Exploring British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley


In many ways, the landscape of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley looks much like the terrain of Colorado’s Front Range, featuring rocky hillsides and vegetation consistent with a sunny, semi-arid climate. Check out the photo below to see if you agree.

There are a few key differences, however. With a huge lake (84 miles long and three miles wide) and 180+ wineries, the Okanagan Valley demanded our attention. We happened to be in the neighborhood, making our way west from the Canadian Rockies toward Vancouver, so we stayed for a few days.

Okanagan Lake runs north and south through the valley, with wineries located along the entire length and extending to the south well beyond the lake. Influenced by microclimates, the northern region produces mostly white wines and rosés, while the hot, sunny climate in the south is ideal for big, bold reds. During our four day visit, we sampled wines from three distinct regions – two in the north and one in the south. And we spent one day riding bicycles. We’ll start with the wines.

Wine Tasting in West Kelowna

Just across the bridge from Kelowna, where we stayed, are the many wineries of West Kelowna. Our excursion began with a delicious lunch at the Indigenous World Winery, followed by tastings at four other wineries. Quails’ Gate and Mission Hill are large operations with a professional, somewhat corporate vibe, while Off the Grid and Rollingdale are small, family-owned wineries. All are worthy of a visit.

Day Trip to Naramata

Just 20 miles from Kelowna as the crow flies, the town of Naramata is located on the southeast side of Okanagan Lake. But the only way to get there by car requires a 48 mile drive that takes about 1.5 hours – totally worth the effort. With about 3,000 residents, Naramata is a vibrant and somewhat quirky community with restaurants, shops, local artisans, and more.

Hungry when we rolled into town about 12:30, we immediately looked for a place to eat lunch. We stumbled upon the Naramata Village Grounds, which sounds like (and is) a coffee shop, but it features a limited menu for lunch and dinner menu as well.

That’s where we met Chef Victor Bongo, recognized as one of Canada’s top chefs, and learned the story of how he came to call this small village home. Here’s a short article about him that’s worth a quick read: https://www.columbiavalleypioneer.com/business/b-c-small-town-cafe-boasts-one-of-canadas-top-chefs/.

After lunch (which, by the way, was delicious), we explored a few of the multitude of wineries in the Naramata area: Daydreamer, Lang, Elephant Island, Deep Roots, Van Westen, and Hillside. Purchased a few bottles for later before heading back to Kelowna. A fun day!

Heading South to Find the Big Reds

On our third and final day of wine-tasting, we were on a quest to hunt down red wine, which entailed a 65-mile trek to the southern region of the Okanagan Valley. Success – and we only scratched the surface!

We started with lunch at the Burrowing Owl winery – food, view, and ambience were all superb.

Activities after lunch included tastings at six wineries – Burrowing Owl, Desert Hills, Church and State, Bartier Brothers, Fairview, and River Stone – and seven bottles purchased for later consumption.

Seriously, if you like red wines, you will be delighted with these little known gems. Too bad we can’t buy them in the U.S., nor are they available for shipping at this time. We can only hope the situation changes in the future.

Bike Ride at the Myra Canyon Trestles

We spent our one non-wine tasting day up in the hills outside of Kelowna at the Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park. The attraction was a 12 km rails-to-trails bike ride (one way) with two tunnels and 18 trestles on the route of the former Kettle Valley Railway (KVR). Unlike the Hiawatha Trail in Idaho, there’s no shuttle at the end to transport you and your bike back to the top, so we got a bit of a workout on the return trip.

KVR ceased operations in 1980, removed the rails, and gifted the property to the provincial government. The trail was available for use by the public, but it soon fell into disrepair. That let to the formation of the Myra Canyon Trestle Restoration Society (MCTRS) in 1993 and initiatives over the next ten years to repair and improve the safety of the trestles as well as add features such as toilets, benches, and storm shelters to enhance overall user experience. By January 2003, Myra Canyon was designated as a place of Canadian historical significance, and annual visitor counts were rising.

Then in August 2003, disaster struck in the form of a fast-moving wildfire that burned 64,000 acres and destroyed 14 of the 18 trestles, which rendered the trail unusable. Government and community leaders worked together to secure funding for rebuilding the trestles and the trail, which eventually reopened to the public in 2008. It’s an amazing story of resilience, determination and hard work.

So here we are 11 years later. The forest is recovering from the fire, the parking lot is full, the trail is busy, and visitors (including us) are enjoying the experience. Very grateful to those who made it possible!

Around Town

There’s not much to say about Kelowna, the primary commercial center for the Okanagan Valley. Lots of traffic, strip malls, and fast food restaurants around the perimeter, but the downtown area by the lake is nice. Our condo was within walking distance of downtown happenings, but the best part was going through a beautiful historic neighborhood to get there.

Addendum

Wine purchased in the Okanagan Valley was subject to duty taxes when we returned to the U.S. At the border crossing south of Vancouver, we were sent to the secondary screening area, where we parked and went inside, joining others in the queue. It took us about 20 minutes to work through the process and pay. Thought you might like to see how much it cost to transport our souvenirs back to the U.S. (see photo below).

Next stop on the Road Trip 2019 itinerary – Vancouver!

Categories: Canada

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