Thompson Okanagan and Okanagan Valley Travel Guide
A special region in British Columbia, known for hot, dry summers and a landscape of mountains, lakes, rivers, orchards and vineyards.
The Thompson Okanagan is part of British Columbia’s paradise with rolling hills, lush valleys, narrow lakes with sandy beaches and high mountain peaks calling for outdoor adventures. Most part of the region is centrally located between Calgary, Alberta, and Vancouver with some of the most spectacular highways passing through. Travelling alongside rushing rivers with snow-covered mountain peaks appearing in front of you.
As you travel through the Thompson Okanagan you will notice miles and miles of orchards and vineyards the further south you go.
Venture into Canada’s only desert in Osoyoos in the south. Explore Greenwood, the “Smallest City” in Canada. Take a trail into the North Okanagan wilderness. Head north to Helmcken Falls, a waterfall higher than Niagara Falls. Go for a photo shoot at Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies and hike the trails.
Okanagan Valley, The Vacation Paradise
The Okanagan Valley and the Village of Lumby have been my home since 1999. If you are from outside of Canada, you might have never heard of this region in Canada before. Located in Southern British Columbia, the Okanagan Valley is one of the warmest areas in the province. Here you find landscapes of mountains, lakes, beaches, rivers, orchards and vineyards as well as Canada’s only desert located in Osoyoos.
Home to dozens of excellent wineries, the valley attracts tourists from all over the world. Some wineries offer a guest house, restaurant and gift shop.
The Okanagan Valley is the place for Outdoor Activities where you hike, bike, heliski and whitewater raft to your heart’s content. Many beautiful hidden spots can be found a short drive off the main roads.
Bring lots of sunscreens when you come to our Valley!
Regional and International Airports provide easy air access to the region. Airport Gateways are found in the cities of Kelowna, Kamloops and Penticton.
By Road via Major Highways
Travel Highway #1 east from Vancouver and the Lower Mainland to Cache Creek or west from Alberta to Sicamous.
Highway 5 & #97C
Travel from Hope on Highway #5 north to Kamloops and the North Thompson or take Highway #97C at Merritt and travel east to Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley.
Travel from Hope on Highway #3, head to Princeton and Osoyoos. Or from Cranbrook head west on Highway #3, enter the region through Christina Lake and Grand Forks.
Major Centres are Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon, and Osoyoos. To visit more than one place you will need a car. The downtown core of each city is easily explored on foot, by bike or via BC Transit bus.
All town and cities the Thompson Okanagan are rich in cultural heritage. Wherever you’re heading to, you will discover a part of BC’s interesting history, whether it’s the Old West, the Gold Rush or First Nations.
Thompson Okanagan is home to one of the largest Aboriginal celebrations of First Nation culture and heritage, the Kamloopa Pow Pow. It is a vibrant traditional display of storytelling, song, and dance happening on August long weekend.
Okanagan Valley Communities
Kelowna is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada and is the largest city in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. Located approximately 600 km from Calgary and 400 km from Vancouver it makes it a good halfway stop. Kelowna has an International airport with connecting domestic flights and direct flights from Seattle which bring you right to the Okanagan.
Kelowna has a beautiful waterfront and an attractive downtown. If you are not able to avoid all cities on the way to the backcountry, Kelowna is worth a stopover.
Kelowna has more to offer than fine wines, good food, and sandy beaches. Visit Myra Canyon trestles and tunnels. The scenic portion of the Kettle Valley Runway (KVS) runs along impressive steep-walled canyons. The railway was built by hand at the turn of the last century and today you can hike it or bike it.
The Okanagan glitter starts to fade before you reach Vernon. Maybe it has to do with the weather. Winters are a bit harsher here and wineries are few. Vernon has its own charm and is surrounded by three lakes, Kalamalka, Okanagan, and Swan.
Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park is great for swimming and fishing with beautiful beaches and hiking trails. Visit Davison Orchard where you get a great view of Vernon. Next door is Planet Bee where you get a free tour of a working honey farm.
Vernon is your getaway to Silver Star Mountain Resort, don’t miss the 20-minute drive to the resort.
Detour up to the Aberdeen plateau for some good fishing lakes and solitude.
Step back in time and visit historic O’Keefe Ranch, just a short way north of Vernon. The ranch has been home to the O’Keefe family from 1867 to 1977. The Ranch tells the story of early BC Ranching and endeavours to preserve the history and culture of the early ranching era. You can tour original buildings, enjoy the grounds and drop in at the Cattle Men’s Club restaurant for some grub or a drink.
The famous Cowboy Festival at O’Keefe ranch is usually happening in July, a real western horse adventure. You can watch amazing horses and Cowboys from the biggest ranches in British Columbia competing with each other.
TIP! May long weekend is rodeo time in Falkland, a small town 30 minutes north of Vernon. Don’t miss the Falkland Stampede if you happen to be in the area at that time.
Armstrong is a small farming community with a pleasing blend of country activities and plenty of outdoor recreation. The town’s authentic western look is complemented by its heritage buildings, shady streets and huge fairgrounds. You can come here to shop for antiques and locally handcrafted goods, to visit farms and orchards.
TIP! Caravan Farm Theatre his staging outdoor productions on a farm in Armstrong every summer. This is something you don’t want to miss!
TIP! Armstrong is also known for the IPE (Interior Provincial Exhibition) and Stampede. This is one of the largest agricultural fairs in Western Canada. Wear your boots and hat and experience the thrill of one of Canada’s premier pro rodeos. It all happens with five action-packed evening performances.
Enderby is a picturesque small city nestled on the banks of the Shuswap River. The spectacular Enderby Cliffs are soaring overhead. The river running right through Enderby makes a natural playground for water sports and picnicking on a sandy beach.
Enderby is the stepping-stone to hidden fishing lakes (one of them is Hidden Lake). This is a great place to discover and a good start to get into the backcountry, that’s where you meet the locals.
TIP! Starlight drive-in theatre located south of Enderby, featuring movies throughout the summer months. Don’t miss that experience.
Osoyoos is close to the USA border and you feel like being in another world. Osoyoos Lake is one of the warmest lakes in Canada. That, together with the sandy beaches calls for great water sports. It’s not uncommon for the temperature to reach 42 C. Many campgrounds and motels hire out kayaks, canoes, and small boats. Make sure you visit the Osoyoos Desert Centre and you might want to take a guided tour, it’s fully worth it.
Just about 3 km from Osoyoos east on Hwy 3, look for Spotted Lake, a weird natural phenomenon. In the heat of the summer, the lake’s water begins to evaporate. This causes its high mineral content to crystallize and leave white-rimmed circles of green on the water.
Continue Hwy 3 west and it will take you through the rugged Similkameen Valley to the cute town of Keremeos, surrounded by orchards. About 30 km west of Keremeos is Cathedral Provincial Park, a place for great backcountry adventures and backcountry camping.
Over the 20 km drive between Oliver and Osoyoos, on Hwy 97 you drive through orchard after orchard laden with yummy fruit, earning it the name “The Golden Mile”. You see plenty of roadside stands and many places will let you pick your own fruit.
The Oliver area is a good choice for touring local wineries with over 25 wineries to choose from. Tour the vineyards and sample Canadian Merlot, Cabernet, Pinot or Chardonnay in the tasting rooms. Oliver offers many biking and hiking trails which include the excellent Golden Mile Trail.
10 km north of Oliver towards Penticton on Hwy 97, stop at the Vaseux Wildlife Centre. Hike to the Bighorn National Wildlife Area and the Vaseux Lake National Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Even the lake itself is a gem, framed by granite cliffs.
Penticton is not as hectic as Kelowna and is a beach resort. For many Canadian retirees, it is a final stop in life. For cycling, try the route through Naramata onto the Kettle Valley Rail Trail. Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park is the place to go rock climbing. The park attracts climbers from all over the world.
Check out the Apex Mountain Resort 37 km west of Penticton
Summerland is a lakeside resort town 18 km north of Penticton on Hwy 97 and features beautiful heritage buildings on the hillside. Climb aboard the vintage Kettle Valley Steam Railway for a 16 km trip and think about times gone by. Riding in open air cars behind an old steam locomotive is an excellent way to enjoy the orchard views.
Peachland, the small town 25 km from Kelowna is surrounded by sloping hills, colourful orchards, picturesque vineyards and large ponderosa pines. Stroll along the lakeshore before heading through the traffic nightmare of West-Kelowna.
Our ski resorts are some of the best, with Silver Star Mountain being my favourite, only 20-minute drive from Vernon, British Columbia
Big White Ski Resort is located 55 km east of Kelowna and another great place for winter sports lovers. Big White offers excellent downhill or backcountry skiing. Because of its isolated location, most people stay at the resort for the night.
Apex Mountain Resort is located 37 km west of Penticton with the reputation to be one of Canada’s best small ski resorts. With more than 68 downhill runs the resort has something for all ability levels. Enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere compared nearby Big White.
Seasons in the Thompson Okanagan are more pronounced than on the coast. Summer days are dry and hot and it cools down at night to comfortable temperatures. Most winter months the region gets beautiful powder snow and it’s a winter lovers paradise.
Further north, the region becomes more mountainous, with more precipitation and cooler annual temperatures.
Spring usually arrives early in the Okanagan Valley and our climate is one of the mildest in Canada. If you like it hot and dry, come and visit the valley during the summer month, you will love it.