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Hiking the McIntyre Bluff (nʕaylintn) Trail: Complete Guide

Travelling south of Penticton to Osoyoos, it’s hard to miss the sheer rock drop-off that is nʕaylintn (pronounced nye-lin-tin). This metamorphic cliff towers 300m above Highway 97 and nearby Vaseux Lake.

The English name is McIntyre Bluff, named after “Uncle Pete” McIntyre who once lived at the base.

Two different hiking trails lead to the summit of McIntyre Bluff. At the top, spectacular panoramas of vineyards, orchards and rugged mountains await.

Elevated view looking sown across Highway 97 to Vaseux Lake, which is backdropped by a large vertical rock face (McIntyre Bluff)
nʕaylintn / McIntyre Bluff seen from just south of Okanagan Falls

This post shares everything you need to know about hiking to the top of McIntyre Bluff. Here’s the breakdown:

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McIntyre Bluff Trail
Location: Oliver, British Columbia
Distance: 10km return
Elevation change: 375-424m
Hike type: Out and back
Time: 3 to 3.5 hours
Difficulty: Low to moderate
Dogs: Allowed (please use a leash)
Hazards: Steep drop-offs

Looking towards Oliver from the summit of nʕaylintn / McIntyre Bluff, with river channel winding through centre, surrounded by vineyards and rugged brown hills
Looking towards Oliver from the summit of nʕaylintn / McIntyre Bluff

Hiking necessities

Before heading to McIntyre Bluff:

Last updated July 2022. This post contains some affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you.

About McIntyre Bluff

nʕaylintn, also known as McIntyre Bluff, is a steep sided hill located in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Canada. The town of Oliver is about 10 minutes drive away.

The word nʕaylintn is from the traditional nsyilxcen language used by the the Syilx peoples of the Okanagan Valley. Meaning ‘storyteller,’ it is a reference to the side of the cliff resembling a human profile.

nʕaylintn is a significant cultural site for the Osoyoos Indian Band as well as other Syilx people. The name change was requested by the Osooyos Indian Band in 2015.

Carved by glacial activity, McIntyre Bluff mostly consists of granitic gneiss. It has looked this way for at least the last million or so years. White Lake Grasslands Protected Area protects the access routes to McIntyre Bluff.

Looking across grassy summit towards lake in below valley, with highway running next to it
Looking towards Vaseux Lake from the summit of nʕaylintn / McIntyre Bluff

McIntyre Bluff: Hike Experience

Two hiking trails lead to the summit of McIntyre Bluff, with the trailheads located some distance apart.

The trails connect close to Rattlesnake Lake, about 1.5km from the summit area.

The shortest route starts at Covert Farms Family Estate (private land). The one-way distance is 5km with 263m elevation gain (10km return, 375m). Unfortunately, this trail has been closed since March 2020. It is unknown when it will open again.

The trail traverses dry grassland terrain, scattered with strands of ponderosa pine trees. The reward is a flat rocky, grassy summit area featuring gorgeous panoramas of the surrounding landscape.

Anticipate spending 3 hours on the trail. Speedy hikers may finish under 3 hours.

There are longer routes, with one example being via Mahoney Lake.

Screenshot of AllTrails map showing McIntyre Bluff route via Covert Farms
Click here or above to view AllTrails map of Covert Farms route (currently closed)

Covert Farms route

This McIntyre Bluff trail starts as I think more hikes should do in this region….at a winery. Covert Farms Family Estate has a history dating back to the 1950’s. It is located a short drive from Highway 97.

Hikers first walk alongside one of the many huge vineyards before exiting the property and starting a dusty and exposed descent. The rewards (in the form of stunning vineyard views) come as quick as the climb.

It isn’t long before you reach Rattlesnake Lake, a small waterbody. At this point, the trail forks east and steadily climbs again to the summit of nʕaylintn. There is a little bit more shade but not much. The wildflowers, however, are gorgeous on this stretch from May to July.

Covert Farms vineyards from elevated McIntyre Bluff trail
Covert Farms vineyards

Towards the end of a long gradual ascent, the views start to appear. A short descent (surprise!) is required to reach the actual summit area.

Vineyards stretch from one side of the valley to the other, with the highway almost the only interruption.

Wonderfully turquoise Gallagher Lake (hidden from highway level) can be spotted, alongside Vaseux Lake, which peeks around the Bluff from the north.

After a break at the viewpoint, the return route is the same path.

Please note – access to the McIntyre Bluff trailhead at Covert Farms has been closed since March 2020. There is no estimate when it may reopen again. For the time being, it is only possible to reach McIntyre Bluff via other routes.

McIntyre Bluff Hiking Guide

In this section, you’ll find all the nitty-gritty info about visiting nʕaylintn. I hope it will help prepare you well for this wonderful hike.

Location and parking

The McIntyre Bluff trailhead at Covert Farms Family Estate is on private property (click for directions).

At the time of writing, access to this 650 acre organic farm is restricted with a locked gate and Covert Farms has stated that the trailhead remains closed.

Pre-2020 it was possible to park right in the Covert Farms parking lot, ask for a map in the tasting room and then start the hike. It is unknown when public access to McIntyre Blufff from Covert Farms will be re-opened.

Driving distances/time:

Oliver to Covert Farms: 7.6km, 10 minutes
Penticton to Covert Farms: 38.4km, 40 minutes

Looking across calm lake surface towards vertical rock face formation on other side of lake
McIntyre Bluff from northern side of Vaseux Lake

The best time to hike McIntyre Bluff

McIntyre Bluff can be hiked all year round but the best months, in my opinion, are April, May and June.

The cooler spring temperatures are ideal for this mostly uphill hike and the wildflowers, particularly the bright yellow balsam arrowroot, are beautiful.

June can be subject to hot temperatures (28c+) but the longer daylight hours offer the opportunity to hike early in the day or late into the evening.

September and October are also great months to hike McIntyre Bluff.

Two people sat on rocky and gras summit at McIntyre Bluff, looking across to rugged canyon and mountains beyond
Looking across Highway 97 towards Eagle Bluff and canyon

Located in such a dry area, the hot months make hiking to McIntyre Bluff pretty uncomfortable. The Covert Farms route has very little shade.

If you are determined to hike to the summit of McIntyre Bluff in July or August, be sure to head out early (before 9am, ideally earlier) to avoid the worst of the heat.

Bring lots of water (at least 1.5l per person) as well as sun protection. This advice is even more important if you plan to bring your dog.

Navigating the trail

Both McIntyre Bluff trails are established, with a well used dirt path. Some sections are wider than others. There is some provincial park signage by Rattlesnake Lake where the trails intersect.

From the Covert Farms trailhead, this hike is well marked with indicators every 500m or so. Hikers were once able to pick up a map at the winery tasting room before heading onto the trail.

Difficulty

The main McIntyre Bluff Trail is on the moderately low side of hiking difficulty. The biggest challenge is elevation gain. The climb is relatively gradual though.

If you’re not a regular hiker, you may find the uphill sections of this hike tiring. Even if you do hike often, you may feel out of breath occasionally. Luckily, the open landscape provides plenty of places to stop along the route.

This trail becomes more difficult in hot weather as there is very little shade. For that reason, I would not recommend hiking to McIntyre Bluff in July and August, unless you start very early (before 9am, preferably before 8am).

There are a few downhill and uphill sections featuring loose gravel, none are extremely steep, however. Keep an eye on your footing.

JR lying on ground resting after a hot summer hike up to the summit of McIntyre Bluff
The views from the summit of McIntyre Bluff are stunning

Wildlife

Despite being so dry, this scenic area is home to a variety of animals. A significant number are endangered or vulnerable, such as the American badger, Great Basin Spadefoot Toad and Sage Thrasher.

One of the most well known residents of this grasslands region is the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (also known as the Western Rattlesnake).

While generally shy and non-aggressive, it is best to leave these venomous snakes well alone. Avoid stepping on logs and don’t put your hands and feet where you can’t see them.

Less than five people are bitten by rattlesnakes each year in British Columbia, usually after an attempt to hold or harm them. Off leash dogs that wander off trail are most at risk.

Black bears also live and roam in this area. Always make noise while hiking and stay alert. Pack out everything you bring with you, including biodegradable items like banana peels and apple cores.

If you do see animals – keep your distance, don’t feed and always leave them with an escape route.

Check out my complete guide to bear safety for more info.

Trail hazards and important safety info

The biggest hazard on the McIntyre Bluff trail (either route) is definitely heat.

As mentioned, neither path has a lot of shade. The last 1.5km to the summit is very exposed. This arid environment can feel very hot on summer days. Add the elevation gain and it can be a very sweaty climb to the top!

Water and sun protection is key, as well as starting early in summer.

Cell phone signal is available but not reliably consistent in this area. Be sure to tell someone where you are going and plan to be back.

If you’re not used to navigating without very obvious signage, you may want to utilise the AllTrails app for guidance. We usually swear by Maps.me but neither trail is featured.

Please don’t smoke on this trail. The area is very dry and fires start easily. Campfires are not allowed for this reason.

Panoramic views from McIntyre Bluff showing vineyards and river channel below, surrounded by rugged mountains
More stunning views from the summit of McIntyre Bluff

Essentials items to bring

Water – Whatever you do, be sure to bring water on this hike. This is particularly true during the hotter months from June to September. Rattlesnake Lake can be used an emergency water source (be sure use a filter first!) but I’d just try and bring enough in the first place

Hiking poles. If you have knee issues, you may find it helpful to have a pole or two to ease the pressure on your knees during the descents. We love Black Diamond’s incredibly lightweight Carbon Z series

Layers of clothing. It may be windy at the top of McIntyre Bluff, which can be a bit of a surprise if you’re hiking in the shoulder season months! Come prepared with some extra clothing to wear at the end (and it’s good practice to do so anyway)

A snack or lunch. You’re going to want to stay a while at the summit of McIntyre Bluff so bring something to eat and enjoy at the same time! No-one likes to hike hungry

Proper hiking footwear. Although neither McIntyre Bluff hiking trail is exceptionally long, I’d definitely recommend wearing proper hiking shoes, boots or runners (not sandals). The path can be quite dusty in summer and some sections have loose rock

Sun hat and sunscreen. Neither of these McIntyre Bluff hiking trails have a lot of shade. Be sure to bring a sun hat and sunscreen for protection against the harsh sun in this desert area

Looking to book a stay near McIntyre Bluff?

Coast Oliver Hotel, Oliver – Modern hotel rooms, located just off Highway 97 and within easy walking distance of downtown Oliver

Holiday Beach Resort Motel, Okanagan Falls – Highly rated resort situated very close to Skaha Lake, with great access to the Kettle Valley Rail (KVR) Trail

Looking for a fun, fairly quick and rewarding hike in the Okanagan Valley? Look no further than the McIntyre Bluff hike near Okanagan Falls! This 2-3 hour hike offers beautiful panoramas of Vaseux Lake and the surrounding desert and vineyards. It's a must do hike in the Okanagan Valley! offtracktravel.ca
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Stephanie

Saturday 21st of May 2022

Beautiful trail, but critical that you bring bear spray and bear bangers. Yesterday, my boyfriend and I ran right into a mama bear and older cub next to Rattlesnake Lake on the McIntyre Bluffs trail. Mama got mad at us and gave us a little chase. It was scary as hell and we went way off trail to give them lots of room. We will never hike without bear spray again!

Gemma

Sunday 22nd of May 2022

Hi Stephanie,

Sorry to hear you had such a negative encounter with a bear on this trail! Yes, we bring bear spray on every hike too. We don't often see bears but I'm always glad to have it when we do, 'just in case.' I'm glad you managed to leave the trail safely.

Tina

Saturday 13th of March 2021

The access from Covert farm is closed.

Jennie

Sunday 11th of April 2021

@Gemma, do we know if the access is still closed?? I’m planning on going up to Oliver at the end of April.

Gemma

Saturday 13th of March 2021

Hi Tina,

Yes, Covert Farms closed this access in March 2020. Hopefully it will be open again soon.

Ruth

Sunday 21st of August 2016

I have heard of the Okanagan Valley but doesn't know a lot about it. From your photos, I can see it is a lovely area. In British Columbia, I have only been to Vancouver. However, that was enough to fall in love with the state. Want to explore more of it.

Gemma

Monday 22nd of August 2016

British Columbia is such a beautiful province with such variation in landscape - so much to see! I hope you manage to get back here soon Ruth!

Lara Dunning

Sunday 21st of August 2016

I have wanted to visit that part of WA and BC for a while now. Great to know there is a great hike there. What a view! Thanks for sharing!

Gemma

Monday 22nd of August 2016

Thanks Lara! Lots of great hikes here, though some are definitely better in the spring/autumn when the sun is less strong.

Cathy

Saturday 20th of August 2016

I love hearing of new places I should go hike! I'd love to go to BC, put this one on my list.

Gemma

Monday 22nd of August 2016

It's a really great little hike, perfect for a morning before some wine tasting or a swim in the lake :) Thanks for your comment Cathy