Four hours east of Vancouver, the Okanagan Valley is known throughout Canada for its bountiful fruit harvests. It lures visitors with spring blossoms, sleepy towns, warm weather and tranquil lakes. North of this the region around the Thompson rivers, drier sage bush-covered hills and canyons fill the landscape until the land climbs into the highest peak of the Canadian Rockies – Mount Robson.
Standing at the meeting place of the North Thompson and the South Thompson rivers, Kamloops is centrally located for exploring the Thompson region. From here you can drive north towards the spectacular scenery of the Rockies in the Mount Robson Provincial Park, or east to the green hilly region around the Shuswap lake. The hundreds of lakes in the area offer endless days of fishing for the enthusiast.
Salmon Arm lies on the southern tip of one of the ‘arms’ of Shuswap Lake, cradled in breathtaking mountains. The lake is known as “The Houseboat capital of Canada” and these floating homes can be rented for a peaceful holiday in an outstanding setting.
Each October the Salmon Arm area experiences two runs. The salmon run on the Adams River is world-famous. More than one million sockeye salmon desperately make their way up from the Pacific Ocean to spawn. The second run is less famous – the tourist run. Thousands of onlookers cram into the Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park to catch a glimpse of the colourful fish. Lake Shuswap itself yields kokanee or rainbow trout for catching. If you enjoy swimming or white-water rafting, the nearby Adams River will be to your liking. Margaret Falls just west of town is worth the hike to reach it.
Penticton lies towards the southern end of the Okanagan Valley. It is the warmest and driest town in the region. The northern border of the town is formed by Lake Okanagan, with Skaha Lake to its south. The two lakes are connected by the Okanagan River.
This region between the Okanagan and Skaha Lakes was named by the indigenous people. Penticton means ‘a place to stay forever’. What was once a remote paradise is today one of Canada’s biggest year-round holiday towns, with heated pools and luxury hotels. Spending a week in Penticton will put a strain on your budget. Okanagan Lake is the centre of attraction for visitors. The long, hot summers, sandy beaches and facilities for water sports are all part of the attraction. Okanagan Beach is about 1,3km (0.8 mile) long and the water temperature of about 22°C (72°F) makes for excellent swimming.
For more fun camp out in an orchard of ripening cherries, go for a wine tour at a local vineyard or fish in one of the lakes. Various wineries offer wine-tasting and tours. Southeast of the town is a popular rock-climbing spot, the Skaha Bluffs. It offers pitches of varying difficulty.
If you’re on a low budget, you might consider picking fruit at one of the many orchards along Highway 97. Pickers are usually allowed to camp free of charge in the orchards. You are paid for the amount you pick, so your earnings are up to you. Picking usually lasts from mid-June (cherries) to mid-October (apples). April is the time for the Blossom Festival, when apple, peach, and cherry orchards bloom. The beginning of August is also a good time to be in town when it celebrates the Peach Festival.
In winter Penticton is transformed from a summer paradise to a winter mountain playland. Heavy snowfall ensures excellent skiing opportunities. The Apex Mountain Resorts near town offer a mix of downhill, cross-country, and night skiing.
In the very south of the Okanagan valley, not far from the border with Washington State, Osoyoos perches on the shore of dark-blue Lake Osoyoos. Being the warmest lake in the country and blessed with sandy beaches, this a popular spot for escaping. When you’re not on the beach or in the water there are always the local wineries that deserve a visit. The tiny pocket desert is another interesting natural phenomenon nearby and can also be visited with permission from the Inkameep people who own the land. The whole area around Lake Osoyoos can be surveyed from the Anarchist Mountain lookout across the lake from Osoyoos.