When Canadians retire, they head to the Okanagan Valley. And why not? The summers are dry and sunny, the perfect conditions for getting out on the water, hitting the beaches, or enjoying the area’s wineries. Once winter hits the mountains seem made for skiing.
Before the old folks moved in the region was home to the Okanagan Nation, a group of native hunter-gatherers who survived on the area’s wild game, roots, and berries. Their culture exists today, and is celebrated every August in a gathering near Vernon.
The gold rush encouraged Europeans to settle in the mid 1800s, although they initially clashed with the Okanagan people. The settlers persevered though, and developed local mining and farming industries.
In recent years the farming focus has changed, with apple orchards replaced by wineries. The climate is similar to the Bordeaux region in France, which is perhaps why the area can produce such fabulous pinot noirs and chardonnays.
The main tourist center is Kelowna, a city which showcases all the experiences the Okanagan Valley is renowned for. There are 15 golf courses, trails for hiking and biking, and clear waterways for boating. Just be careful when you’re on the water. Legend has it that the sea monster Ogopogo lives just beneath the surface of Okanagan Lake.
Kelowna doesn’t slow down in winter. It’s the perfect base for your skiing vacation as it’s a short drive from the Big White and Silver Star ski resorts, the region’s most popular spots for Alpine and Nordic skiing.
Kelowna’s wineries can be enjoyed any time of the year. These internationally acclaimed vineyards include the Mission Hill Estate Winery. Kelowna is also known as Okanagan Valley’s cultural center. The Rotary Center for the Arts and Kelowna Community Theatre host symphonies, ballets, and live theatre productions, while the city’s many galleries are home to some of the country’s finest artworks.
You’ll find Penticton between the Okanagan and Skaha Lakes. It’s a destination for all seasons, with sandy beaches at either end of the city, rock climbing and hiking at Skaha Bluffs, close to 100 neighboring lakes for fishing, and 15 golf courses for relaxation all year round. The city is also just 35 minutes drive from the Apex Mountain Resort, one of the region’s largest and most popular ski fields.
Penticton is also home to the S.S. Sicamous, the largest remaining steel-hulled sternwheeler in Canada. From 1914 to 1936 she transported passengers and cargo in style around the neighboring lake towns, but today she’s a museum which shares the story of her history. Before you leave make sure you stop at the beautiful Rose Garden next door.
The highlight of Penticton’s social calendar is the annual Peach Festival. The five-day event is held every August to mark the peach harvest. Live musicians, indigenous performers, parades, dancers, and of course plenty of fresh peaches help the locals celebrate.
Vernon is located in the northern part of the Okanagan Valley. It’s one of the oldest cities in the region, with heritage homes from the turn of the 1900s and full and generous trees lining its streets. Murals on the walls of the downtown buildings tell visitors of the area’s agricultural history, relaxed culture, and annual winter carnival.
This carnival is one of the largest in Canada. The week-long celebrations in February feature a host of winter-themed events including ice and snow sculpting, snowshoe tours, curling, ice skating, and much more. If you’d rather hit the slopes, Silver Star Mountain is just a 30-minute drive away.
While Vernon celebrates in winter, it’s also a great place to visit once the weather warms. The township overlooks three lakes, so there are plenty of water activities to indulge in. The area’s clear waterways are perfect for swimming, kayaking, and fishing.
The final township in the Okanagan Valley is Osoyoos, an area at the valley’s southernmost tip. Many retirees are lured to the area for its warm weather, golf courses, sandy beaches, and laidback lifestyle.
The weather is so good that you’ll want to get outdoors to soak it up. Walk or ride the International Hiking and Biking Trail, explore the desert lands belonging to the area’s indigenous people on a guided horseback tour, or play a few rounds at the Osoyoos Golf and Country Club or Sonora Dunes desert course.
Osoyoos is regarded as one of the best grape-growing regions in British Columbia, so it’s worth visiting one of the 15 wineries dotted around the city’s outskirts. They all join forces for the spring and fall wine festivals, which are annual celebrations of the area’s top drops. You could have a somewhat similar experience here as one you would on a trip to Walla Walla in Washington State – although Walla Walla is home to more than 100 wineries.
The excellent weather and range of activities designed to make the most of the climate make the Okanagan Valley an ideal vacation spot for travelers who enjoy the great outdoors.