Highway 97 through the Okanagan Valley is almost an endless parade of lakes, rivers and man-made channels. Water, water, everywhere but where to choose for a visit? One of my favourites is Vaseux Lake, just south of Okanagan Falls. It’s got that perfect not-too-big, not-too-small balance exactly right as well as easy accessibility, great fishing, sweet views and warm, shallow water. Better still, it also has the somewhat more unique feature of being home to a bird sanctuary.
hiding in plain sight
Set in a narrow valley with a backdrop of rugged hills, Vaseux Lake may be the prettiest little lake in the Southern Okanagan. Imposing McIntyre Bluff looms over the southwestern corner of this small lake, while the highway hugs the eastern edge. A boardwalk winds through marshland on the northern edge and a few dozen houses line the lakeshore to the south. If you look carefully, vineyards can be spotted in the distance. Vaseux Lake is a southern Okanagan gem, hiding in plain sight.
In between all of this is a wonderfully warm, shallow and usually calm lake with water so clear you can spot fish near the bottom. Somewhat ironically, the word ‘Vaseux’ actually means muddy or murky in French!
Perfect for paddling
As a national waterfowl sanctuary, Vaseux Lake is a complete power boat free zone. This in combination with the relatively small size and shallow depths, means that it is something of a paddler’s paradise. Easy to access and launch, Vaseux Lake makes for a great afternoon or morning paddle. With the bird sanctuary to the north, sandy beaches in the centre and two swimming holes in the south, there is enough to see for a full day visit too.
The noise of the highway quickly fades to a quiet hum as you paddle towards the western shore. There are a few sandy beaches on the far side, perfect for lunch or a swim in summer. If you’ve got the time, keep paddling past the southern end of the lake to reach two perfectly round swimming holes. These are actually potholes, formed by retreating glaciers.
Being relatively shallow, the water is fairly warm in July and August. For this reason, Vaseux Lake is also an awesome place to work on paddling skills or rescues.
Bird sanctuary boardwalk and bird hide
Vaseux Lake is home to a surprisingly wide array of rare animals and plants. 11 species of birds at risk of being endangered can be seen alongside more common shorebirds. A short wooden (sometimes overgrown) boardwalk through protected marshlands leads to a brand new three story bird blind (or hide). Not just great for bird watching, the top deck offers panoramic views of the lake and McIntyre Bluff.
In addition to the many shorebirds around the lake, it may also be possible to spot mountain goats and big horn sheep on the surrounding hills. We’ve paddled past grazing deer and fawns on tiny Hatfield Island, near the southern end, before. Fishing is good here too, with Vaseux Lake said to be one of the best places to fish large mouth bass in BC (though I can’t say I have proved that yet!)
Camping at Vaseux Lake
Vaseux Lake Provincial Park offers 12 reasonably private campsites, located between the highway and the lake. The campground is technically open all year round, though the gate is shut during the off-season (November to April). All campsites are first-come, first-served, something that is unusual for BC Parks campgrounds in this area. A campground host is on duty during the summer season, collecting camping fees every evening.
Being so close to the highway, the campground is preferable as an overnight stop rather than a holiday destination. Trees do block some of the road noise, but it is still undeniably quite loud. Folks with RVs definitely fare better than tent campers here! Most of the campsites are directly on the lake and offer pleasant views, with just a few sites located on the highway side.
There are a couple of different ways to access Vaseux Lake.
Vaseux Wildlife Centre
The Vaseux Wildlife Centre access road is at the very top of the lake, almost opposite to the Oliver Ranch Road turn off. When approaching from the north, look for the brown ‘Wineries’ sign indicating a left-hand turn to Blasted Church et al. Start slowing down here for the right hand turn into the Wildlife Centre. There is a large gravel off highway parking lot here, with a couple of outhouses, benches and access points to the water. The boardwalk to the bird blind starts here.
Along the lake
Driving along the lakeshore on Highway 97, there are numerous unofficial pull-outs. It is possible to access the lake from these, but there are better options.
Vaseux Lake Provincial Park
Vaseux Lake Provincial Park is located 600m south of the Vaseux Wildlife Centre. There is no visitor parking available in the gated part of the park but there is off highway parking space for six cars. From here, you can portage kayaks and canoes through the campground to the lake.
Overnight camping fees at Vaseux Lake Provincial Park are currently $18 per party (2017).
The last place to access Vaseux Lake is on Sundial Road, at the southern end of the lake. Two-thirds of the way down the short road is a parking area on the right-hand side. There is a rough boat launch here with parking space for about four or five vehicles.
Where are your favourite BC lakes?
PIN or save this post for future reference with the above image!