This is the first of a two part blog series showcasing the best of what the Okanagan Valley has to offer.
When you first lay eyes on the warm-water Okanagan (pronounced oak-a-NOG-in) Valley lakes and the lush hills dotted with orchards and vines, you will understand why this is a favourite holiday spot among Canadians. You may not know what a perfect destination the area is for Americans, but since it’s just a one hour flight from Seattle or a five-hour drive east of Vancouver, it’s an easy, accessible getaway.
What Americans want and need from travel
Today Americans use less of their vacation time than they have in the last forty years—and many don’t get paid vacation at all. In 2013 American workers took only 16 vacation days total, and not always at the same time. Fewer than half of all Americans take all of the vacation time they earn, 32 percent take less than half, and 20 percent leave work for only a few days. The bottom line here is that vacation spots for Americans are more popular if they’re close to the US and don’t eat up time with jet lag and inconvenience—score one for Canada.
Various annual travel survey also reveals that cost is a major factor for Americans when we make our travel plans. Almost half of all Americans spend in between $1,000 and $1,600 on their annual summer vacation according to AAA, Visa, and Money Magazine. This is another argument in favour of Canada, and it seems apparent that Americans know it: of all international destinations Americans choose, Canada ranks second, behind only Mexico.
What many Americans might not know is how perfect Canada is for their vacation plans even without the time and financial constraints they face. What follows is my detailed look at what an American travelling the Okanagan Valley can expect, and why it’s the perfect choice for travelers from the USA.
Sport and recreation in the Okanagan Valley
Research indicates that almost all British Columbia residents enjoy outdoor recreation of some kind; in fact, around 85 percent of them say that their recreational hobbies are “very important.” Coupled with the beautiful setting and natural variety the Okanagan Valley offers, it’s no wonder that active fun in the great outdoors is a way of life here. For the huge number of Americans who love sports, recreation, and staying active while on vacation, this makes the Okanagan Valley a natural destination.
There is a wide range of sports and recreation activities and events offered throughout the year in Okanagan Valley. Visitors here get to enjoy the weather no matter what time of year they travel. In the Okanagan Valley, you get to fully experience four seasons. And with nearly 300 sunny days per year on average, the American fear about bad weather up north isn’t a real worry most of the time.
Okanagan Valley is surrounded by green, lush, rolling hills which overlook a stunning lake—it is a natural setting for picturesque golf courses and there are many here to choose from. Well-designed as they are beautiful, these courses are ideal for both beginners and longtime scratch golfers. One more reason to travel here to golf: one of the country’s driest and longest golf seasons.
Skiing and snowboarding
Renowned for being home to numerous ski resorts with every level of terrain, Okanagan Valley is perfect for families, friends, and solo skiers and snowboarders ready to enjoy the ultimate ski destination. As much as 7.5 meters of snow—yes, that’s about 25 feet, Americans—fall on the numbers slopes here each year.
There are four major resorts in the Valley: Apex Mountain Resort, Big White Ski Resort, Silver Star Mountain Resort, and Sun Peaks Resort. All have tremendously convenient ski-in ski-out facilities, and the Okanagan resorts have been recognized by Ski Canada Magazine as the “Best Choice for Lazybones who like to Ski Straight from their Doors” (and who doesn’t?!).
Located just west of Penticton, Apex Mountain Resort is a local favourite best known for its high quantities of pristine powder snow, resort activities for everyone in your family, and terrain for boarders and skiers at every skill level. You can also take to the cross-country and snowshoeing trails here and enjoy the scenery and peaceful setting. Apex also won the honour of “Best Weather” from Ski Canada Magazine.
Nickel Plate Provincial Park also offers snowshoeing and cross-country skiing during the winter months. And if you happen to visit during the warmer months, both Apex Mountain and Nickel Plate Provincial Park offer mountain biking—but stay tuned for more on cycling below!
Guest and spa ranches
There are few better ways to experience the breathtaking best of the Okanagan Valley than at one of its ranches, whether it’s a rustic dude ranch or an opulent spa ranch. These specialty destinations offer a respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life along with a plethora of activities like canoeing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, and even luxurious spa treatments. Or, if you’d rather enjoy the (North!) American tradition of cowboys and rodeos, take in the rodeos in Salmon Arm, Keremeos, and Armstrong or the Falkland Stampede.
Hunting and fishing
The Okanagan Valley is a hunter’s paradise. Most of British Columbia’s 65,000 white-tailed deer and almost 200,000 mule deer are in the Okanagan Valley and Kootenays region. There are numerous hunting guides in the area, and travelers need guides to hunt unless they’re hunting with a permitted local friend.
There are more than one thousand lakes in this region, and they are well-suited for fishing. Most have bait shops nearby as well as other amenities.
One highlight is the world’s largest sockeye salmon run which is in the Adams River; this offers not only great fishing but an amazing spectacle.
Another highlight in the region is the Okanagan Lake which is the 130 km (80 mile) long home to large rainbow trout in particular. The Okanagan Lake is perfect for trolling and there are excellent accommodations nearby.
As of 2011, 13.7 million Americans were hunters—that’s about 6 percent of us. American hunters spent about $2,484 each every year to hunt according to those 2011 numbers. And in that same year, more than 33 million Americans fished, spending about $1,262 each annually. With this kind of love for hunting and fishing, Okanagan Valley is an ideal spot for American travelers.
Following the many mountain biking and cycling trails in the Okanagan Valley allows you to experience sights as diverse as the region itself. Desert riding, craggy rock riding and jumping, well-forested trails, and ambling lanes along lakes are all available in the region.
Here are just some of the fun options in this area:
- The Kettle Valley Trail is 455km (283 miles) of all kinds of terrain from Brodie to Grand Forks running along and across trestles and tunnels of the old rail bed (read more about the Kettle Valley Trail below)
- Freeriding with lots of challenging terrain can be found in Merritt and Salmon Arm
- The International Biking and Hiking Trail winds for 18 km (11 miles) through south Okanagan with gentle inclines and picturesque views, from the Okanagan River down to Canada’s only desert
- Enjoy almost 150 wineries and some gorgeous countryside along the Okanagan Wine Route
- Mountain biking trails abound in Kamloops and Kelowna
- BMX and speed fans will love the downhill runs and BMX Olympic training course at the Kamloops Bike Ranch, Silver Star Resort, and Sun Peaks Resort
Would you rather attend an event or participate in a race? Don’t miss out on the mass cycling event in Penticton, the GranFondo Axel Merckx Okanagan.
Penticton also hosted the only complete Ironman event in Canada for 30 years; although the branded race has ended, triathletes and cyclists routinely visit the area.
Since an amazing 1.9 million Americans did triathlons in 2010, a number that was the result of a tremendous growth trend, they’re likely to be among this crowd. Now Challenge Penticton takes the place of the Ironman triathlon in the Okanagan Valley. Or check out Armstrong’s annual Okanagan Shuswap Century Ride which features three races in one day.
If you’re going to cycle, remember that helmets are mandatory in the Okanagan Valley (and in all of British Columbia). Also, ideal cycling weather typically happens from May to October.
Americans love their beach vacations, and the Okanagan Valley is a perfect place for sandy beaches, sunny skies, warm waters, and water sports like boating, kayaking, kiteboarding, parasailing, sailing, stand-up paddling, wakeboarding, wind surfing, and waterskiing. There are lots of great rentals convenient to accommodations and other amenities like eateries; for example, you can book a parasail or other equipment through the Penticton Lakeside Resort’s on-site water sport rentals company, Castaways.
Almost 30 million Americans went hiking or backpacking in 2015, so the many great hiking trips in the Okanagan Valley are a major attraction for American travelers. And the exciting diversity of natural beauty and geoclimatic conditions present along even shorter hiking trails in the Okanagan Valley makes this area even more appealing for hikers.
The wonderful array of vegetation in the various microclimates found here mean that you can see not only a range of stunning plant life, but also the variety of wildlife you’d expect to be eating this diversity of plants and flowers. Caribou, deer, moose, mountain goats, and other animals are possible sights along your hike, as are entire slopes and fields of wildflowers in summertime.
Where are some amazing places to hike in the Okanagan Valley?
Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park is more than 10,000 hectares of spruce-fir forests, mountain lakes, rustic campsites and grasslands, including a hike all the way to the top of Okanagan Mountain. Watch for coyote, elk, gopher snakes, marten, lynx, moose, mountain goats, northern alligator lizards, nuttall’s cottontails, rubber boas, spotted bats, western blue racers, western grebes, western harvest mice, western painted turtles, western rattlesnakes, western skinks, white-headed woodpeckers, white-tailed deer and yellow-bellied racers as you hike in the park.
Cathedral Provincial Park offers a breathtaking range of vegetation and rock formations and a comfortable middle ground between the more desert-like areas and wetter forests of the region. Try the park’s three well-maintained hiking routes or wander around Lake Quiniscoe at your own pace.
Mount Robson Provincial Park, designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, surrounds the stunning Mount Robson, an impressive 3,954 meter peak which towers over the park. Berg Lake Trail is the park’s most famous hiking trail for good reason; it features the advancing Berg Glacier and crosses three geoclimatic zones in the process. If you like a more challenging backcountry route, try navigating the Continental Divide and various waterways on the Moose River wilderness route over the space of a few days.
Wells Gray Provincial Park is a truly invigorating place for avid hikers, filled with waterways, lush greenery, natural swimming holes and even a volcanic cave for exploring. It is also home to various waterfalls, including the breathtaking Helmcken Falls, which is more than two times higher than Niagara Falls. Whether your interests lie in even-keel, relaxed hikes or in tough, sub-alpine treks, this is a wonderful spot.
Monashee Provincial Park is one of the best spots in Okanagan Valley for seasoned hikers, with alpine meadows dotted with wildflowers, old-growth forests, and striking rock formations which have stood in the region for eons. Don’t miss Rainbow Falls if you visit this park, and you’ll also want to take in one of the serenely beautiful lakes in the area. Alpine Routes demand advanced skills and to make the 1,000 meter Mount Fosthall climb, plan to bring additional equipment.
Hiking tips for Americans in the Okanagan Valley:
- Remember, Canada isn’t always cold! The Okanagan Valley is home to some of the country’s hottest summer temperatures, with days that reach into the 30s °C (that’s 86-102° F stateside). From time to time, a summer day might even reach above 40°C (104°F)! Plan accordingly with lots of water, good sun protection, and plenty of time to rest.
- Like in any other mountainous area, the weather can change fast. Be prepared for rain and changing temperatures.
- Treat the beautiful wilderness areas you visit with respect; carry out your garbage.
- There is a lot of wildlife in the Okanagan Valley! Do not chase or follow animals, get too close to them, or try to feed them. They are wild animals and should be observed carefully from safe distances.
If you’re a fan of hiking but love extreme sports and adventure, try heli-hiking! You can take part in this splurge sports activity in the Okanagan Valley and combine classic alpine adventure with luxury; you can even get a wine heli hiking tour. Most packages see participants flown via helicopter to spots that are stunning and rugged that they’d never reach any other way; once there, they get to hike with a guide.
Is it a stereotype that Americans think of Canada when they think of hockey? Maybe, but in this case the stereotype rings true! Hockey is a big deal in the Okanagan Valley, just as it is throughout the nation. Here you can visit the world-famous Okanagan Hockey School, watch the Penticton Vees BCHL Team play, check out the BC Hockey Hall of Fame and time your visit to coincide with events like the Canucks Young Stars Tournament.
Wait, what?! Yes, this is a real thing—and it’s definitely a don’t miss event! The Penticton Ramada Elevator Race is a stages race in which participants road cycle, hike, mountain bike, paddle, run/snowshoe, Nordic ski and downhill ski/snowboard across the finish line (not in that order). This means it’s really exciting and fun to watch, and even more fun to participate in. Even if you can’t do each sport involved, you can join a team!
These are just a few of the wonderful options you have to choose from when it comes to staying active in Okanagan Valley no matter when you go.
Be sure to visit our blog next week for further details on what’s to discover in the Okanagan!