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Okanagan Mountain Park: A Complete Hiking and Paddling Guide

Okanagan Lake is the centerpiece of BC’s beautiful Okanagan Valley. And around two thirds of the way down this 135km long lake is the rugged and mountainous Okanagan Mountain Park.

Living on the northern side of Penticton, we feel fortunate to be able to see the craggy peaks of Okanagan Mountain every day.

Yet despite this prominence in the Valley, Okanagan Mountain Park is not remarkably popular to visit. This is partly due to its limited access. The backcountry focus of the hiking trails and campgrounds is also a factor.

Gemma is hiking past the camera on rocky Mountain Goat Trail with views of long Okanagan Lake at the bottom of the hill below visible, surrounded by mountains
Hiking the Mountain Goat Trail in Okanagan Mountain Park

Over the last year, we’ve made it a priority to discover more of this magnificent park located in our backyard.

This post will showcase the hiking and paddling opportunities in Okanagan Mountain Park, including trail and campsite details, plus tips and advice on the best time to go.

JR is in a red kayak, paddling past the shoreline of Okanagan Mountain Park, which features rugged and rocky scenery with few trees. The lake's surface is very calm
Paddling past the rugged landscape of Okanagan Mountain Park

This post published March 2021. If you’re not local to Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park, put it on your travel list for later!

Looking down the shoreline of Divide Lake, which sits around 10m below, lined by tree stumps
Divide Lake, at the centre of Okanagan Mountain Park

About Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park

At 11,038 hectares, Okanagan Mountain Park is one of the largest provincial parks in British Columbia’s interior region. It sits opposite Peachland and between Kelowna and Naramata, on the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake.

Established in 1973, the park is a representative example of the Okanagan Basin and Okanagan Highlands, with three different biogeoclimatic zones – bunchgrass, ponderosa pine and interior Douglas fir.

Humans have been visiting Okanagan Mountain Park for thousands of years. Here are some notable events and uses:

Looking across from elevated viewpoint on Rattlesnake Island towards Okanagan Lake and Okanagan Mountain Park, which has a curving shoreline with rugged mountainous terrain above
Looking towards Okanagan Mountain Park from Rattlesnake Island

Syilx First Nation

Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park has been visited by humans for thousands of years. According to BC Parks, Wild Horse Canyon was used as a wild-horse trap by the Syilx. Pictographs have been found on rock outcrops and canyon walls.

Pandosy Mission

Father Charles Pandosy was one of the first European settlers in the Okanagan Valley, establishing a mission in Kelowna in 1859. Some of the existing trails in the park (such as Wild Horse Canyon) are based on settler routes.

JR walks on narrow dirt hiking path through grassy area filled with bright purple wildflowers. The path is also lined by small trees
In late spring, some hiking trails are surrounded by wildflowers

WWII

Commando Bay, now a location of a marine campground, was used during WWII to secretly train Chinese-Canadians for guerilla warfare.

Goode’s Creek, another marine campground location, was named after Dave Good. He was a supplier of survey crews for the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR), which passes close to the eastern park borders.

1950 Canadian Pacific Air DC-3 crash

In December 1950, a plane crashed close to Divide Lake. The two pilots died. The rescue story of the surviving passengers is quite extraordinary. There are still a few remnants from the crash around but there is no official trail access.

Concrete miniature golf course hole surrounded by shrub bushes on Rattlesnake Island, with views of Okanagan Lake and mountainous terrain behind
Part of the half finished miniature golf course on Rattlesnake Island

Rattlesnake Island

This tiny island just offshore from the main part of Okanagan Mountain Park used to be owned by Eddie Haymour, who wanted to transform Rattlesnake Island into a Arab-themed tourist attraction. What happened next is a fascinating, but sad, story involving international governments, hostages and financial ruin. To read the full story, click the link below.

Read Next: Rattlesnake Island, British Columbia: Small Island, Dramatic History

2003 wildfire

In August 2003 a wildfire started by lightning strike close to Rattlesnake Island. Exceptionally dry summer conditions and constant winds caused the wildfire to spread quickly and become a 250 square kilometre-sized firestorm. Most of the trees in Okanagan Mountain Park were burned. There have been other, smaller, wildfires since such as the 2018 Goode’s Creek fire.

Grey and red MSR tent set up in grassy area at Commando Bay with trees behind
Camping at Commando Bay

How to access Okanagan Mountain Park

The park has four main access points, in addition to the 33km long Okanagan Lake shoreline:

  • North Parking Lot on Lakeshore Drive, Kelowna
  • Golden Mile Trailhead on Lakeshore Drive, Kelowna
  • Rimrock Gate on Timberline Road, Kelowna
  • South Parking Lot, just off Chute Lake Road, near Chute Lake
Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park map - screenshot of Google Map with campsites and trailheads marked
Click above or here to view Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park map

North Parking Lot has a dedicated parking lot, outhouse and kiosk with park map. It is the main entrance of the park for visitors from the Kelowna area.

Golden Mile Trailhead is located 1.8km west of the North Parking Lot. It is marked by a red gate. There is space two vehicles to park by the side of the road.

Rimrock Gate is mainly used to access the service road that leads to Divide Lake. On-street parking only (be careful not to block any driveways).

South Parking Lot has an outhouse, kiosk, picnic tables and fire rings. The 2km access road is narrow and rough in places, with scratchy, overgrown foliage. I’d recommend using a high clearance vehicle with good tires.

Grassy camping area with two picnic tables, fire ring and kiosk sign, backdropped by trees
Camping area just beyond South Parking Lot

Important things to know

There are some notable hazards in Okanagan Mountain Park.

Wilderness location

Please note that while most of Okanagan Mountain Park is within phone range, it is still classed as a wilderness area and rescue is still a potentially lengthy process.

Exposure

As a result of wildfires (more info below), Okanagan Mountain Park doesn’t have a lot of trees.

For this reason, there is very little shade and exposure can be a real concern. Temperatures regularly top 30-35c in the summer. To compound this issue, there are very few water sources in the park besides the lakes.

For these reasons, I do not personally hike in Okanagan Mountain Park in July and August. If you choose to, be sure to bring plenty of drinking water (at least 2L per person in the summer), a sunhat and sunscreen. Long sleeves are a good idea to prevent sunburn.

Elevated view looking down from Okanagan Lake and surrounding mountainous terrain. In the foreground is small, burnt trees
Looking towards Okanagan Lake and Penticton on the Mountain Goat Trail

Wildlife

Northern Pacific rattlesnakes, BC’s only truly venomous snake, are found in the park. They are not considered to be aggressive but can be dangerous if threatened. It’s a good idea to:

  • Keep pets leashed
  • Avoid putting your hands and feet in places you can’t see
  • Don’t pick up items below which a snake may hide (e.g. wood)
  • and keep a 3 meter distance if you do see one

Other reptiles also live in the park, as well as coyote, mountain goats, deer, elk, lynx and even moose. Bears are rarely seen but it’s still important to be bear aware.

Ticks

Mosquitoes and ticks can be a pest, particularly in the interior. This was especially true on our visit in June 2020, when the mosquitoes were absolutely ferocious! I also picked off two dozen ticks while hiking the Mountain Goat Trail.

  • Wear light coloured long-sleeved shirts and pants to make it easier to spot ticks
  • Stay on the path whenever possible and avoid long grassy areas
  • Use bug spray containing DEET or Icaridin
  • Be sure to perform a tick check after visiting the park during the warmer months
  • If heading to Okanagan Mountain Park on an overnight trip, double check you have a tick remover or tweezers in your first aid kit!

Read more tick advice from the Government of Canada

Close up of light green coloured outdoor hat with eleven mosquitoes sat on it
The mosquitoes in early June 2020 were ferocious at the Okanagan Mountain summit (and at Divide Lake)

Wildfire dangers

As mentioned above, Okanagan Mountain Park was burned by a huge wildfire in 2003. The effects of this fire can still be seen today, with burned tree stumps and charred trees a common sight.

Deadfall remains an obstacle in some places. Tree limbs may fall in windy weather. BC Parks recommends hikes to wait for favourable weather, with the risk being lower on calm days with no rain or snowfall. When windy, the advice is to:

  • Travel quickly to reduce exposure time
  • Spread your group out to reduce risk of multiple casualties
  • If trees are actively falling, leave the area or take shelter

Campfires are still allowed at Okanagan Mountain Park’s campgrounds (when there is no fire ban, of course), but in fire rings only. Be sure that your campfire is out and cool to the touch before leaving it unattended.

Gemma is hiking away from the camera on dirt and rock trail, with views looking down to Okanagan Lake in the background. There are a number of burnt tree stumps near the path
Hiking the Mountain Goat Trail, Okanagan Mountain Park

Camping in Okanagan Mountain Park

With the exception of one ‘frontcountry’ campground, all of the camping opportunities in Okanagan Mountain Park are located in the backcountry.

The ‘frontcountry’ campground is in the South Parking Lot, where vehicle and tent camping is allowed. There is a grassy area just beyond the parking lot with an outhouse, two picnic tables, two fire rings and space for two tents. There is no fee.

I say frontcountry loosely as the camping facilities offered here are more rustic and less organised than a regular vehicle accessible provincial park campground.

There are seven marine campgrounds on the shore of Okanagan Lake. As well as being accessible by boat, three of these campgrounds are connected to the Wild Horse Canyon hiking trail and therefore also reachable by foot.

In the interior of the park, there is two campgrounds accessible by hiking trails only – Baker Lake and Divide Lake.

All Okanagan Mountain Park campgrounds are open year-round.

Worn but intact picnic table in foreground placed next to trees, with Divide Lake sitting a few metres below
Camping area at Divide Lake

Hiking in Okanagan Mountain Park

There are over a dozen hiking trails in Okanagan Mountain Park, many of which are interconnected to provide access to backcountry campgrounds, trailheads and viewpoints.

Some of the hiking trails in Okanagan Mountain Park can also be cycled (responsible cycling etiquette required), with the Wild Horse Canyon being a popular choice.

Please note that some of the trails are quite overgrown and may require some trail finding to follow. Poison ivy is present in areas.

For hiking trail navigation (besides a map), I’d suggest using the free app Maps.me. If you download the maps in advance, you can use them offline.

View of overgrown foliage on hiking trail with the top half of JR just visible above blossoms and brush
Some of Okanagan Mountain Park’s trails are overgrown

Hiking trails

The full list of trails in Okanagan Mountain Park can be found on the BC Parks website, as well as a map. The three most popular trails are (all distances one way):

Wild Horse Canyon – 27km, 625m elevation gain

The Wild Horse Canyon Trail is a amalgamation of other hiking trails and skirts the periphery of the park. This makes it a great low elevation option for spring hiking.

Most hikers start this trail from the North Parking Lot on Lakeshore Road. It starts with a steady uphill climb, revealing views of Okanagan Lake. Into the canyon, the trail is lined by steep granite. Swampy sections follow.

Most of the elevation gain noted above is experienced at the southern end. If day hiking, feel free to turn around at any point.

The longest route in the park, the Wild Horse Canyon Trail can be combined with other trails to create a 2-3 day backpacking loop

One loop would be Wild Horse Canyon Trail (17km), Frederick Creek to Baker Lake (4km), Baker Lake to Divide Lake (2km), Divide Lake Trail (7km), C.N Trail/Wild Horse Canyon Trail (3km).

Buchan Bay, Commando Bay and Goode’s Creek are campground options.

Mountain Goat Trail – 5km, 550m elevation gain

Starting from the South Parking Lot, the Mountain Goat Trail climbs through the forest before reaching the classically rugged landscape of Okanagan Mountain Park.

Views appear of Okanagan Lake, Summerland and Penticton as the trail climbs higher and through patches of wildflowers. The meandering route intersects several (usually dry) creeks. This short but challenging trail ends just south of Divide Lake, where there is a backcountry camping.

A side trail leads to the top of 1576m high Okanagan Mountain, where there is a number of communication towers and some lovely (if, a little obscured) 360 degree panoramas.

JR stands on rock taking photo of view of Okanagan Lake below surrounded by mountainous terrain, with some burnt trees in foreground
Checking out the views on the Mountain Goat Trail

Divide Lake Trail – 9.5km, 950m elevation gain

The Divide Lake Trail follows a service road all the way to Divide Lake and onto the Okanagan Mountain peak (as described above). It’s not the most interesting trail for this reason but there are views of Kelowna and Okanagan Lake almost throughout.

The continuous uphill grade of the route is challenging, which means it is an excellent trail to train on during the spring.

Trail distance listed above is from the Rimrock Gate. It is also possible to start at the North Parking Lot and hike the Wild Horse Canyon/C.N Trail (3km) until it intersects with the Divide Lake Trail.

When to go

The best time to hike Okanagan Mountain Park is from May, June, September and October. The weather is usually warm, but not too hot. The snow is gone and the trails are dry. In spring, the trails are bordered by beautiful wildflowers.

It’s also possible to hike in July and August but the heat can make the experience uncomfortable and and even dangerous. There is very little shade in the park and few sources of water besides the lakes.

While the lakeshore is snow-free almost all year round, the mountains of the park’s interior are usually covered with snow from November to April.

Close up of purple/blue coloured lupine flowers
Lupine flowers in Okanagan Mountain Park

Backcountry campsites

Baker Lake and Divide Lake both have backcountry campgrounds for hikers.

Divide Lake is a long, narrow lake located behind Okanagan Mountain (1571m). The rustic campground is 8-10m above the actual lake but it is possible to access the shore. There is an outhouse, old cabin, picnic table and fire ring.

Baker Lake is on the other side of Okanagan Mountain and has a smaller campground with an outhouse and fire ring.

Fees and permits

There are no fees or permits to camp at Divide Lake or Baker Lake. With no reservation system, campsites work on a first come first serve system.

Mirror-like reflections on blue coloured Divide Lake of small trees on opposite shore
Mirror-like reflections on Divide Lake

Paddling Okanagan Mountain Park

Okanagan Mountain Park is an ideal destination for a multi-day kayak or canoe trip. Despite being located across from Highway 97, the undeveloped shoreline (33km long) of the park feels surprisingly remote at times.

The scenery is also spectacular, with tall cliffs rising straight out of the water to form the rugged mountains this park is so well know for. The rugged lakeshore is also punctuated with pretty beaches, which provide numerous places to stop and even camp overnight.

Orange and red kayaks sitting on rock shore in narrow cove on Rattlesnake Island
Small boat landing site on Rattlesnake Island

Visiting during the shoulder seasons (when less motorised boats are on the water) offers the best chance to see wildlife by the lake. We’ve personally seen large herds of mountain goats navigating the cliffs above the water, as well as deer and bald eagles.

Another highlight is the chance to visit Rattlesnake Island. This tiny place was once the cause of a international incident and is now home to a half finished miniature golf course. Intrigued? Read this post first and visit for yourself!

JR sits in red kayak on calm Okanagan Lake, paddling close to the rugged shore of Okanagan Lake
Paddling the shoreline of Okanagan Mountain Park

When to go

The best time to paddle Okanagan Mountain Park is from April to October.

July and August are hot, making it the perfect time to swim in the lake. It is also the most popular time for motorised boats, however.

The shoulder seasons can often have surprisingly calm conditions, though the water is cold. We like to go in May or June, when few boats are on the lake and the weather is still warm.

Okanagan Lake does not freeze in winter, though the shoreline can become icy during the coldest months of January and February.

Looking across rocky landscape towards Okanagan Lake below, backdropped by hilly green terrain
Looking back to Okanagan Lak from hiking trail above Buchan Bay

Rattlesnake Island

Visiting Rattlesnake Island is a definite highlight of paddling Okanagan Mountain Park. This tiny island has a surprisingly interesting history and is a fun place to spend an hour or two. The views from Rattlesnake Island are also spectacular!

Rattlesnake Island is located 4km north from Buchan Bay and less than 2km south from Halfway Bay. The campground at Reluctant Dragon Cove is a very short paddle away.

Concrete miniature golf hole surrounded by shrubby landscape, backdropped by Okanagan Lake and rugged landscape of Okanagan Mountain Park
Miniature golf hole on Rattlesnake Island

Backcountry campsites

Okanagan Mountain Park has seven marine campgrounds (listed in order from south to north):

  • Van Hyce Beach
  • Goode’s Creek
  • Commando Bay
  • Buchan Bay
  • Reluctant Dragon Cove
  • Halfway Bay
  • Halfway Point
Looking across calm lake from kayak towards long golden beach with picnic table and fire ring, backed by a hill
Van Hyce beach

We have visited five of these marine campgrounds personally. All have a BC Park sign, at least one picnic bench (often two), with at least one fire ring (sometimes two) and an outhouse.

There is space for a small number tents at each campground (2-3).

White canoe sitting on shore at sunset, with calm lake and mountainous backdrop
Commando Bay
  • Van Hyce is an open site facing north-west with two different beaches
  • Goode’s Creek is a shaded site set into the woods with a hiking trailhead
  • Commando Bay has a lovely beach with protected camping area behind it. There is a hiking trail here
  • Buchan Bay has a smaller, but still nice, beach with space for tents above and behind. There is also a hiking trail
  • Reluctant Dragon Cove has a long beach with a rocky headland

Of these, my favourites are Commando Bay and Buchan Bay. Reluctant Dragon Cove comes in third.

Please note that the lake level is usually higher during the spring months, which can impact on the size of the campgrounds.

View from kayak of Reluctant Dragon Cove with small, narrow beach and picnic table, backed by hill and handful of trees
Reluctant Dragon Cove (please note that the lake level was very high)

Fees, permits and reservations

The backcountry marine camping fee is $13/night per group, however, there are no self registration vaults at any of the campsites or launch locations we have been to. 

There is no camping reservation or permit system, besides the backcountry marine camping fee mentioned above. Campsites are therefore allocated on a first come, first serve system.

Grey tent set up in grassy area above beach at Buchan Bay, with sunset views of Okanagan Lake
Camping at Buchan Bay, above the beach

Where to launch

It is possible to launch kayaks and canoes at numerous locations on Okanagan Lake.

The most convenient (and safest) place we’ve found to launch is Indian Rock Beach Access on Somerset Lane, north of Naramata. From here, it’s an easy 1km paddle to the park boundary.

There is some space to park vehicles on Somerset Lane. Be careful not to park in such a way that would block the boat launch or any driveways/private property. We’ve never had any security issues parking in this area.

Orange and red kayaks sat on shore next to the lake at Indian Rock boat launch. JR is standing over orange kayak and putting items in storage compartments
Indian Rock launch

Other options include multiple beaches and boat launches in Peachland and Summerland. On the other side of the lake, there is Bertram Creek Regional Park in Kelowna.

An alternative option (which I haven’t personally tried) would be to try and launch at the North Parking Lot. There is a 300m (approx.) trail leading to the water here, though I’m not sure how well maintained it is.

Kayak view of calm Okanagan Lake with rugged, dry landscape. There are a number of distinctively shaped hoodoos on the right (columns of weathered rocks)
Paddling along the shoreline north of Indian Rock – check out the hoodoos on the right!

Paddling safety

Okanagan Lake can have challenging paddling conditions. Due to the immense size of the lake and north-south orientation, waves can whip up fast and are also pretty unpredictable.

Other lake hazards include the prevalence of motorised pleasure boats in summer (and on weekends) plus the cold temperature of the water.

When paddling on the lake you should be careful to:

  • Prepare to face difficult paddling without warning
  • Always wear a PDF, even if the weather and conditions seem calm
  • Set off early to avoid the worst of the winds
  • Stay close to shore wherever possible
  • Tie or strap down gear to boat, to avoid losing items in the case of capsize
  • Preferably head out with a group of other paddlers
  • Not drink alcohol before paddling
  • Tell someone where you’re going and when you’re going to be back

Whatever you do, don’t underestimate Okanagan Lake. JR and I have faced more difficult conditions on Okanagan Lake than the ocean.

If you are fortunate to have exceptionally calm conditions for your entire trip, count yourself lucky and enjoy!

Sandy beach and calm lake, surrounded by hills and mountains
Okanagan Mountain Park (on right) as seen from Penticton

Other Okanagan Valley posts you may find helpful:

Hiking Pincushion Mountain, Peachland

Myra Canyon Trestles, Kelowna: A Complete Guide

16 Fast and Fun Hikes in Penticton

34 Awesome Things to Do in Vernon

Okanagan Valley Road Trip, BC: What to Do and Where to Stop

A Local’s Guide to the Best Okanagan Valley Wineries

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lise mcgill

Friday 21st of August 2015

hey there jr how the heck r u two....just sending u wishes from the chances gang...I am still in the bingo department ...nothing is new in the building same ol same ol lol anyway I wish u the best in your travels must be nice to do something like this I envy u k bon soir mon amie lise

John

Tuesday 4th of August 2015

Great photos. My wife's family live in that area and we are thinking of relocating back to Canada. Have enjoyed the Penticton tubing experience. Is Elvis still a fixture at the halfway point?

Gemma

Monday 10th of August 2015

Elvis is indeed still there at the halfway point! We went tubing down the channel last week for the first time and are going again today with friends who are visiting. Where are you thinking of relocating to?