Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park is one of the best places to climb in Canada. 66 crags and over 1000 climbs can be found in three main canyons. Most climbs (around 65%) are sport routes but there are still opportunities for traditional climbing too.
The sheer variety and choice of routes in combination with the southern Okanagan’s warm climate make Skaha Bluffs a world-class climbing destination. I live 10km from Skaha’s entrance gate so it’s a place I like to think I know pretty well. Here’s everything you need to know.
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Skaha Bluffs essentials
- A guidebook – Skaha Climbing by Marc Bourdon (2018) or Skaha Rockclimbs by Howie Richardson (2013)
- A 60m or 70m rope. 60m is fine for the vast majority of climbs
- 10 Quickdraws for most sport routes. 15-20 for big cliffs
- A leash for your dog, to protect the many rare animals and plants at the Bluffs
- Plenty of water (personally I like to take my own water in a Hydroflask to keep it super cold all day)
- Toilet paper
- A donation for the Skaha Bluffs Park Watch Society who help prevent thefts from the parking lot
Guidebooks and climbing equipment (shoes, harnesses, gear and more) can be purchased at Eskala Mountain Sports on Front Street in downtown Penticton. Say to store owner Claudia for me – she’s a good friend!
If you arrive in town on a Sunday in the off season (the only day Eskala closes) and need a guidebook, head to the Book Shop.
Excellent lessons and programs are provided by Skaha Rock Adventures, owned by the immensely knowledgeable and enthusiastic Russ Turner. Small group climbing tours and intro to climb courses are also offered by Hoodoo Adventures.
How to get to Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park
Skaha Bluffs is located just south of Penticton, BC, Canada. Penticton is about a 4.5 hour drive from Vancouver.
Provincial Park entrance
The main access point into Skaha Bluffs is the Provincial Park entrance on Smythe Drive on the eastern side of Skaha Lake.
The turn into Smythe Drive is clearly signed on Eastside/Lakeside Road in both directions, though it is located on a bit of a tight corner so can come up fast. Follow Smythe Drive all the way to the end to reach the two parking lots.
The road becomes narrow and windy for the last kilometre so be sure to drive carefully and be prepared to make space for an approaching vehicle at any point. Parking is free. The only facilities are four outhouses. The gate opens at 7 am and closes at dusk.
There is an alternative route into the Bluffs via a residential area to the north of the park. Using this entrance cuts down substantially on hiking time to the northern climbing areas such as Kids Cliff.
Due to recent subdivision development in this area, access is more limited (at time of writing, early 2020). Be very careful to adhere to all signage to ensure that climbers can continue to access the Bluffs from the north.
When to climb at Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park
- It is usually possible to climb at Skaha from March to October. Some local climbers continue later and make an early start in February, but it depends on the harshness of the winter and how hardy you are!
- There is a BC Parks gate that prevents vehicle access to the parking lots in the winter months. The BC Parks page for Skaha Bluffs will provide updated details on when the gates officially open in the spring (usually March, but it is weather dependent)
- Climbers who want to access the park before the gate opens should park well away from the entrance and avoid blocking any driveways. The Painted Rock winery entrance often gets blocked by vehicles, which could endanger the future of the Bluffs so PLEASE BE CONSIDERATE.
- The most popular months to climb at Skaha are April, May and September when other Canadian climbing destinations are either too wet or too cold
- The long weekends of Easter, Victoria Day and Labour Day at the busiest times to visit the Bluffs. The two parking lots will be full, lineups for popular climbs are common and it’s just general pandemonium
- If you really can’t avoid visiting on these weekends, be sure to have patience, kindness and carpool where possible.
- On busy days, climbers often park on the narrow road leading to the Bluffs. This can be exceptionally dangerous, considering that an ambulance needs to be able to pass through in an emergency. Think before you park!
Helpful to know:
- After a dose of rain, the Bluffs tend to dry out pretty quick. There can be torrential rain in the morning yet it can still be a great climbing afternoon. Keep in mind that it’s usually a little bit warmer at the Bluffs than in Penticton during the climbing season.
- Climbing in summer IS possible! Start early or late and be sure to take lots of sunscreen and water. Eastern and southern walls will be sunny in the morning but shaded in the afternoon; choose your destination as appropriate. Fern Gully, near Doctor’s Wall, is a great option for summer climbing as it stays cool all day.
Climbing recommendations at Skaha
With so many walls and routes, there are a lot of options for all types of climbers in the Bluffs. Here is just a taster of some of the best sport areas:
Daycare, Upper Buttress, Red Tail, Go Anywhere, Grassy Glades
Kid’s Cliff, Fortress, Claim-it-all, Grassy Glades, Morning Glory
Experienced and Expert (5.11 and up)
Doctor’s, Great White, Fortress, Maternal
Good things to know about climbing at Skaha Bluffs
- Until 2009, climbers had to pay to park on a local farmer’s land and puff up dozens of steps. When the farmer decided to sell his property, local climbers (with the help of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, The Land Conservancy and MEC) successfully petitioned BC Parks to make Skaha Bluffs a Provincial Park. Access is a lot easier now!
- Six species of snakes can be found in the Bluffs, including the Western rattlesnake. More docile than its southern cousin, the Western rattlesnake is commonly seen moving between rocks or sunbathing. Leave them alone and they will usually leave you alone too!
- Russ Turner, of the aforementioned Skaha Rock Adventures, has been operating climbing lessons and programs in the Bluffs since 1993. He has created dozens and dozens of routes in his free time and was instrumental in ensuring continued access to the park. If you arrive at Red Tail one day to find it full of Russ’ climbing students, please be respectful. There are plenty of other great places to climb at Skaha!
Where to stay when visiting Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park
With Penticton being a resort town, there is plenty of choice of hotels, motels, B&Bs and Airbnbs.
My personal favourite area to stay in Penticton is the Okanagan Lake side, as the town’s downtown area is super walkable. Accommodation on the Skaha Lake side is generally cheaper however.
Valley Star Motel – Great value, short drive from the Bluffs
Apple Tree Inn – Cheap and central to everything in Penticton
Slumber Lodge – Lakefront accommodation on the Okanagan side
Skaha Bluffs camping options
Many climbers choose to camp or sleep in their vehicles while visiting Skaha Bluffs (if I didn’t live here, I probably would too!) Here are my top recommendations for places to camp around the area.
Banbury Green is most definitely the perennial favourite for visiting Skaha climbers. Located on the opposite side of Skaha Lake, Banbury Green offers waterside campsites and views of the Bluffs. Discounts for climbers are usually available in the spring (April/May). Reservations are recommended.
Lost Moose Campground offers unserviced, forested campsites about 25 minutes drive from Skaha Bluffs. There are cabins available too.
sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ (Okanagan Falls) Provincial Park is a 15-minute drive from the Bluffs. It offers the most ‘natural’ organised camping in the area. The park is open from late March until early October and has 25 sites.
A first come first serve system was used until 2017, but all sites can now be reserved during the busier season (mid-May to early September).
Skaha camping – free options
With Penticton being such a busy resort town, free camping options close to Skaha Bluffs are not plentiful. It is not possible to stay in the parking lot over night.
The best option is to drive east along Carmi Road (by the hospital), continue on as it becomes Beaver Dell Road and find somewhere to park off this gravel road. To ensure that that other people can do this for years to come, practice no trace principles and leave the area better than you found it (no campfires!)
Walmart apparently does not have an issue with overnight parking itself but the city bylaws apparently do not allow it. So parking there is at your own risk. A ticket may be issued.
Real Canadian Superstore is a definite no go for overnight parking, with large signs stating that it is not allowed.
Where to eat and drink in Penticton
Living in Penticton for 2.5+ years, I have a few recommendations for places to eat and drink.
There are currently six breweries in town (with another on the way) – Cannery Brewing, Bad Tattoo, Highway 97, Slackwater, Barley Mill and Tin Whistle.
The Barley Mill is the closest to the Bluffs, helpful if you need a beer fast. The Cannery is my favourite for both atmosphere and beer quality, while Bad Tattoo makes awesome pizzas and Slackwater is great for a casual beer (it’s the newest and has plenty of space).
The best quick and dirty food in town can be found at the Jeffer’s Fryzz truck on Nanaimo Ave. Jeffer has been serving poutine in Penticton for over 30 years…..and I can assure you, it’s the best anywhere in Western Canada.
For something healthier, head to the Wild Scallion on Front Street. The mostly vegetarian menu is both filling and fairly cheap. Thinking of vegetarians, Lachi has excellent lunchtime specials if you’re craving Indian food.
Those seeking an epic view and a bit of elegance should check out Elma on Lakeshore. This beautiful new restaurant serves Turkish inspired food, made with local ingredients.
Burger 55 used to be my go to, but has recently closed down, so a solid second choice is Patio Burger on Lakeshore. It’s pretty casual and the view is fantastic. They sell local beer too.
For coffee, try the Prague Cafe on Marina Way (there’s outside seating just above the beach!) or brand new Wayne & Freda on Winnipeg St.
There are numerous good options for sushi in Penticton. My top picks are Sushi Genki for quality takeout sushi, Sushi KOJO for choice and friendly service, Isshin Sushi Bar for their excellent Monday to Wednesday appetizer and beer pitcher special (cheapest beer deal in town).
What to do in Penticton when not climbing at Skaha Bluffs
Being located in the southern Okanagan (and so close to Penticton in particular), there is SO much to do in the local area when you’re not climbing.
- A top activity for a lot of people visiting the area is to go wine touring. There’s even a winery just on the doorstep of the Bluffs – Painted Rock. The Naramata Bench, just to the northeast of Penticton, has over 40 wineries on one 15km stretch of road. Guided bus tours are popular or you can try a walking wine tour
- Penticton is one of the few towns in the world to be located between two lakes. This offers a huge choice in water related activities (swimming, paddling, parasailing, boating, waterskiing and more) plus plenty of beaches to sunbathe on. There’s even a nudist beach at Three Mile
- Floating the Channel between the two lakes is a must do while in the area and an awesome way to relax after a few days of climbing. You can rent tubes at Coyote Cruises on Riverside Drive
- Looking for more ideas? Click here for 70+ more recommendations and suggestions of things to do in the southern Okanagan