Kelowna: The largest city in British Columbia’s interior is an easily accessible hub and a jumping-off point for a plethora of activities in the Thompson Okanagan region. Conveniently located along a major scenic highway (#97) and serviced by a modern international airport which sees over 1 million passengers every year, Kelowna (population 120,000) is nestled centrally in the Okanagan Valley, along the beautiful shores of Okanagan Lake. Getting to Kelowna by car is approximately a four hour drive from Vancouver (388 km/247 miles), eight hour drive west from Calgary (602 km/375 miles), or about six hours drive from Seattle, USA (504 km/315 miles). It is a mecca for wine lovers, golfers, hikers, skiers and more. The city boasts amply hot summers, making it a favourite destination of boaters, fishermen, and watersports enthusiasts.
- See also Holiday Suggestions & Travel Ideas for the Thompson Okanagan.
Although European contact dates from the early nineteenth century, the area has been inhabited for several thousand years, and it still maintains strong links to the First Nations communities that founded settlements here, including the Westbank First Nation. The city’s name is drawn from local dialect meaning "grizzly bear," and it was the fur trade that initially brought Europeans to the area. Today, visitors can travel back in time by exploring one of Kelowna’s museums (such as the Okanagan Heritage Museum), dining in Victorian style at Guisachan House restaurant, or discovering the many First Nations-run destinations to encounter the cultural richness of the area first-hand.
Kelowna offers the best of both worlds – it has all the relaxing amenities for the vacationer seeking a quiet, laid-back getaway, and a variety of activities for the more ambitious thrill-seeker.
With no less than 5 provincial parks in the immediate area, Kelowna has become a major spot for campers and wildlife watchers alike. Grizzly bears, eagles, moose, deer, elk, salmon, wolverines, and a variety of birds call the Okanagan home - breathtaking encounters are available to all with a pair of boots and an adventurous spirit. Provincial park camping requires advanced reservations; however, wildlife tours can often be had at any time of year.
The picturesque Monashee mountains present ample world-class skiing opportunities, and top resort facilities are available to satisfy every lever of skier and boarder, from novice to expert. Nordic sports and snow-shoeing abound, and snowmobiling is a popular pastime in the area, which enjoys mild winters despite the prodigious snowfall.
If your preference runs more towards sun than snow, fear not: the Okanagan Valley is among Canada’s most popular summertime destinations, with hot temperatures tempered by the cool lake. Kayaking, horseback-riding, and stunning camping destinations are all within a half-hour drive of the city centre. With over 15 golf courses, the region has become a major destination for fans of the links.
Vineyards & Orchards
What Kelowna is most known for, though, is its ample supply of vineyards and orchards: Fine wine and fresh fruit are at every turn, and the highly-enjoyable tours of farms and wineries can be had for reasonable rates. No trip to the Okanagan Valley would be complete without a sampling from Canada’s most prodigious wine region (nicknamed "Napa of the North"), and if tours are not to your taste, the many fine restaurants of Kelowna stock a diverse sampling of the region’s respected wines.
Where To Stay?
From luxury lakeside resort accommodation to RV parks, from city hotels to quiet camping, Kelowna has a place for every traveller. Whatever the season, you will find the relaxation and comfort you crave on the shores of Okanagan Lake.
Map: See street photos by zooming in and using Google’s Street View by dragging the yellow man icon from left hand side bar onto streets highlighted in blue.
Photo credits: Sailboat and Power Boat on Okanagan Lake near the Grand Okanagan Lakefront Resort courtesy Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, Don Weixl; Fall Colours on Mission Creek Parkway courtesy Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, Laurie Carter; Putting on the Green at Sunset Ranch Golf and Country Club courtesy Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, Don Weixl; Family Riding on Tubes at Big White Ski Resort courtesy Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, Don Weixl; Visitors on Wine Tasting Tour in the Orchard at the Harvest Golf Club courtesy Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, Don Weixl
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"Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen " - Benjamin Disraeli