Note: This post was updated in August 2016.
Lakeside waves, orchards fresh for picking, wine tastings up every hillside, campgrounds and RV parks galore–welcome to the Okanagan.
This hotspot in British Columbia’s interior is the best long weekend (or week-long) summer getaway. It’s the perfect place to visit for Calgarians looking for something more than a river to chill by, Vancouverites looking to slow things down a little, or anyone looking for some R&R.
In my opinion, it’s also one of the best places in Canada for a summer road trip.
Why? Because there are so many roadside attractions. And random pitstops are what makes a road trip enjoyable or in some cases, bearable. I mean we all know there’s only a certain number of hours before half, or both cheeks, go numb right? Bonus points if the scenery is awesome, and it is.
Plus, there’s literally something to do for everyone. Kids can play with farm animals or cool off in the lake. Adults can check out wine tours, breweries, golf courses, ziplining, fruit picking, or the beaches. Okanagan Lake is the largest in the area and home to the legendary Ogopogo, a sea serpent, but today that’s all a myth of course.
I’ve probably been to the Okanagan on at least 10 separate occasions now, and it started with family camping trips.
But each time I visit, I’m still finding new things to do and places I haven’t been to yet.
Road trips are awesome because it can be a very affordable way to travel, especially for families and larger groups. If you go prepared, it doesn’t have to be just a long and boring car ride. The key is to take breaks, drive at a steady pace, blast some upbeat tunes, and enjoy the scenery.
I’m not going to lie though, it can be a long drive if you want to get to the heart of the Okanagan.
Factoring in the driving time, I’d say four or five days here is ideal. Although if you’ve got the time, splurge on spending a week or two exploring the area. Here are the approximate driving distances:
Calgary → Kelowna = 7 hour drive, 605 km
Vancouver → Kelowna = 4 hour drive, 389 km
U.S. Border Crossing → Osoyoos = 5 minutes, 4 km
Since Kelowna is the largest city in the Okanagan, it’s a good, central spot to find accommodation and act as a homebase. Smaller towns like Peachland, Summerland or Penticton are nearby so it’s easy to hop from one place to another. When it’s high season though (May to August), snag anything you can get in the area to avoid the slim pickings.
So here we go peeps. Here’s my roundup guide of what to do, eat and see for an ultimate Okanagan road trip:
- D Dutchman Dairy – A red farm I always see right along the Trans-Canada Highway, just before you head south on Highway 97 (if you’re driving from Calgary). I can’t say I’ve stopped there yet, but I’ve heard they have old-fashioned ice cream and dairy products, plus a mini zoo. I’m sure it’s a great place to stop and stretch your legs.
- Starlight Drive-In Theatre – An old-school, drive-in movie theatre just outside of Enderby–and I’m not talking black and white films. They show current movies just like what you’ll find at any movie theatre, but it’s outside and you get to sit in your car! Seriously, how cool is that? Better scratch this one off the list before these type of theatres cease to exist.
- Armstrong Cheese – If you have a cooler and love cheese, this is the place to make a quick pit stop. This shop has been running since 1902 and the store has quite the assortment of cheese you can sample and buy. If you’re lucky and there at the right time, sometimes you can even watch them make the next batch!
- Log Barn – Some say this is a tourist trap but honestly, I’d go there at least once to witness the goats who know how to roll up a can of food on the goat walk.
- Davison Orchards Country Village – I had a free pancake breakfast here on Canada Day, but I’ve heard Auntie’s May Deep Dish Café is great for lunch and the pie is supposedly to die for. There are farm animals to play with, orchard tours, U-Picks for seasonal fruit/vegetables and plenty more.
- Planet Bee – I keep hearing about this place but haven’t had a chance to visit. It’s a honeybee farm with a shop, tours and tastings. The bees are available to view in a glass display so there’s no chance of getting stung (hopefully).
- Atlantis Waterslides – A popular place for families and kids: 10 waterslides, a picnic area, ice cream, mini golf–lots to do on a hot day!
- Italian Kitchen Company – This local restaurant is a great choice for dinner if you’re in Vernon. The atmosphere is casual and warm, and I love how the restaurant is in this old brick building. The food is fresh and tasty and you’ll be treated well here.
- Kalamalka Lake – A quieter lake than what you’re gonna find around Kelowna/Penticton. Plus, I highly recommend trying stand-up paddleboarding if you haven’t done it before. Since the lake is smaller, the water is calmer and there’s not as many boats zipping around. Kalavida Surf Shop sometimes has a demo area setup on the beach where you can try paddleboarding for free, but if not, the shop is closeby for rentals.
- Oyama Ziplining – This one is for the adventure seekers, and on my to-do list for my next visit. There are seven zipline runs and the entire course takes about three hours. You’ll get to weave your way down the mountainside through the forest and take in the view of the lake and the vineyards on your way down.
- Kangaroo Creek Farm – One of my best discoveries so far in the Okanagan. I can’t believe I’ve never been here before, but for a minimum $5 donation per person, you have access to freely petting kangaroos, wallabies, cabybaras, goats, and other adorable animals. The hours are a bit odd since the farm is only open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and then again in the evening from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. so plan your schedule accordingly. The times my also change depending on the season (best to check the website). It’s also better to go early in the morning or right at 6 p.m. cause it can get ridiculously busy–not surprising though because who wouldn’t want to hold baby kangaroos!?
- The Jammery – A bustling place for brunch with a wide selection of pies and locally-made jams. It’s just off Highway 97 north of Kelowna. Be sure to say hello to the horses in the field next door before you leave too–they’re friendly.
- Geert Maas Sculpture Gallery & Garden – I saw this sign “Mass Sculpture Garden” just as you enter Kelowna and it led to a spontaneous visit to the home and gallery of a talented international artist. For a small donation, you can roam around Mr. Maas’ home and view his bronze sculptures and geometric paintings.
- Mosaic Books – A lovely bookstore that has discounts on a wide range of new and popular books in downtown Kelowna. A must for booklovers!
- Kelowna Disc Golf (Knox Mountain) – Take advantage of that hot summer weather and go for a round of disc golf. Most disc golf courses, including this one, are free (actually, I’ve never come across one where you needed to pay). This one at Knox Mountain is shaded with trees, has some interesting higher level terrain, and you can opt to play halfway at the nine hole, or the entire course at 18 holes.
- Mama Rosa’s – Located in downtown, you’ll find classic Italian food with hearty portions and tons to choose from here. The ambiance is on point with brick walls, sultry lighting, and if it happens to be your birthday, you can get a slice of dessert on the house.
- Little Hobo – This is probably one of the most welcoming, mom and pop sandwich joints I’ve ever been to with the most delicious cream of mushroom soup. They make an effort to know your name, treat you like family, and you can tell they love what they do. I highly, highly recommend this place for lunch. They’re only open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and it’s busy right up until they close.
- Kelowna Wibit Water Park – An inflatable waterpark obstacle for kids right on the lake. This seriously looks like so much fun–if only I were younger. There’s another one of these in Penticton too.
- Parasailing – Definitely wanted to do this after spotting all these yellow parachutes on the lake. Unfortunately there just wasn’t enough time on my trip, but there’s always next time. Always.
- Kasugai Gardens – In downtown Kelowna, there’s a traditional Japanese garden with stone lanterns, a carp pond, and a waterfall open to the public. It’s a peaceful place to walk through or to enjoy some time with your thoughts.
- Hardy Falls – An easy 15 minute nature walk through Deep Creek heading towards the falls. Lookout for the spawning Kokanee Salmon if you’re here in the fall. But in the summer, you’re also likely to see a bunch of keeners getting ready to do their thing.
- Parrot Island – Another sign I kept noticing along the highway but didn’t get a chance to check out. It’s a sanctuary for abused and abandoned exotic birds–your visit will surely support the care of these birds.
- Hainle Vineyards Estate Winery – North America’s first organic winery to produce ice wines. Sadly, a fire destroyed most of their ice wine grapes a few years ago so I’m not sure if they’re still making them. They do have wine tastings for $5 a person though and you’ll get to taste their other reds and whites.
- Summerland Sweets – So this was one of my favourite places in the Okanagan as a kid. It has changed a bit over the years–there are no longer tours–but the jellies are still amazing and the syrups are delicious on fresh pancakes (I recommend apricot or blackberry). There’s ice cream here too along with the new Sleeping Giant Fruit Winery. Tastings are dangerously free!
- Summerland Ornamental Gardens – Another spot where I have some fond childhood memories. This was the place where I started experimenting with my now-obsolete Olympus camera when I was about 14, but it really is a nice place for picture-taking. There are 15 acres of beautiful flowers, landscaped gardens and walking trails. Super nice and relaxing. It’s open year-round and donations for admission are appreciated but not required.
- Penticton River Channel – A few hours spent floating down the river is one of the most popular things to do around here during the summer. There’s no cost involved unless you need to rent flotation devices. Coyote Cruises can hook you up for rentals, and there’s even a shuttle bus that will take you from one end of the river to the other.
- Skaha Lake Park – Located at the very southern end of Penticton, there’s a large park here with picnic areas, playgrounds, tennis and basketball courts, etc. There’s a nice sandy beach along the lake too–perfect for chucking around a football or frisbee–but it can get busy and crowded during the day. Tip: Go in the late afternoon when it’s both cooler and less crowded.
- La Casa Ouzeria – So it seems the Okanagan has no shortage of Italian restaurants, but who’s complaining? La Casa Ouzeria is a family-run Italian and Greek restaurant serving up traditional dishes with Mediterranean-like decor. It’s a decent-sized restaurant perfect for small or large groups. Bonus: you get free bread with a delicious oregano-olive oil-balsamic dip.
- Cannery Brewing – This micro-brewery has a range of ales and lagers. Brewery tours are on Fridays at 1 p.m. or by calling in ahead of time and arranging something that works for you. Tastings are available all day for as long as they are open. It’s about $6 for four samples and there are bar snacks you can order too.
- Tinhorn Creek Vineyards – Oliver is the wine capital of Canada so there’s no shortage of wineries in this area. Tinhorn Creek is a great place to visit for food, wine tastings and to take in the view of the Okanagan. The Miradoro restaurant here is open for lunch and dinner. There’s also a nice grassy area out back where Tinhorn hosts a Canadian Concert Series throughout the summer. The wine shop offers free tastings for eight of their wines. The Oldfield 2Bench series is quite popular, but since I’m a sucker for sweet wines, I picked up a Gewurztraminer for $12 (lucky me, it was on sale).
- Burrowing Owl Estate Winery – Taste a few wines and help an endangered species at the same time. Tastings cost $3 per person but all the funds are donated to the Burrowing Owl Conversation Society of BC. The whole place, from the vineyards and winery to the cellars and the restaurant, were designed with environmental preservation and sustainability in mind (think solar energy, using gravity instead of pumps, etc.)
- Silver Sage Winery – This winery had me saying, “I swear I’m not an alcoholic” at the till. Sure I think the wine is amazing here, but they really know how to put on a show. First off, the tastings are complimentary and they even provide snacks like cheese and crackers. Plan to spend at least an hour here. The staff are upbeat and will pour you nearly every type of wine they have (three white wines, three red wines, six dessert wines). Overall, I’d say most of the wines lean towards the sweet side but if that’s not your thing, just go here anyways.
- Jojo’s Cafe – A super cute (and naturally busy) cafe, head here for your dose of caffeine, brunch, or beer and wine in the evening. The cafe is all about supporting the local community so the coffee comes from nearby places like Vernon and it’s all organic and fair trade too. Local artwork is featured on the walls and you can catch live music monthly.
- The Dubh Glas Distillery – Little did I know there was more than just wineries and breweries out here. Thanks to a tip from one of my co-workers, a friend of hers started up a distillery just outside of Oliver. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but all the magic happens on the inside. Grant Stevely is the mastermind behind this place, and everything is made here: from the gin and whiskey, bottling, packaging, marketing–it’s quite the passion-project-turned business venture.
Okanagan Falls (OK Falls)
- Tickleberry’s – One of the best places to stop for ice cream in the southern Okanagan. Tickleberry’s has been running for over 25 years now and has over 50 flavours of ice cream plus their own handmade fudge, chocolate and kettle corn. The scoops are pretty generous here and even a child-size feels like a double scoop, but it’s delicious on a hot day!
- Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory – So this one is for the science nerds–I went here years ago when I was a kid and thought it was something out of Men in Black. I didn’t really know what it was all about, but apparently this is largest radio astronomy observatory in Canada. There are giant radio telescopes to examine, and rattlesnake warnings on the path from the parking lot to the observatory. This may not be a visit for everyone, but it’s free to wander around and something a bit off-the-beaten path.
- U-Picks – Alright, so this is one of the most classic things to do out here. Look out for the “U-Pick” signs all along Highway 97 and pick your farm or orchard where you can harvest some of your own fruits or vegetables straight from the original source. The Osoyoos area is warmer than the rest of the Okanagan so there’s often a bit more variety in the types of fruit you can pick, but of course it depends on the season. A schedule of seasonal produce can be found on this site.
- Osoyoos Desert Centre – For the nature and conservation enthusiasts, make a stop at the Desert Centre and learn all about the Okanagan’s pocket desert–a dry grassland area and an endangered ecosystem. There’s an interpretive centre with exhibits and an elevated boardwalk where visitors can go on a guided or self-guided tour ($7 per person).
- Faustino Estate Cidery – If you’re not a fan of beer, wine, or spirits, then it’s time to explore the world of ciders. Look for the Faustino’s sign along the road as it’s an easy place to miss. The teeny-tiny shop offers free tastings for three ciders (dry apple, apple pear, and semi-sweet apple). Prices range from $14 to $16 per bottle.
- Campo Marina – This Italian joint is just on the other side of the bridge along Main Street and has HUGE portions of pasta, which I guess is why they offer half portions too. There’s lots to choose from and it’s a great spot for larger groups or families.
- Convivia Bistro Cuisine – Leaning on the fancier side with a relaxed atmosphere, this French/Italian restaurant is located in downtown Osoyoos. The pizzas are reasonably priced, tasty, and many of the servers speak both English and French.
- Osoyoos Lake – A sweet place to really just chill out either in the water or on the grass. It’s a nice picnic spot with plenty of trees for shade. I also think it’s quieter than Skaha Lake. It is smaller though and a little less sandy, but still a great place to spend the afternoon.
So that’s about it!
Phew, I know this is a long list, but I hope it’s helpful for anyone planning a road trip to the Okanagan. These places don’t even cover everything you can do but honestly, just be spontaneous and check out whatever peaks your interest. During the summer, there are often local markets and festivals in each town so it’s definitely worth looking into what’s happening locally too.
What’s calling your name on this ultimate Okanagan road trip?