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OffTrackTravel’s Best Adventures in 2020

Well. What a year.

I’m going to be completely upfront and honest about it – writing this post felt strange. A little awkward even. I’ve been doing annual round-ups like this for years and I still wanted to do one this year. However, I am very aware of my privilege.

While 2020 wasn’t what we imagined, JR and I feel exceptionally grateful for the year we had. We are both healthy (our families too) and live in a relatively unaffected region of British Columbia, Canada. Most of BC was lucky to escape the first wave in the spring. Up until November, there had been less than five total cases in our local area.

Looking out from an elevated viewpoint with a bench in front, looking down to a lake and the town of Penticton bordered by mountains
Our beautiful town (Penticton) from the Munson Mountain viewpoint

For this reason, we were able to travel in our immediate area in relative safety from May to early October. Of course, we followed all government recommendations to keep us and other people as safe as possible. Being outdoors is considered to be low risk so that is exactly where we spent our time! And 99% of the time, we were completely alone.

I feel exceptionally fortunate to have been able to experience (and share) the following local places in this year round-up.

Walking the Isle of Wight Coastal Path

The start of 2020 found us in the UK, where we were visiting my family for Christmas. Our first big adventure of the year was the 112km Isle of Wight Coastal Path in the UK. The second time we’ve done a long distance hike in winter, I love being able to get in a good walk while most of Canada is frozen!

Although many people would assume that hiking in the UK in January would be pretty miserable, we’ve always been pretty lucky. And I say that even with a major storm hitting the Isle of Wight halfway during this hike!

The Coastal Path encircles the Isle of Wight completely, and, as the name implies, stays pretty close to the water for the most part. Think dramatic chalk cliffs, picture-perfect coastal villages, beautiful stretches of golden sand and more! We really enjoyed the experience.

Elevated view looking down on grassy path along cliffs, with ocean rolling in behind. There is a hiker in red in the distance, seen to the right of the photo
Walking the Isle of Wight Costal Path – that’s me in the red! (January 2020)

Paris and London

After our walk around the Isle of Wight, it was time for a longer trip across the Channel – this time to Paris! Looking back now, I’m so pleased we took the chance to do it when we did. The airline we flew with actually went into administration about six weeks later.

The primary purpose of the trip was to visit one of JR’s oldest friends who lives on the outskirts of Paris. As well as enjoying plenty of cheese and wine, we also went into the city centre for a day.

It was beautifully sunny so we just walked down the Seine from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower via the Louvre and a bakery or two. Simple pleasures!

To get back to the UK, we took the Eurostar for the first time. It was as convenient as I hoped! We stayed in London for one night and took in one of the most uplifting musicals around (Come from Away).

View looking towards Eiffel Tower in Paris on sunny day, with gardens in front
Paris (January 2020)

The end of full time travel

At the end of January, we flew back to Canada and straight to our new home in Penticton, British Columbia. This marked the end of 2+ years of full time travel for us – I won’t go into too much detail as I wrote a full post about it here.

As it turned out, the timing of our ‘end’ couldn’t have been better. Long term travel has a multitude of challenges (alongside many benefits) but I did not factor a pandemic being one of them!

We were very happy to have a home when everything kicked off in mid March. For one thing, staying at home was much more of a novelty to us after so much movement over the last few years.

Dirt trail leading through vineyards, with views of lake and hills in the background
The Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) Trail is one of our favourites in Penticton

Okanagan exploration

JR and I have always been big advocates of local travel but 2020 took this to another level! Spring and autumn were all about finding the best outdoor adventures close to our home base in Penticton.

And we found plenty! We hiked more than a dozen new (to us) hiking trails, many of which feature in this Penticton hiking post. One of the highlights was the G-Spot Trail, only 10 minutes drive from our home!

When the provincial parks opened again in June, we headed to our closest, Okanagan Mountain Park, for two separate multi-day adventures. First, a paddling trip along the shore of Okanagan Lake and then an overnight hike into the interior of the Park.

As the summer continued, we extended our local explorations to Oliver, Osoyoos, Summerland, Peachland and Vernon. The latter was a particularly enlightening experience as we’d only really driven through before!

Gemma is hiking towards the camera on a mountain with views of a lake and urban areas behind
Hiking to Divide Lake in Okanagan Mountain Park – so local that we could almost see our home from here! (June 2020)

Yoho National Park

When we returned to Canada in late January, our only commitment was a three night mid July trip to Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park (BC). For a while it looked like it may not happen, but thankfully, Parks Canada gave the go ahead in June.

Our experience was, however, a little different than previous years, with Lake O’Hara (where visitation is already extremely restricted) almost completely devoid of people. While colder than anticipated, Lake O’Hara was magnificent. And the perfect social distancing destination!

Yoho National Park played a central role in our adventures this summer. Neither of us had visited before, despite driving through so many times. As well as Lake O’Hara, we also checked out Emerald Lake, the Natural Bridge, Wapta Falls, the Iceline Trail, Takakkaw Falls, the Whaleback Trail, the Burgess Shale and more!

Looking down to a subalpine tree plateau dotted with small lakes, surrounded by snowy mountains
It’s really hard to narrow down my favourite Lake O’Hara photos…this is definitely in the top 5! (July 2020)

More National Parks

Yoho wasn’t the only National Park we spent time in this year. We returned to Mount Revelstoke National Park (BC) to hike to Jade Pass and camp beside tranquil Eva Lake.

Just over the provincial border, we visited Banff National Park. As well as climbing a mountain with the help of a Via Ferrata, we explored below the ground in Canmore too and stayed in a beautiful riverside lodge.

While not a national park, I also wanted to mention E.C. Manning Provincial Park. Seeing the Frosty Mountain larches turn golden has been on my list for a long time and definitely lived up to expectations.

Gemma and JR standing together in front of the camera at the top of a mountain, with views of endless mountains and valleys behind
Here we are at the top of the amazing Mt Norquay Via Ferrata! (July 2020)

Off the beaten path adventure

As much as I love provincial and national parks, there’s something special about finding spectacular places beyond their boundaries. This year, I found some outstanding examples.

Monica Meadows, near Kaslo, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Wildflower filled meadows, delicate larch trees, pristine lakes and endless vistas of immense glaciers and the Purcell Mountains….it’s a pretty epic place to say the least! Nearby Jumbo Pass is almost as impressive (dedicated post coming in 2021).

We also discovered some great hiking trails in the Monashees near Cherryville. The route to Pinnacle Lake is as spectacular as it is muddy, featuring old growth trees, an impressive waterfall and a deep steep-walled glacier formed basin. Twin Lakes is equally beautiful but also less challenging (dedicated post also coming in 2021!)

View of Gemma sitting in front of turquoise coloured lake, surrounded by subalpine terrain and mountain
Twin Lakes near Cherryville (September 2020)

Looking to 2021

Thank you for supporting and following us this past year. I hope you, too, were able to get out and enjoy the outdoors safely in 2020.

2021 has got to be better right? I hope so! We have no plans besides spending time outdoors enjoying nature and exploring even more of the beautiful country we live in.

Gemma and JR selfie in front o meadow, surrounded by mountains and glaciers
Monica Meadows, BC (August 2020)

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