Oliver BC, Wine Capital of Canada – Outdoor Travel Guide
Over 35 wineries, countless orchards, superb hike and biking trails, and the dry climate make Oliver BC an excellent destination to explore.
About Oliver BC
In the spring of 2020, I chose the small town of Oliver to be my temporary home for when I’m not on the road.
Oliver is nestled between forested mountains and is home to farming, orchards, and over 35 wineries. This South Okanagan town with a population under 5000 stretches along busy Highway 97 and offers all the services typical for a small BC town. The dry, mild climate attracts retirees from all over Canada looking for small-town living as well as the many snowbirds spending the winter during the US border closure.
What I love about Oliver the most is the extensive hiking and biking trail network and the beautiful mountain lakes only a bike ride away.
Delicious East Indian to Greek, Mediterranean Mexican, and Asian food all can be found in Oliver. Stop for a quick lunch at a food truck or treat yourself to a fancy winery restaurant overlooking the vineyards, Oliver has it all. And don’t miss a visit to the famous Firehall Brewery.
Oliver BC Highlights
- Pick fresh local fruit at one of the orchards or stop at one of the many fruit stands across town.
- Visit the Vaseeux Lake Bird Sanctuary
- Spend a day at one of the mountain lakes
- Hike up Sandy Hill and explore Oliver Mountain
- Hike McIntyre Bluff or Stamp Mill Golden Mail
- Ride a bike along the KVR Trail
- Book a Wine tasting tour
How to get to Oliver, BC
Oliver is located in the south end of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley along Highway 97, 21 km north of the U.S. border, and 20 km from the town of Osoyoos. This is a major north-south transportation link that connects California to Alaska.
Penticton Regional Airport (YYF) is 40 km north of Oliver and offers daily flights to Vancouver International Airport and Calgary International Airport.
A Step Back in Time
Aboriginal people occupied the South Okanagan for thousands of years. Traditionally they moved throughout their large territory to follow seasonal food resources.
The first people from the outside world arrived in the 19th century when fur traders came to the area searching for better trade routes.
In the 1880s, free gold-bearing quartz was found at Camp McKinney which became a busy gold mine, attracting all kinds of characters from miners and merchants to a few outlaws. At Fairview. (just west of Oliver) miners found gold and fueled the growth of a boomtown. The boom lasted only a few years and sadly, so did Fairview. Today, only a few heritage markers remind us of Fairrview’s golden era.
Established between 1918 and 1921 as a settlement for unemployed veterans of the First World War, a gravity-fed canal was built to provide irrigation to this dry Sonora desert region, which transformed the desert region into lush orchards and farms.
Today, Oliver is a thriving community with agriculture, orchards, and vineyards being the prime industry.
Downtown Oliver BC
Stroll along Main Street and stop at the Visitor Centre, located in the Old Railway Station building for brochures and maps and see whether you will find some of the historical buildings.
The Oliver Movie Theatre on 6367 Main Street is my favourite building.
My 9 favourite Hiking and Cycling Trails in Oliver BC
For hiking and cycling enthusiasts, Oliver and the South Okanagan region are full of opportunities. I never considered British Columbia to be bike-friendly until I moved to Oliver.
I left my bike collection behind when I sold my ranch in the North Okanagan. Just after the Covid era started I visited a bike store in Pentiction to check out mountain bikes. What I ended up buying was a TREK Mountain eBike and it was an excellent decision. Whenever I’m back in Oliver, I head into the hills or ride the trails along the Okanagan River.
1. Sandy Hill Hike
This is a 4 km hike. The trailhead is located at the base of Oliver Mountain. Travelling on Highway 97 turn west onto Fairview Road, turn right onto Sparta Street, then take your first left onto the access road. Park on Spartan St.
The trail will take you up to the radio tower and the summit at 720 m with a 400 m elevation change.
This is a great hike to build up your fitness level with steep and sandy hills to get up to. Proper footwear is a must, and don’t forget the water bottle. You will be rewarded with amazing views all around. Look for a nice spot to have your lunch while overlooking the whole valley!
2. Okanagan Mountain Recreation Site and Trails
Access is via Willowbrook Rd, approximately 2 km north of Willowbrook/Fairview Rd. junction. Look out for the recreation sign and the cattle fence on the right. Parking is available along the road. Ensure that the gate is closed behind you when you come and go.
The recreation site is operated by the Southern Okanagan Dirt Bike Club and the area is scattered with trails for off-road vehicles. The site has a kiosk, picnic tables, and a toilet. No overnight camping is allowed.
From here you have hiking trails that take you up to the Radio Tower as well.
3. Maden Lake and Ripley Lake Recreation Sites
Madden and Ripley Lakes are beautiful mountain Lakes about 11 km from Oliver. During summer, both lakes can easily be reached by mountain bike or by car as long as the brakes are in good condition.
Access is from Highway 97/Fairview Rd junction. Follow Fairview Road for 4.5 km to the heritage Kiosk and stop to enjoy the view. Continue on Fairview Road which turns into a dusty dirt road. Watch for the Recreation signs along the route to Cawston for the turnoff to the lakes on the right.
Watch out for wildlife and locals with their recreational vehicles.
Both recreation sites have a boat launch, tables, and toilets and are great places for camping.
4. Burnell (Sawmill) Lake Recreation Area
Start at Highway 97/Fairville Road Junction in Oliver. At km 4.2 stop at the Fairview Kiosk and enjoy the view. Turn around and take the turnoff to Willowbrook Road. After approximately 4 km you will see the Burrel Lake, Sawmill Lake Recreation sign on the left. From there it’s about 4 km to the lake on a bumpy Forest Service Road.
I did this trip on my mountain bike and continued on the rough road around the lake. It was quite an adventure.
Burnell Lake Recreation Area has an open site with space for about ten campers next to the lake. This site is popular with fishermen and has a boat launch as well as outhouses and picnic tables.
Heading back to Oliver, continue on Willowbrook Road to Secret Hill Road which will take you back to Highway 97 and to Oliver.
5. Mahoney Lake Recreation Site
From Oliver take Hwy 97 north to Secrest Hill Road, west onto Secrest Hill Road, turn north onto Willowbrook Road and proceed north to White Lake Biodiversity Ranch kiosk. Park here and follow the trail to the overlook of White Lake and the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory.
6. Golden Mile Stamp Mill Trail
This moderate 2.5 km hiking trail is home to snakes, cattle, bears, and biting insects.
The Stamp Mill Trail is located just southwest of Oliver, BC. The trail begins at the scenic Tinhorn Creek Winery, where you can park at the shop and get a trail map. From the parking area, the trail goes through part of the Thorn Creek vineyards. This trail leads uphill and is completely exposed to the sun. Therefore it can get extremely hot without a breeze. Go prepared.
As you climb higher up the hill the view gets better and better. Eventually, the trail levels out as it reaches a plateau and just ahead the trail will fork. The trail going right is part of a longer hike (10 km) that meanders north towards the old Fairview Townsite.
7. McIntyre Bluff (Nu-lin-tn)
McIntyre Bluff is an Oliver BC landmark. Pictures of the iconic McIntyre (also called Indian Head) is featured on postcards, websites, and on South Okanagan book covers. The striking cliff rises 300 m above the road and nearby Vaseux Lake.
Attention! The trailhead at Covert Farms is currently closed until further notice. Another way to get to McIntyre Bluff is from Willowbrook Park on Johnson Crescent. This is a private park and therefore a usage fee of $5 per person applies. Use the dropbox on the gate. The trail to the bluff is well marked with pink ribbon.
Explore Canada’s desert on this moderate 10 km return trip. The elevation gain of 322 m with some steep sections. Wildlife sightings are common along the trail. There is little to no shade so be sure to bring plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat in the summer.
8. Hike and bike along the Okanagan River Channel
If you are in the Okanagan make sure to walk or bike the Hike & Bike trail along the Okanagan River Channel. This 18 km trail is mostly paved through Oliver, south of Oliver towards Osoyoos is gravel
The Oliver Visitor’s Center is a good place to park your vehicle and has a playground nearby. Pick up some maps and information while you’re there. At Road 22 you will find another parking lot and access to the Osoyoos Oxbows – a great birding site.
For a great loop ride, continue onto Black Sage Road and visit a few wineries on the way.
9. Vaseux Lake Wildlife Centre
About 10 km north of Oliver on Highway 97 you will find a spectacular protected piece of marshland.
Park your car at the parking area and head to the information kiosk at the entrance of the Vaseux Lake Wildlife Park. Here you will find information on the grasslands, conservation lands, types of birds, and lots more.
The Vaseux Wildlife Centre has a 300 m boardwalk and is an excellent place for birding and wildlife viewing. At the end of the boardwalk is a wildlife viewing tower you can climb to marvel at the views over Vaseux Lake.
Toilets are available at the site. Stay on the path as there are signs warning of poison ivy.
Campsites are available in Vaseux Lake Provincial Park. Check the latest information.
Don’t miss a visit to the Firehall Brewery
After a day of outdoor adventures stop in at the Firehall Brewery on Main Street in Canada’s Wine Capital. The brewery is located beneath the Old Firehall where you can extinguish your thirst with a beer. The Beer Shop & Social is open daily for tastings, tours, pints, socializing, live music, events, and retail sales Check out their website.
Oliver Visitor Centre and Gift Shop
6431 Station Street, Oliver, www.winecapitalofcanada.com, email@example.com, 1-844-896-300, (778) 439-2363
- NEW BOOK: Let’s Go Biking to the Okanagan & Beyond. This book is available in BC bookstores, bike shops, and gift shops.
- Parks Canada
- Tourism Oliver
- British Columbia Travel Guide
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