Featuring an inviting climate, boundless hospitality, and an endless array of activities, British Columbia’s Okanagan—or as sometimes referenced, the Okanagan Valley—draws thousands of visitors every year in search of an authentic Canadian experience. The area is serviced by a major airport in the central city of Kelowna, and scenic highways run along the length of the lake, connecting the two major highway routes (#97C and #3) that border it to the north and south.
- See also Holiday Suggestions & Travel Ideas for the Thompson Okanagan.
Just north of the border with Washington State, USA, the Southern Okanagan Valley opens up near the pretty lake town of Osoyoos, around 2 hours drive from Kelowna (127 km/78 miles). From Osoyoos to Oliver, through the Similkameen area and up to Skaha Lake, the region is known for its desert and grassland landscapes, wildlife areas, and provincial parks. The driving route (#97) is peppered with wineries, historical towns, and activities for the whole family. Read more about the South Okanagan area.
At the southern end of beautiful Lake Okanagan lies Penticton approximate 1 hour drive from Kelowna (67.5 km/41 miles), a sun-drenched target for sportsmen, beach-goers, and those looking for quality surroundings within striking distance of fantastic skiing. The picturesque trip north along the lakeshore, through quaint vineyards and orchard-filled communities of Summerland, Peachland, and Naramata, offers endless activities in the surrounding hills, and the rewarding camping opportunities are plentiful. Read more about the Central Okanagan.
After sampling the urban amenities of Kelowna, including fine dining, excellent shopping, and a vibrant arts and culture scene, travel up into the North Okanagan Valley. The route features stunning Shuswap Lake, ample parklands, and tremendous snow-sports areas. You can sample the world-famous artisan cheese in Armstrong, visit the Komasket Music Festival in Vernon, approximately 45 minute drive from Kelowna (50 km/31 miles), or go paragliding in Lumby. Read more about the North Okanagan.
Long before European contact in the early 19th century, the valley provided a home abundant in resources for the Interior Salish First Nation known as the Okanagan people, a semi-nomadic population that had resided there for thousands of years. After the border delineation in 1846, the valley became a useful bypass for traders and prospectors looking to avoid authorities, and established the region’s reputation as a "getaway" that continues to this day. Trading, mining, and agricultural prosperity brought wave upon wave of settlers to the area, and the boom continues to this day, pushing the present population towards half-a-million, spread over approximately 20,000 square kilometres (12,500 sq. miles).
The Okanagan Valley features a wide variety of geography and habitats for its abundant wildlife. The south is hot and arid, encompassing desert-like grasslands, and providing an ideal environment for coyotes, rattlesnakes, and birds of prey.
Travelling north into lake country, the surrounding hills become replete with forests, orchards, and vineyards, all feeding off of the cooling lake system. For the interested traveler, wildlife tours can afford breathtaking and safe viewing of the local fauna, including eagles, owls, and even wild horses. With surrounding picturesque mountains there is a stunning array of wildlife to see, including elk, big-horn sheep, bears, cougars, mountain goats, and a variety of birds near and far.
The climate of the Okanagan Valley is among the most hospitable in Canada. The mild winters, with more than adequate snowfall for snow activities (average 139.8 cm/55 inches in the valleys, and 644 cm/253.5 inches in the mountains), are balanced by hot, enjoyable summers (average maximum temperature of 28° Celcius/84° Fahrenheit).
For a fun-filled trip with the family, a getaway from urban contestation into a vast and verdant wilderness, houseboating on the lake, a romantic holiday for two, or an adventurous vacation filled with activity, the Okanagan Valley is an ideal destination.
Easily accessible diversions include a wide variety of sports, including kayaking, hiking, fishing, snow-shoeing, boating, horseback riding, golf, and world-class skiing (Nordic and Alpine) and mountain-biking. Nature tours, bird-watching, and camping abound at reasonable rates, and dinosaur enthusiasts will love rock-hounding in the fossil-rich region.
For the gourmand, the Okanagan Valley is increasingly known as an area producing award-winning wines, an abundance of mouth-watering fruit, and fine restaurants to help provide a taste of everything available. Wine tastings and farm tours are found throughout the fertile valley, and are a major attraction throughout the summer months.
The towns and cities across the region maintain strong connections to their history and cultures, evident in the many museums, heritage tours, and cultural centres. The resident First Nations retain a strong presence in the territory, allowing meaningful contact and education for anyone interested in broadening their horizons.
Photo credits: Osoyoos Lake Walkway courtesy Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, Don Weixl; Speedboat pulling tube on Okanagan Lake in Summerland facing North-East courtesy Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, Eric Simard; Summerland Hoodoos courtesy Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, Eric Simard; Kayaking in Osoyoos Lake courtesy Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, Don Weixl; Heritage Barn in Oliver courtesy Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, Don Weixl
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