Though there may be other Provincial Parks in British Columbia that are closer, Okanagan Mountain Park is the one we can see out of our windows every day. In the spring, we see the snow melt and the distant greens brighten. During summer, the ground gets browner and browner as the sun scratches the earth. In autumn, we look for the first snowfall on the hills to warn us that winter is on the way.
While we look over at Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park often, we seldom go and visit. In two years, we have only been three times. The reason? It’s the other side of a huge lake, with winds and waves that can feel like battling an ocean storm. On a nice day though, it’s one of the nicest places to be in the southern Okanagan of BC. I was recently reminded that I didn’t write about our second visit, to Commando Bay last year. So here is the story.
return to Okanagan mountain park
Long days of paddling and high winds were the main features of our first trip to Okanagan Mountain Park a few summers ago. That time, we chose to launch from the Okanagan Lake beach (near the Sicamous) which meant 25km of paddling just to reach the park boundary. With the winds pretty up fast around lunchtime, we had to call it quits and camp at the first place possible – Van Hyce Beach.
Fast forward another year and we decided to try again. This time, it would be easier. Feeling like we were cheating a little, we launched from the small community just north of Naramata. I’m still not sure of the name, but it’s the last place to access the lake before Chute Lake Road heads into the hills. This time, our journey to Okanagan Mountain Park was only a few kilometres.
Being able to paddle into the park so quickly and easily gave us a much better choice of places to stop for the night (and time for some cliff climbing on the way!) Our aim was to stay at one of the three marine sites below Squally Point. The marine sites of Goode’s Creek, Commando Bay and Buchan Bay all have hiking trail access to each other and the rest of the park. We thought any of these would make for a great overnight base.
After a slow float-by to check out Goode’s Creek (a bit too woody for us), we paddled on to the next site. As soon as we saw the long sweep of Commando Bay and absolutely no-one else around, we knew it was the site for us. A flat spot in the trees behind the beach was an ideal sheltered spot for our tent. The views from the Commando Bay look straight out across the water to vineyards, a campground and Highway 97. Thankfully, the road is far enough away to barely hear or see it.
Some unexpected history
Though the name Commando Bay did strike me as an unusual name at the time, I didn’t realise how literal it actually was. As it turns out, Chinese-Canadians were trained here in for guerilla warfare during WWII. With Commando Bay being such a beautiful quiet place today, it’s almost difficult to believe. Okanagan Mountain Park certainly has some unexpectedly interesting history, as also seen on Rattlesnake Island a little further north.
Hiking Okanagan Mountain Park
As mentioned, Commando Bay has hiking access to other marine campsites as well as the main Okanagan Mountain Park trails. After a night of campfire cooking and stargazing (they are super bright here!), we took the trails to see the park from a different perspective.
The landscape in this area is incredibly different to many areas of BC. For one thing, it is very, very dry and barren. The trail was dusty and dried out, something we felt too after an hour or so or walking. There aren’t many trees for shade either.
The small trees that did once stand here were unfortunately burned in a huge wildfire back in 2003. It is still possible to see blackened branches and stumps. After a few hot kilometres of ups and downs (plus some stepping over dead trees), we were quite happy to return to our lakeside campsite. Okanagan Mountain Park wouldn’t be my next choice for a hiking trip but I can see how the unusual landscape (and lake views) could be an appealing draw to some.
Leaving Commando Bay
Returning to camp, we realised that we had been joined at Commando Bay by a boat. Our visitors told us that this campsite was their favourite of all the Okanagan Mountain Park options. Well, I can see why! Waving them adieu as we paddled out of the bay, we had an easy trip back to our launch site.
Commando Bay, Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park: The details
- Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park borders part of the eastern side of Okanagan Lake in British Columbia’s interior region. The lakeside section mentioned in this post is most easily accessed by boat, kayak or canoe
- The backcountry overnight marine fee for Commando Bay is listed at $13/per party or vessel. Having said this, there is no drop box for money at the site. I would assume that a daily visit by parks staff is unlikely, even in summer due to the remote access
- There are outhouses and picnic tables at all of the marine campsites in Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park. The recommendation on the BC Parks website is two tents maximum per campsite. There are no tent pads.
- I would highly recommend launching from Naramata or the lakeside community just north of town for quicker and safer access. Alternatively, you could also paddle across from Peachland or Summerland but the crossing can be tricky if the winds pick up
Outdoor gear we use and love (2018):
Tent: MSR Freelite 2.
Other: ENO Doublenest hammock
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