Set into rolling grasslands, bordered by three lakes and backdropped by mountains, Vernon is surrounded by gorgeous scenery. This bountiful area is not only pretty, but full of fun things to do.
But if you speed in and out of Vernon on Highway 97, you may not see any of this. This busy road passes right through the middle of Vernon’s commercial district and those who do not make the effort to stop are likely to completely miss everything this area has to offer!
Being an Okanagan local myself, I have done this myself a number of times. A recent trip proved my mistake. Make sure you don’t do the same!
This post will showcase the very best of Vernon and proving exactly why you need to visit ASAP. It can also be a handy guide for anyone already visiting and looking for fun things to do in Vernon, BC.
A quick introduction to Vernon
Vernon is a city in the Okanagan region of British Columbia, Canada. The first name given to the location by the Syeelhwh Nation was Nintle–Moos–Chin, which refers to “jumping over place where the creek narrows.”
The population of Greater Vernon (including Coldstream) is around 60,000. Like the rest of the Okanagan Valley, Vernon has a semi-arid climate with hot (and I mean hot!), dry summers and mild winters.
The drive from Vernon to Vancouver is just over 5 hours (444m). From Calgary, it’s just over 6 hours (555km). This is one factor that makes Vernon an excellent stopover when travelling between the coast and Rocky Mountains.
This post includes affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may receive a percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. We visited Vernon in August 2020 as guests of Tourism Vernon.
The best things to do in Vernon, British Columbia
This list unapologetically focuses on things to do in Vernon in summer. The long, hot days of July and August offer so many opportunities for outdoor fun. Just be sure to get up early if you plan to hike in exposed places!
The great thing is that many of these summer activities can still be done in the shoulder seasons too (April, May, June, September, October), thanks to Vernon’s wonderfully warm climate.
I have personally tried and tested almost every entry on this things to do in Vernon list. You may notice only a few winter activities at this time but I plan to rectify this soon!
Soak up the sun at Kalamalka beach
Known by locals and tourists alike as ‘Kal beach,’ this is the most popular section of waterfront in the Vernon area.
The long strip of soft golden sand at Kalamalka beach has plenty of trees for shade as well as restrooms, snack bars, SUP rentals, beach volleyball courts and even a wooden pier. Parking is fairly plentiful too, even on busy summer days. Facilities aside, the view from Kal beach is hard to beat on a sunny day.
Kal beach isn’t the only awesome beach in Vernon. Kin and Paddlewheel beaches, both on the shores of Okanagan Lake, are not quite as big but are usually a little quieter than Kal. There are also a number of gorgeous local beaches that require a short walk to access (click here for more info).
Visit BX Falls
BX Falls has to be one of the loveliest spots in Vernon on a hot summer day. The viewing area is shaded by forest and kept fresh by the falling water, providing welcome relief from the heat. The water levels vary throughout the year, with spring providing the most dramatic scenes.
The hike to reach BX Falls is incredibly short and easy (700m return), with the hardest part being a 89 step staircase. The path follows the BX Creek from the Tillicum Road trailhead, a peaceful walking experience in its own right.
There is the option of visiting BX Falls as part of a longer hike (6.6km return), from the Star Road trailhead. For more details, read the dedicated feature within our Vernon hikes post.
Go paddling on one of three local lakes
Bordered by three lakes, paddlers are truly spoiled for choice in Vernon. Paddle one or paddle them all! If you don’t have your own kayak, canoe or SUP, there are a number of local watersport rental companies.
- Shallow and marshy, Swan Lake is the smallest of the three lakes and is a protected wetland area – over 200 species of birds are found here, as well as many amphibians and mammals. We paddled at sunset with a soundtrack of chittering birds and fish jumping. There’s a boat launch and parking at the end of Meadowlark Road
- Kalamalka Lake‘s dazzling green and blue hues (a result of glacial limestone deposits) make it a very popular paddling spot, especially on sunny days. There are plenty of places to launch too, such as Kal beach, Kekuli Bay, Juniper beach, Pumphouse beach and Kalavista beach. I’d recommend going out early when there are less powerboats on the water
- Okanagan Lake is a huge body of water, stretching 135km south to Penticton. With depths as deep as 232m, it’s said to be home to the legendary Ogopogo (which is actually more like a lake spirit than a monster). Kin beach provides the closest launching point to Vernon
Walk or bike the Okanagan Rail Trail
Once utilised to bring the produce of the Okanagan Valley across the country, the discontinued Kelowna Pacific Railway line is now a 52km multi-use pathway travelling between Coldstream and Kelowna.
The Okanagan Rail Trail section closest closest to Vernon follows the shore of Kalamalka Lake, showcasing some spectacular Okanagan scenery.
Thanks to the low grade of the railway, the path is almost completely flat all the way along. It’s wide too, providing space and accessibility for everyone.
Explore the alpine at Silver Star Ski Resort
A snowy wonderland in winter, Silver Star Ski Resort transforms into an alpine paradise in summer. The drive to the village is a surprisingly short 23km from downtown Vernon.
Home to Canada’s second largest bike park, there are over 100 kilometres of challenging mountain bike trails to explore on the mountain. There’s a trail network for hikers too, showcasing the spectacular views and gorgeous meadows of alpine flowers.
The Des Scheumann Summit Express Gondola travels to the top of the mountain on summer weekends. It’s super quick, reasonably priced and offers a shortcut to Silver Star’s alpine trails with no tiring uphill hiking required. The bike park lift is open Thursday to Monday.
Hike Middleton Mountain
When it comes to things to do in Vernon, visiting Middleton Mountain is an absolute must. In addition to offering magnificent views of lakes and rolling grassland, hiking this trail is also an excellent way to orient yourself when visiting Vernon for the first time.
There are four different hiking loops in the summit area, all being relatively flat once you have ascended to the plateau itself. The perimeter loop is 3km and features panoramas of Kalamalka Lake, downtown Vernon, Swan Lake and beyond.
One important thing to know about Middleton Mountain is the lack of shade on the trail. So be sure to start the hike early during the summer months (before 9am), wear a hat and use plenty of sunscreen. More information and tips in our Vernon hiking guide.
Visit Davison Orchards
Get a taste of Vernon’s agricultural roots at Davison Orchards Country Village. Popular with visitors and locals alike, Davison Orchards is a family run farm with local produce market, bakery, cafe, playground, U-pick (seasonal) and ice cream shop. There are tractor pulled wagon rides around the farm too, perfect for kids.
The Davison Orchards experience is wholesome, with visitors being able to do as much or as little as preferred. There’s no entrance fee so you can just wander and take it all in. I loved meeting the farm goats and pigs. The frozen apple slushies are a MUST on hot summer days.
Explore downtown Vernon
Vibrant, walkable and filled with independent and locally owned businesses, downtown Vernon is definitely worth a visit (and not just for the murals!)
In addition to selling artisan cheeses by weight, they also make tasty ‘to go’ picnic boxes includes several specially selected cheeses, crackers, fruit, nuts and locally made condiments.
For something less savoury, take a trip to Sweet Hoopla and check out their super range of sweet treats as well as locally made gelato.
Sip cider at BX Press
Apples have been grown in the Vernon area for well over a hundred years. BX Press celebrates this heritage at their third generation orchard, where they create premium, innovative ciders.
Visiting the cidery is an experience in itself, with the laid back tasting room and patio set right next to the orchard. Flights offer a chance to taste the variety of BX Press’ ciders, from the traditional style (my favourite) to more experimental fruit-infused blends.
The name of the cidery, BX Press, provides another nod to Vernon’s history. Starting during the Cariboo Goldrush in the 1860’s, the Barnard Express stagecoach company once serviced British Columbia’s interior region. Each cider pays homage to a character of the Barnard Express days.
Hike to Rattlesnake Point, Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park
The tip of a rocky peninsula jutting into Kalamalka Lake, Rattlesnake Point is one of the most scenic spots in the Vernon area.
The views showcase Kalamalka’s intense turquoise colours as well as the rolling grasslands beyond the lake shore. It’s the perfect place to take a break and watch the world go by (or boats, in this case).
Located in Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, the shortest route to Rattlesnake Point involves a reasonably easy 2.5km loop hike. There’s no beach at the Point itself but Jade and Juniper beaches are only a short walk away.
Rattlesnake Point is also known as Upper Turtles Head Point Lookout.
Taste mead at Planet Bee Honey Farm and Honeymoon Meadery
Craft breweries are a given in most BC towns, but how about a meadery? Honeymoon Meadery, part of Planet Bee Honey Farm, specialises in hand crafted honey wine made with natural ingredients.
Mead tastings are complimentary and feature a choice of up to eight different varieties! We tried them all and to my surprise, they ranged widely in both flavour and sweetness.
In addition to mead tastings, the Planet Bee Honey Farm experience also includes a large honey gift shop and educational centre with a indoor glass observatory hive.
Did you know? Mead is actually one of the oldest alcoholic beverages on earth, with remnants being found in 9000 year old pottery. Indeed, the term ‘honeymoon’ refers to the old custom of consuming mead for one moon cycle after marriage to encourage vitality and fertility (and hence the name of Planet Bee’s meadery!)
Explore the Swan Lake Nature Reserve
Despite being a very short drive from from downtown Vernon, Swan Lake is an exceptionally peaceful place. Part of a protected wildlife management area, it’s also home to a huge variety of birds, amphibians and mammals.
While the path stays a respectable distance from Swan Lake itself, the surrounding views are still worth the time to see. Remember to keep an eye out for wildlife!
Have brunch at EATology
With an abundance of fresh, local produce, Vernon is home to a number of impressive eateries. Of all the places that we tried, EATology is my stand out pick. This friendly eatery in downtown Vernon serves up delicious breakfast and lunch classics with quirky, modern style.
Brunch happens to be my favourite meal of the day and I’d happily eat at EATology every day if I could! My Caprese (tomato, pesto, mozzarella) Eggs Benedict was one of the best I’ve had in Canada.
EATology is a popular place and operates a waiting list at busy times. We provided our contact details, went for a walk around downtown and were called back in 20 minutes.
Visit O’Keeffe’s Ranch
Travel back in time at O’Keefe’s Ranch and discover the very beginnings of European settlement in the Okanagan Valley. Founded in 1867 during the Cariboo Gold Rush, O’Keefe’s Ranch is a living heritage site complete with blacksmith shop, general store, church, school, mansion and more.
The O’Keefe’s lived and worked on the ranch for almost a hundred years, before transforming it to a heritage site in the 1960’s. It’s now a non-profit society. This year, visitors are encouraged self tour the grounds in exchange for a donation.
At the time of our visit in August, a corn maze was also open. In previous years, it has transformed into a haunted version at Halloween.
Tour Vernon’s downtown murals
Vernon has one of the largest collections of outdoor art in Canada. Painted by local artists as part of a revitalization project over two decades ago, 28 beautiful murals tell the story of Vernon, featuring notable people, places, businesses and events that have shaped local history and culture.
Going on a self guided mural tour is easy – simply download the map here and start walking! A hot spot for murals is around Jubilee Park, near the Transit Loop. My favourites include ‘Kalamalka Lake’ and the Okanagan Science Centre’s ‘Ogopogo.’
Try local craft beers at Marten Brewing Co.
JR and I love to check out craft breweries wherever we travel in BC. Vernon may have a small craft beer scene right now, but what it does have packs a punch.
Located in the heart of downtown in a stylish two story brick building, Marten Brewing Co produce and serve an exciting range of craft beers. The fruity and light Rail Trail Apricot Ale was perfect for the summer heat, but there’s a little something for almost all tastes (IPA, stout, sour, lager, bitter and more)
Not a fan of beer? Marten Brewpub also produces kombucha, with four different varieties currently on offer.
Swim at Juniper and Jade beaches
For an Okanagan beach experience with a difference, take a trip to Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park. Juniper and Jade beaches are walk-in only, meaning you must hike to access them. Those who make the effort will find pretty twin bays with warm, crystal clear water.
To reach Juniper and Jade beaches, park at the Twin Bays (Yellow) Gate parking lot. A 600m paved trail descends a short hill to Juniper beach. The path to Jade beach is flatter but is slightly longer and is not paved. Jade beach is smaller than Juniper.
Cosens Bay is another great beach in Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, accessible by foot from the Cosens Bay Gate parking lot.
Other awesome things to do in Vernon, BC
- Go climbing at Cougar Canyon or Aberdeen Columns (PDF guidebook here)
- Try wakeboarding on Okanagan Lake with Tricky Wakesurf School
- Take a guided wine tour of Lake Country or West Kelowna
- Learn about what lies beyond the starts at the Okanagan Science Centre
- Go camping at Ellison Provincial Park on Okanagan Lake (reservation recommended)
- Tour Okanagan Spirits Distillery and learn about production of their award winning spirits
- Pick your own seasonal fruit at Peter’s U-Pick Orchard or Bright Angel Farm
- Relax in Canada’s largest spa at Sparkling Hill Resort
- Rent a pontoon, boat or jet ski on Okanagan Lake or Kalamalka Lake
- Cool down at the Splashdown Vernon Family Waterpark
- Hike or bike over 35km of trails at Predator Ridge (try the Okanagan Lake Lookout Loop)
- Swim, sunbathe and picnic at beautiful Paddlewheel Beach in Okanagan Landing
- Browse locally grown fruits and vegetables and artisan made breads and pastries at the Vernon Farmers’ Market
- Play golf – choose between 5 varied locations (Predator Ridge, the Rise, Hillview, Spallumcheen and Vernon Golf & Country Club)
- Explore the winter wonderland of Silver Star Ski Resort (late November to mid-April)
- Go heli-skiing from Predator Ridge and enjoy deep, dry powder in the Monashees
- Cross country ski or snowshoe at Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre
Where to stay in Vernon
My top recommendation for overnight accommodation in Vernon is the Prestige Vernon Lodge. Despite the unassuming exterior, it’s a real one of a kind place to stay.
A three story tropical atrium houses a natural creek, indoor pool, hot tub and restaurant. Most of the hotel rooms look out into the atrium, providing a fun ‘outside in’ vibe.
Alternatives to the Prestige Vernon Lodge include:
Fairfield Inn & Suites – Comfortable, well appointed rooms with indoor pool (closed in 2020) in convenient location near Swan Lake
Sparkling Hill Resort – Modern, adults only health and wellness resort overlooking Okanagan Lake with included breakfast
Country Cottage B&B – Welcoming property located close to Okanagan Lake with highly rated breakfast