge influence on the development of the southern Okanagan area – it now offers some of the best views around as well as an easy gateway to the past. We love having such great accessibility to incredible scenery, tunnels, trestles, wineries and more – the KVR connects all of the best of Penticton and more.