Canada’s (Not So) Hidden Jewel
Over the years, I have had occasion to spend relatively extended periods in the Okanagan region of Western Canada during my travels. For anyone unfamiliar with this area, you are in for a treat if you ever get a chance to visit. Located roughly between Vancouver, BC and Calgary, Alberta, this expansive area is mostly know for it’s hot, dry summers and bountiful lakes. This of course makes it one of the most desirable locations for summer fun and vacations anywhere in the country. Despite that, it never feels crowded or overrun the way many summer hot-spots often do. What is perhaps less well-known is that the Okanagan is a fabulous place to visit at any time of year. In fact, Winter is probably my favorite time of year. With incredible resorts such as Silver Star, Big White and others, the snow skiing here is truly world class.
The Okanagan is also one of the best growing and agriculture areas in the entire country. World famous for its apples, cherries, peaches and other fruit, this area is fast becoming a player on the global wine scene. There are now literally dozens of wineries creating some truly world class vintages in all categories. While not an expert, I have been fortunate to have sampled some of the best (and worst) wines from literally all over the world and Okanagan wines now compare favorably to anything I have tasted anywhere. In my opinion, some of their red blends are now unparalleled. I think I’ll want to do some follow-up articles on just this topic, but my intent here is more general. Some notables for produce and super yum cider that I’ve been able to experience include BX Press Artisan Cidery and Davison Orchards. Of course there are tons more places up and down the valley, so have fun exploring and tasting your way along.
In a similar vein, Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery in Vernon won both Distillery and Spirit of the Year awards for 2015 in the World Spirit Awards Competition held in Denmark. You can find it here. In fact, places like Okanagan Spirits and Olive Us Premium Oil and Vinegar Tasting Room are leading a renaissance of sorts in downtown Vernon. If you’re a golfer, fisherman, mountain-biker, hiker, kayaker, water-skier, wake-boarder, stand-up paddle-boarder, mountain biker or any number of other outdoor activities then you’re in for a treat here. Again, there are world class opportunities for almost anything involving outdoor pursuits.
This doesn’t mean that the arts and cultural activities are under represented here. They are not. The Okanagan abounds with festivals, art galleries, restaurants and more. For example, the Winter Festival in Vernon is one of my favorites and not to be missed if you ever get a chance to attend. Among the plethora of events going on during the Winter Festival, the two ones that stand out to me are the hot air balloon rides and the ice sculpture contest. There are many other festivals and events going on at all times of the year up and down the Okanagan valley.
Water sports and activities are one of the hallmarks of this area during the hot dry summer weather. The water is warm and the colors are spectacular. Vernon’s Kalamalka Lake is world renowned for its incredible emerald green water and perfect vistas. Conditions couldn’t be better for some fun out on the many lakes and rivers that grace this beautiful region. Stretching over 135 miles long, Okanagan Lake ranges from Penticton in the south, through Kelowna and up as far as Vernon in the north. Okanagan Lake is also home to the fabled mythical sea-monster known as Ogopogo, which in many respects parallels the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland. Whether or not you believe in Ogopogo, this and all other the lakes in the region are beautiful and make wonderful water playgrounds. Stand Up Paddle-boarding (SUP) has become huge all over area. If you’re a mountain biker, you’re in for a treat in the Okanagan. I have only tried a few places, but Silver Star Ski Resort has some seriously excellent mountain biking. If you’ve got a bike rack, then I would highly recommend strapping on the bikes and bringing them along for a ride (or three).
The Okanagan is chock full of wildlife too. I took this series of a Red-Tailed Hawk flying right from the road while exploring the countryside. There are tons or other interesting raptors here such as Bald and Golden Eagles as well as Ospreys and Owls. You can also see deer, marmots, black bears and other wildlife as well.
Did someone say sports, leisure and recreation?? In addition to the previously mentioned ski resorts and lakes all up and down the Okanagan, there are tons of absolutely stunning golf courses here. Whatever your tastes, budget and ability levels are, you’ll find plenty of golf courses that will more than satisfy. Because of the Okanagan’s climate, it’s very rare to encounter much rain, so most rounds are played dry and sunny.
Finally, there are loads of friendly knowledgeable tourism offices scattered around the Okanagan with suggestions, resources and help for travelers. They are easy to find and happy to assist, but a little homework before you go will really help you get the most out this large and diverse area. If you’d like more detailed suggestions for my favorite places to visit or things to do, please leave a comment and I’ll be happy to help you out with whatever I can.