Best Things To Do In The Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Best Things To Do In The Okanagan Valley BC

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Okanagan Valley is the Canada that overseas visitors never imagine. It welcomes you with countless long, warm lakes, sandy beaches, surrounded by massive hills, 200+ scenic vineyards, orchards, Canada’s only desert and sunny weather (oh, and no bugs!).

Visiting the Okanagan sometimes felt like being transported to the Mediterranean (those large, turquoise lakes are easy to mistake for the sea), other times it felt like Tuscany, with rolling green hills, vineyards and fresh fruit stands by the road. It was not the Canada we fell for when visiting the Rockies, but we fell for it anyway.

Distances are short in the Okanagan region, it’s only ~170 km from Vernon to Osoyoos. With all the stunning lakes, beaches, epic views and good wine, an Okanagan Valley road trip is a fun adventure!

And here’s our guide to the best things to do in the Okanagan Valley, with lots of tips to make your visit a truly unforgettable one.

Where is the Okanagan Valley?

Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, BC, Canada

I’ve never heard about the Okanagan Valley before moving to British Columbia. But this region, situated between the Columbia and Cascade mountain ranges, is a beloved destination for locals to visit in every season. It includes the cities of Salmon Arm, Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton, Summerland, Peachland and Osoyoos, and some smaller communities in between.

Wonderful lakes, fruit orchards and vineyards dominate the Okanagan Valley which is the largest producer of fruit and wine in Canada. Whether you love good food and wine, sunshine and beaches, or kayaking and other outdoor activities, the Okanagan Valley won’t disappoint.

Best things to do in the Okanagan Valley

Let’s see the “best of the best” first, because no matter where exactly you travel in the Okanagan, you shouldn’t miss these activities. Then after the summary, we break down what to do in the Okanagan Valley by cities.

TOP 5 things to do in the Okanagan

Visit stunning lakes and beaches

Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, BC, Canada

Lakes are everywhere in the Okanagan, and they all have their own unique beauty and shade of green or blue. Some of them get pleasantly warm in the hot summers, some remain chilly, but most of them have a number of sandy beaches, and offer opportunities for kayaking, canoeing or paddleboarding.

Okanagan Lake: Giant Okanagan Lake spans 135 kilometers from tip to toe. Several cities are on the lakeshore, and you find about 30 beaches. Kin Beach and Kal beach in Vernon are both lovely, easy to access and have all the amenities. But our favorite Okanagan Lake beach is in Ellison Provincial Park. Further south, Sun-Oka Provincial Park in Summerland also offers a family-friendly beach, right off the highway.

Kalamalka Lake: It became our favorite because of its color and the fabulous views we enjoyed while hiking in Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park. You wouldn’t call it a warm lake, but it’s nice to go in for a swim on a hot day.

Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, BC, Canada

Mabel Lake: It’s surrounded by high alpine peaks. While its water is definitely not warm, it’s crystal clear and great for kayaking.

Shuswap Lake: It has several nice beaches, like Canoe Beach, which is a pebbly-sandy beach with big shady trees, roped off swimming area, grassy picnic area and great amenities, or Pebble Beach in the small town of Blind Bay.

Skaha Lake: It has a beach that’s consistently voted one of the best beaches in all of Canada: Skaha Beach Park. It has shallow water with a sandy bed, and there are floating docks and children’s water slides inside the lake, as well as a boat launch area.

Kentucky Alleyne Lake: It has a vibrant turquoise (and chilly) water. Only non-motorized watercraft are allowed, so it’s very peaceful for paddling or kayaking.

Echo Lake: Another secluded lake hidden in the forest is Echo Lake, about an hour drive from Vernon.

Lake Osoyoos: We loved Lake Osoyoos in the south, because it’s the warmest freshwater lake in all of Canada!

Hike up to one of the beautiful lookouts

Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, BC, Canada

Those massive hills around the lakes provide plenty of opportunities to enjoy spectacular lake views from above.

Mount Boucherie and Mount Knox are the most popular spots for scenic hikes in Kelowna. Pincushion Mountain in Peachland is a steep hike that leads to pretty views. We enjoyed every minute of the easy hike up to Rattlesnake Point in Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, not to mention the views at the end.

Tour wineries

The wineries of the Okanagan Valley rival those of the Napa Valley or Tuscany. Surprising as is, but the Okanagan Valley gets a bit more sunshine on average in July and August than Napa Valley in sunny California.

And it’s not only about the wine (in which neither of us are experts, but experts say it’s great wine), but also the scenery!

Ellison Provincial Park, BC, Canada

Visiting a few wineries in different areas of the Okanagan gives you the opportunity to taste different wines, because of the slight differences in terrain, soil and climate. You can do it on your own, as most wineries allow walk-ins, or join a guided wine tasting tour, like this one. A guided tour is also a good way to solve the problem of “someone has to drive, so who won’t drink?”.

Here are the top choices (from north to south):

  • Quail’s Gate Winery in Kelowna: it offers stunning views of Okanagan Lake
  • Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna: another one with great views of the Okanagan Lake
  • Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna: it has one of the largest selection of organic wines in the Okanagan, and there’s also a restaurant on site
  • Indigenous World Winery in West Kelowna: the only 100% owned Indigenous winery in British Columbia, with a great winery restaurant
  • Hainle Vineyards in Peachland: it’s the birthplace of ice wine in North America
  • Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards at Greata Ranch in Peachland: one of the best places to sample white wine and sparkling wines
  • Lang Vineyards in Naramata: it has some of the smoothest red wines
  • Covert Farms in Oliver: it’s great for a family-friendly wine tasting, with a fabulous outdoor tasting area, farm animals and a huge inflatable pillow to jump on
  • Platinum Bench Estate Winery in Oliver: you can’t only taste wine, but also home made bread and cheese
  • District Wine Village in Oliver: it’s a group of 13 wineries that you can explore on a walking tour
  • LaStella Winery in Osoyoos: it aims to deliver a taste of Italy, even the winery building is inspired by Tuscany

All wineries are open from April to October, but many are open year round (or at least they open for holidays and special occasions, like Christmas or Valentine’s Day).

Explore the Kettle Valley Railway

The Kettle Valley Railway is an abandoned railway route that has been developed into a 650 kilometers long multi-use trail system that runs through southern British Columbia. You can access a section of this trail anywhere in the Okanagan, and you can walk, jog, bike or ride a horse, whichever you prefer.

The most popular section is the Myra Canyon trestles near Kelowna.

Enjoy fresh fruit from the orchards

Apples, peaches, cherries, blueberries and many other fruits and veggies grow in abundance in the Okanagan Valley. Just stop at some of the many fruit stands along Highway 97 and pick what you like.

Best things to do in Vernon

Kin Beach, Vernon, Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada

Of all the lovely lakeside towns in the Okanagan, Vernon was the one that felt like we could live there. (That, until I checked the average winter temperatures. I know, I know, it’s not bad by Canadian standards, but we are not Canadian. We ended up in Australia, after all.)

Anyway, Vernon is that kind of small town which is adorable and not boring at all, has nice scenery and beaches, and lots of great opportunities to spend your time outdoors.

Kin Beach, Vernon, Okanagan Valley, BC, Canada

What to do in Vernon:

  • Relax on Kin Beach (Okanagan Lake) or Kal Beach (Kalamalka Lake), go swimming or paddling.
  • Hike to Rattlesnake Point lookout in Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park.
  • Enjoy the quiet coves in Ellison Provincial Park.
  • Visit Davison Orchards to buy delicious food (fruits and more).
  • Travel back in the 1800s by visiting O’Keefe Ranch, which has attractions like a blacksmith’s workshop, a pottery shop or St Anne’s Church.
  • Walk 30th Ave, the main street, which is home to unique shops, restaurants and cafes.
  • Hike up to Middleton Mountain for a 360 degree panorama. Go early, there’s no shade.
  • Take the 400-meter long trail to BX Falls. (The trailhead is by Tillicum Road.)
  • Try the slides in Splashdown, Vernon’s family water park.

Best things to do in Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park

Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park was our favorite in the Okanagan. It has the prettiest beaches: Juniper and Jade beaches, both a short walk away from the parking lot (Kalamalka Lake main parking, after the Yellow Gate). They are neighboring bays, with a gentle slope between them, which offers lovely views and some picnic benches.

While it’s hard to find ugly beaches by the lakes in the Okanagan, Kalamalka Lake has the most perfect turquoise color, and Juniper and Jade bays are peaceful gems. They are also perfectly sandy, great for small kids to play. The water was quite chilly, but we had a refreshing swim on a hot summer day.

Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, BC, Canada

From Juniper Bay it’s only a short hike to get to Rattlesnake Point which offers a fabulous panorama over Kalamalka Lake. We continued the hike to Cosen’s Bay, which is truly a hidden beach, mostly visited by paddlers who stop there for a picnic.

Best things to do in Ellison Provincial Park

Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park was our favorite, but Ellison Provincial Park is a close second. Located on Okanagan Lake, this tiny park has a few short walks to different viewpoints, picturesque and family-friendly beaches (one of them is dog-friendly), with picnic tables and fire pits. They’re sandy beaches, but have rough sand which is reddish-pink. (It goes quite well with the lush green colors of the pine forest, said the photographer.)

Ellison Provincial Park, BC, Canada

Oh, and it has a campground, too, which was among our favorite campgrounds to stay in British Columbia. (More on that later in this post.)

Best things to do in Kelowna

Kelowna is the largest city in the Okanagan, with a scenic waterfront, marina, parks, playgrounds and nice beaches. If you’d leave the busy downtown, lots of beautiful hiking trails are only a short drive away.

What to do in Kelowna:

  • Relax on Gyro Beach or Hot Sands Beach.
  • Try the cider at East Kelowna Cider Co, run by one of Kelowna’s oldest farming families.
  • Hike or bike the Myra Canyon trestles.
  • Hike to amazing views in Knox Mountain Park.
  • Take the Waterfront Boardwalk to Tugboat Beach – it’s the best at sunset!

Best things to do in Summerland and Peachland

The two laid-back towns of Summerland and Peachland (idyllic names, right?) are both on the shore of Okanagan Lake. Being only 15 minutes drive from each other, they’re closer than two randomly picked areas within the city of Vancouver, so let’s discuss their sights together.

What to do in Summerland & Peachland:

  • Stroll the historic Trout Creek Trestle Bridge. This 73 meters high wooden bridge was once the highest on the Kettle Valley Railway.
  • Hike up to Giant’s Head Mountain for breathtaking views. The Giant’s Head Loop is 2.6 km, but quite steep at places.
  • Hiking the Pincushion Mountain Trail in Peachland is another opportunity to reach spectacular valley and lake views.
  • Paddle from Peachland to tiny Rattlesnake Island.
  • Visit Hardy Falls, which is a 0.8 km return trail along Deep Creek (and across 8 bridges!) from Peachland.
  • Enjoy water activities in Sun-Oka Beach Provincial Park where you can go swimming or rent kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards or pedal boats.
  • Stroll the beautiful Summerland Ornamental Gardens.
  • Visit Summerland Millennium Spray Park for some water fun. This water park is in Peach Orchard Park and offers different water cannons and ground sprays – a heaven for kids! (open daily from May until September)
  • Visit the Summerland Sunday Market on Main Street. (from June to September, 9 am to 1 pm)

Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, BC, Canada

Best things to do in Penticton

Being nestled between Skaha Lake and Okanagan Lake is enough reason to love Penticton. Add a bit of small town charm and lots of outdoorsy opportunities, and there you found another tempting destination in the Okanagan.

What to do in Penticton:

  • Stroll the Okanagan Lake promenade, a 1 km paved path with picnic benches and art sculptures along the way.
  • Visit the Penticton Farmers’ Market on Main Street on Saturday mornings for locally grown and produced goods. (from mid April to the end of October)
  • Take a wine tour on the Naramata Bench, which offers 40+ wineries on a 20 km stretch of road.
  • Enjoy the views from Munson Mountain, the lookout is a short, flat walk from the parking lot.
  • Go rock climbing in Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park.
  • Relax on the beach in Skaha Lake Park. It’s one of the top beaches in Canada, with playgrounds, watersport opportunities and great amenities.
  • Float down the Penticton River. It’s a popular summer activity, and you can rent tubes if you don’t have your own. Floating down the whole length of the Penticton River Channel takes about 3 hours (it’s a 7 km waterway that connects Okanagan Lake and Skaha Lake).
  • Hire a boat and explore Okanagan or Skaha Lake.

Best things to do in Osoyoos

Haynes Point, Lake Osoyoos, BC, Canada

Osoyoos has its own little corner in our heart. Camping on the shore of Osoyoos Lake in Haynes Point Provincial Park and swimming in the warmest freshwater lake of Canada is such a fond memory! Surrounded by the dry desert landscape, you can easily forget you’re in Canada here.

But it is actually a desert, the only one in this giant country, and temperatures on summer days often reach 40 degrees Celsius. The best thing to do is, of course, jumping into Osoyoos Lake. Canada’s warmest lake is around 26-33 degrees Celsius in the summer. I’ve never dreamed of finding such a warm lake in Canada, and it was hard to tempt our 3-year-old son out of the water.

Sẁiẁs Provincial Park, BC, Canada

But there are also good wineries and exciting trails to find near Osoyoos. However, if you visit on hot summer days, you might end up spending all of your time on the beach for good.

What to do in Osoyoos:

  • Drive up to Anarchist Mountain on a steep, winding road to get the best panoramas in town.
  • Visit Haynes Point (sẁiẁs Provincial Park), a peninsula jutting out into the lake, and enjoy a lakeshore walk, swimming or lakeshore camping.
  • Learn about the ecology of the Osoyoos area in the Desert Centre. Walk the 1.5 km interpretive boardwalk.
  • Pick a beach. Gyro Beach is the largest beach in Osoyoos, with shallow water and shady trees. Legion Beach has a grassy area with picnic tables, large trees and a designated dog swimming area. Lion’s Park also has a grassy area, picnic tables and a playground, and it connects to Gyro Park on a paved pathway.

Sẁiẁs Provincial Park, BC, Canada

Best time to visit the Okanagan Valley

Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, BC, Canada

It’s a year-round destination, but the best time depends on the activities you’d like to do. Hot summers are great for water activities, enjoying the freshwater beaches and camping. Spring and fall are ideal for hiking and wine tasting, because temperatures are not scorching hot. Fall can actually be much more pleasant in the Okanagan than on the coast, because it tends to be sunnier.

Then winters are colder than on the coast. The hills are covered in snow, and you find skiing and snowshoeing opportunities.

Where to stay in the Okanagan?

The most unique places to stay in the Okanagan Valley

For those of you who are looking for something a bit more special, the best place to stay in Okanagan Valley could be one of these:

Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, BC, Canada

The Inn at Therapy Vineyards. It’s located on the Naramata Bench, offers five luxury suites with vineyard views and a shared hot tub.

A Hobbit House. An authentic hobbit themed earthhouse, located ~30 minutes east from Osoyoos in the Okanagan Highlands. Plan ahead to book this one as it’s very-very popular.

Prestige Vernon Lodge. A uniquely designed hotel with a glass-enclosed tropical themed atrium, indoor swimming pool and hot tub.

Where to stay in the Okanagan Valley on a budget?

Ellison Provincial Park, BC, Canada

If you’re looking for a more simple and more affordable place with four walls and at a good location:

Quality Inn & Suites in Vernon. Central location in Vernon. Family suites and indoor swimming pool available.

Rosedale Motel in Summerland. Conveniently close to Highway 97, with simple, clean rooms and an outdoor swimming pool.

Samesun Kelowna. A hostel in the center of Kelowna, with both private rooms and dorms and a large covered outdoor patio.

The best campgrounds in the Okanagan region

Camping is very popular in British Columbia in the summer months, and it’s the most budget-friendly way to stay at wonderful locations. The Okanagan region has many campgrounds, and we liked them very much.

Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, BC, Canada

The hot, dry weather is ideal for camping, anyway, so the Okanagan Valley was finally a place in BC where we didn’t have to cope with rain and storms while camping. There are several provincial parks in the Okanagan, some at particularly idyllic locations and with great amenities.

Ellison Provincial Park campground

Ellison Provincial Park is on the northeastern shore of Okanagan Lake, and the campground is located in the pine forest, above a rocky shoreline of scenic headlands and sheltered coves – which can be accessed on a walking trail from the camping.

It has 71 vehicle-accessible campsites that offer plenty of privacy, and most of them are nicely shaded. Small flush toilets are dotted in the campground, and there’s a large washroom building with showers. Families will appreciate the playground. The small sheltered bays on the lakeshore are also perfect for sand and water play.

Mabel Lake Provincial Park campground

The sandy shore of Mabel Lake is backed by a forest of hemlock, red cedar and birch. There are three campgrounds that offer 114 vehicle-accessible campsites: Trinity, Monashee, and Taylor Creek.

You need to drive on a single lane gravel road to reach them, and amenities don’t include showers, but Mabel Lake makes up for it.

Kekuli Bay Provincial Park campground

Kekuli Bay Provincial Park is a small park on the shore of Kalamalka Lake, 11 km south of Vernon. It has 72 vehicle-accessible campsites and 4 walk-in sites. Amenities include warm showers, pit and flush toilets, lake views and a boat launch. Even electrical hookups are available which is rare to find in provincial parks. 

The campsite gives access to the Okanagan Rail Trail.

Haynes Point (sẁiẁs Provincial Park) campground

Sẁiẁs Provincial Park, BC, Canada

Haynes Point is a peninsula in Osoyoos Lake, and offers a rare treasure: lakeshore campsites. Even though many campgrounds are located by lakes, most of them are further from the lakeshore and in the forest. At Haynes Point you are truly on the lakeshore or a few steps away. It was one of the best campgrounds we stayed in BC!

It has 41 vehicle-accessible campsites, pit and flush toilets. No shower, but come on, take a dip in Lake Osoyoos.

Free campsites in the Okanagan Valley

There are several rustic recreation sites along Okanagan Lake. The recreation site system in BC offers low cost or even free camping, but they have only the very basics and operate a bit differently than provincial parks.

The campsites are all first-come, first-served, usually accessible via gravel roads (that might require a high clearance vehicle), and some sites are walk-ins. Facilities normally include pit toilets only. You rarely find garbage bins, so you should carry out everything you packed in.

You can browse recreation sites here. Cascade Beach Recreation site has two free tent sites (walk-in), but the location is wonderful, and there’s a boat launch, as well. Idleback Lake near Penticton offers 21 free campsites, but you need to drive on a forest service road to reach them.

Boss Lake Recreation Site has 41 campsites for a small fee. They’re accessible on a gravel road, but it’s suitable for any cars or RVs.