River tubing is a classic summer experience in British Columbia. Floats can be fast and exciting or long and lazy. Some travel through beautiful rainforest on wild rivers while others are found a little closer to town. Either way, river tubing offers a fun way to beat the heat.
Penticton is home to what must be the laziest river float in BC. Built in the 1950’s to control water flow between Penticton’s two lakes, the Channel hosts the province’s biggest floating party every summer.
The slow, shallow river is the perfect place to relax, listen to music, drink, chat and sunbathe. Best of all, floating on the Penticton Channel is completely free!
This post updated February 2020. There are affiliate links below. If you make a qualifying purchase via these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.
A one of a kind experience in Penticton, BC
The Penticton Channel float features on many Canadian ‘must do’ lists. For many of our summer guests, it is definitely one of their essential Penticton experiences.
Something of an oasis, the man-made river runs alongside the highway from Okanagan Lake (north) to Skaha Lake (south). The float is surprisingly peaceful, with ducks and geese swimming alongside tubers.
The water is relatively clear and quite shallow, perfect for snorkelling and swimming if tubing gets a little boring for some. Alcohol is technically not allowed on the river, but this rule isn’t very strictly followed, to say the least…
Floating on the Channel is a great alternative to another day at the beach. Keep in mind that it gets just as hot on the Channel as the beach (30-35c in summer) and there is no shade at all! Be sure to bring sunscreen, drinking water and PFDs for non-swimmers.
Tying tubes together is a common thing to do, but when the water level is higher and faster than normal, the currents around the three bridges can be dangerous.
Long & lazy or short & sweet
The start of the river channel is at the sandy coloured Coyote Cruises building on Riverside Drive. There are stairs here to access the water.
Penticton Channel tubers can either stop at the half-way point on Green Mountain Road or float the full 7km distance to the Highway 97 crossing before Skaha Lake. The first section of the Channel is faster than the second half.
Green Mountain Road
It takes about 45 minutes to float to the Green Mountain Road bridge. This is usually referred to as the ‘halfway point’ but more accurately it is about a third of the full distance!
Green Mountain is a popular place to finish for anyone short on time or families with young children.
Look for the steps on the right-hand side of the channel (approximately 50m before the bridge). There is a convenience store and a gas station.
This land is owned by the Penticton Indian Reserve. For 14 years, “Relvis” used to sing from the ‘Hound Dogs’ restaurant patio here and entertain Channel floaters. Elvis impersonator Ralph Ramsey retired in 2018.
The full float to the highway 97 bridge near Skaha Lake takes around 2 to 3 hours, depending on the time of year. It is not a good idea to float directly into Skaha Lake on the Channel due to dangerous currents.
There are numerous warning signs as you float towards the Highway 97 crossing. Look for the steps on the right-hand side before the bridge. There are no permanent facilities here, but a portacabin toilet is sometimes available.
Penticton Channel float transport options
The easiest and cheapest way to float the Penticton Channel is to park a vehicle at either end – one on Riverside Drive and the other at either Green Mountain Road or near Skaha Lake. Note that there is not much parking on Green Mountain Road.
If you do not have two vehicles, taxis often hover around both finishing areas. With signal all the way along the Channel, you could also call one while still on the water (use a waterproof case like this one!) Another option is to use the Coyote Cruises bus.
Coyote Cruises bus
The Coyote Cruises bus runs from the half-way and full distance points back to Riverside Drive. Tickets can be purchased from the sandy coloured ticketing building on Riverside Drive.
Coyote Cruises also rents tubes, but these can only be floated to Green Mountain Road and no further. Floaters with their own tubes are able to continue to the end at Highway 97 and take the bus back from there.
As of 2019, the price for a combined tube rental and bus ticket was $18 (choice of single, double or quad tubes).
Penticton Channel float: the details
The Penticton Channel float starts at the sandy coloured Coyote Cruises building on Riverside Drive, opposite the Ogopogo Motel. There are stairs leading into the channel behind Coyote Cruises for easy launching.
There is free parking (at the time of writing) available all along Riverside Drive. The closest washrooms can be found a short walk away outside Loco Landing, near the Riverside Drive and Lakeshore Drive roundabout.
Tubes can be purchased at Pharmasave and Riverside Liquor Store, only a minute walk away from the launching point.
Need some help blowing your tube up? Coyote Cruises offers an inflation service or try Petro-Canada, on the corner of the highway and Westminster.
Looking to book a stay in beautiful Penticton?
Lakeside Villa Inn and Suites – Great value
Penticton Lakeside Resort – Awesome location
House Victoria Bed and Breakfast – Highly rated on Booking.com