The Okanagan (often referred to as the Okanagan Valley) is a region of British Columbia, in Canada. It borders the Shuswap region to the north, West Kootenays region to the east, Similkameen region to the west, and the American border to the south. The focus of this region is the 135km long Okanagan Lake which runs north-south from Vernon to Penticton. The region is bordered on both the east and west by mountains. The valley is known for its hot, dry summers and is a favourite vacation spot for sun seekers and outdoor enthusiasts. It is also famous for its fruit orchards and wineries.
Kelowna - In the summer it’s the life of the party with water, beaches, microbreweries and wineries. The nearby mountains provide lots of options for outdoor activities, with Myra Canyon notable for hiking and cycling and Okanagan Mountain Park providing hiking and camping. More tame options include enjoying one of the many golf courses in the area. Kelowna is the largest city in the Okanagan, the transportation hub and has the widest range of accommodation options.
Penticton - Known as the “Peach City”, Penticton is like the smaller, slightly less boisterous sibling of Kelowna. It would be unfair to dismiss it as such though. If you’re looking for something outdoors, there’s loads to do. Set between two lakes, it has miles of sandy beach, and then there’s lazily floating down the canal that connects the lakes. South of town is the Skaha Bluffs if you’re looking for some rock climbing. And heading north from town on both sides of the lake is the old Kettle Valley Railway, now a hiking and biking trail with some outstanding views. Penticton is also the gateway to the South Okanagan, one of the premier wine growing regions of Canada, and there are many vineyards within an easy drive where you can taste some of the local wines. There are plenty of accommodation options, but it can be busy in summer.
Vernon - Smaller and quieter than Kelowna and Penticton to the south, Vernon is the largest destination in the North Okanagan. It’s every bit as much a holiday destination though with three lakes, beaches, wineries and plenty of outdoor activities. Highlights include the many parks that offer swimming, walking and hiking trails and Predator Ridge, an acclaimed golf resort, located just southwest of town. Nearby to the northeast is Silver Star, which includes the family friendly Silver Star village, a downhill ski area and the Sovereign Lakes cross-country area.
Oliver and Osoyoos - Deep in the South Okanagan — one of the driest, sunniest and warmest places in Canada (in summer at least) — you’ll find the small towns of Oliver and Osoyoos. This is wine and orchard country with 30+ vineyards and over half of the vines in British Columbia. The Oliver region is closest to the vineyards and the noted Golden Mile and Black Sage benches. Osoyoos, 20 km south of Oliver, is more of a recreation centre, with beaches and boating along Lake Osoyoos. The region’s scrubland and aridness is unique within Canada and two attractions — the Osoyoos Desert Centre and the Nk’mip Desert Cultural Centere — allow you to learn about and explore this ecosystem with walking and interpretive trails.
Other towns and villages
- Armstrong - Home of the Armstrong cheese factory as well as the IPE.
- Enderby - Quaint, quiet town built on the Shuswap River.
- Lake Country - Four communities, three lakes and more vineyards, between Kelowna and Vernon.
- West Kelowna - A sprawling community on the west side of Okanagan Lake across from Kelowna. It is the fourth largest community in the Okanagan and home to some of the valley's best known wineries like Mission Hill, Mount Boucherie and Quail's Gate.
- Peachland - A small community on the west side of Okanagan Lake between Kelowna and Penticton. The waterfront has a number of beaches while the hillside affords views of the lake and valley. There are also many walking trails along the waterfront, up the hillside and through Hardy Falls Regional Park.
- Summerland - Close to Penticton and on the shores of Okanagan Lake, Summerland has wineries and beautiful beaches like many destinations in the valley. It attractions extend beyond that however, with the only operating section of the Kettle Valley Railway, the highest railway trestle in BC, the Ornamental Gardens and a downtown core built in English Tudor style.
- Naramata - Small quiet community on the east side of Okanagan Lake. Its location is a good base for exploring the wineries on the Naramata Bench and taking in the views along the Kettle Valley Trail.
- Okanagan Falls - Sleepy town on the south shores of Skaha Lake. There are some beaches in town and wineries nearby.
- Keremeos - Gateway to the Similkameen and scenic Hope-Princeton
- Apex Mountain Ski Resort - Alpine and nordic skiing outside of Penticton, plus mountainbiking and hiking in summer
- Big White Resort - Alpine and nordic skiing outside of Kelowna, plus mountainbiking and hiking in summer
- Mount Baldy - Small ski hill outside of Oliver/Osoyoos
- Silver Star - A ski resort and provincial park side by side. The ski village is small but the brightly coloured buildings are memorable and make for easy ski-in ski-out access. Nearby Sovereign Lakes is noted for its Nordic skiing trails. Activities are year round with mountain biking and hiking in summer.
As with most places in British Columbia (if not Canada) the Okanagan Valley's history is tied to the First Nations people who have made the area their home for thousands of years. Living a semi-nomadic life, the natives survived on wild game, berries, and the plentiful salmon runs. The first Europeans arrived in the area in 1811, and the first permanent settlement was a mission built by Father Charles Pandosy on the site of present day Kelowna. The early settlers subsisted on cattle ranching, and later, via the valley's hallmark fruit production industry. In the early 20th century many large paddlewheel steamships plied the waters of Okanagan Lake, shipping out fruit to other markets and returning goods and supplies to the many towns along the lake which were then still not connected by road or rail.
Today, the Okanagan Valley has a permanent population of 297,601. The area has almost always depended on tourism, a continually growing industry fueled by the region's agreeable climate, thriving wine and fruit production, and virtually limitless opportunities for all manner of outdoor activities including boating and watersports, hiking and mountain biking, rock climbing, camping, and fishing. The majority of tourists flock to the valley from the metropolitan regions of Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton, all of which are within a day's drive. The amount of international tourists is steadily on the rise, not coincidentally, in proportion to the increasingly international renown of the area's many wineries.
Geographically, the region runs predominantly north-south following the course of Okanagan Lake, and is framed by mid-level mountains on the east and west sides. Highway 97, which navigates the region, follows a different valley several kilometers to the east of Okanagan Lake north of Kelowna. While the big lake is the most renowned, there are several other notable lakes in the valley including Kalamalka, Wood, Skaha, Vaseaux, Tuc-El-Nuit, and Osoyoos Lake.
Weather is generally mild in the winter, with snow at the upper elevations and rain in the lower cities. In summer the region is quite hot and dry, and in fact this region contains Canada's only true hot desert in Osoyoos.
From the south
From the north
- Highway 97 travels south from Kamloops
- Highway 97A travels south from Salmon Arm
- Highway 97B travels south from Sicamous
From the west
From the east
- Highway 6 travels west from Lumby and Nakusp
- Highway 33 travels northwest from Rock Creek
- Highway 3 travels west from Rock Creek
- The airport in Kelowna services a number of Domestic/US flights.
- The airport in Penticton services only domestic flights.
- International passengers (other than from the USA) will generally alight in Vancouver and either transfer flights, or use alternate transportation into the region.
Greyhound has frequent coach service from almost all points in British Columbia and beyond into the cities and towns of the Okanagan. The relatively sparse population of this region makes any sort of rail infrastructure (as Europeans may be used to) unrealistic.
Public transportation in this area is underdeveloped. Kelowna, Vernon, and Penticton each have local transit systems (buses) that service each area, however, these services are generally geared towards getting residents to school, work, and shopping areas, rather than as a practical form of transportation for sightseeing. The easiest, and perhaps best, way to see all the sights is by automobile. Many destinations are outside of the cities and the only practical way to see them is to travel by car. The three main cities each have offices for most major vehicle rental agencies.
Greyhound has coach service to all points on Highway 97, which runs north-south in the valley. Hitchhiking is also a generally safe and acceptable way to travel within the valley. The relative proximity of cities and towns in the region also makes touring via bicycle a viable option.
- Head west to visit cosmopolitan Vancouver.
- Head north to visit the Shuswap's cottage country.
- Head east to visit the rugged Kootenays region.
- Head south to visit Washington, USA.