Thursday, September 08, 2016

The Importance of Summer Vacations (and the BEST of the Okanagan)

We had a great summer filled with epic crazy adventures with highlights definitely including hiking across a glacier as a family and backpacking into remote huts with friends. We'll remember our days spent rock climbing, ascending big mountains, and hiking far into the backcountry of our provincial and national parks - with great photos to preserve the memories far into the future.

My son will remember summer moments like this (photo: Swim Bay, Peachland)

Ask my 7 year old though what his summer highlights were and they will be different from our adult ones. Rather than listing off the "epic stuff," he'd list biking to Okanagan Falls for ice-cream at Tickleberry's and jumping off the bridge into Okanagan Lake on our August summer vacation. He'd say that he loved playing at the Peachland Beach where they had diving boards, a rope swing, and a zipline - straight into Okanagan Lake! He'd list the time spent at the Kelowna and Penticton Wibit Aqua Parks, every single game of mini-golf, and every new playground he visited on vacation.

The simple stuff kids will remember forever


Our Favourite Destination for the Ultimate Family Summer Vacation


Our favourite place to visit on our summer vacation is the Okanagan region in sunny British Columbia. We usually camp or find a place to stay near Penticton and then do day trips all around the valley from Kelowna down to Okanagan Falls or Oliver. The Okanagan region offers up consistent sunny hot weather and we have enough fun things to keep us entertained for weeks.

Below are our top ten favourite things to do in the Okanagan should you want to plan your own BC vacation.We've already made our campground reservation for next summer and are stoked to be spending another summer making memories in the Okanagan.


Sunset Swimming at Skaha Beach, Penticton


Our Top Ten Favourite Things to do in the Okanagan

 

 

One - Biking to Okanagan Falls on the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) Trail 


An annual summer favourite, we love biking from Penticton to Okanagan Falls on the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) Trail. This section of rail-grade trail is relatively flat and travels right beside Okanagan Lake for scenic views much of the time. The trail is not paved (so save it for after the training wheels come off,) but would hardly be considered "mountain biking" either. The only challenge you'll face is the odd sandy bit that can be walked across.

Biking from Penticton to Okanagan Falls


The distance of this ride is 13 km one way and we usually just ride it from Penticton to Okanagan Falls. Then an adult rides back for the vehicle while we are hanging out in Okanagan Falls at the beach or at Tickleberry's having ice-cream. Other times, we've had my mother meet us at the other end when she accompanies us on vacation. For a shorter ride, you can also start at the town of Kaleden and ride round trip to Okanagan Falls and back. The Kaleden to OK Falls section is the easiest with less sand. It is better maintained over all (less overgrown) and generally best for the novice rider.

For more on biking the KVR, read my previous story: Biking the Kettle Valley Railway from Kelowna to Osoyoos.

Easy riding on the KVR to Okanagan Falls



Highlights of this ride for our family:

Jumping off of the trestle bridge just outside of Okanagan Falls.

Hanging out at the Kenyon Park Beach in OK Falls (which also has a playground and spray park)

Riding to Tickleberry's in OK Falls for Ice-cream (72 flavours!!)


Bridge jumping in Okanagan Falls



Two -  Biking the KVR from Naramata to Penticton 


The next section of the KVR that we love to ride each year is from Naramata to Penticton. This section of the trail is almost entirely all downhill and at a rail grade, makes for easy coasting. There are different places to start your ride from but I recommend doing it in the Naramata to Penticton direction with a shuttle set up or a family member willing to pick you up at the end. Alternately, an adult could ride back up for the car while you hang out in Penticton below.

The two most popular starts are from either Arawana Road or Smethurst Road near Naramata. The ride is approximately 10 km in length if you choose to stop as soon as you reach Penticton, conveniently finishing near the Bench Market. (Our usual ending spot for fabulous coffee and baked goods.)

Easy riding on the KVR above Naramata

The ride can also be extended into a 22 km distance (one way) by starting above the Little Tunnel (which I highly recommend!!) We LOVE riding through the Little Tunnel because how often do you get to ride through an honest to god train tunnel on a bike?? The scenery from the tunnel is also some of the best on any stretch of the KVR. (I'd go as far as to say it is the best!)

Riding through the Little Tunnel above Naramata


For more on biking the KVR from Naramata to Penticton (or from the Little Tunnel to either Naramata or Penticton,) check out my previous story: Biking the Kettle Valley Railway from Kelowna to Osoyoos.


Highlights of this ride for our family and other area activities:


Riding through the Little Tunnel if you start above Naramata

Stopping at Hillside Estate Winery below Naramata to sample local wines and grab a snack or lunch on the patio. There is even a path leading down to the winery from the KVR so don't worry about missing the exact spot you should leave the trail.

Scenic Riding above Okanagan Lake below Naramata

Riding through orchards and vineyards below Hillside Estate Winery

Finishing our ride at the Bench Market, mentioned above. It seriously has the best coffee in Penticton.

Riding through vineyards and orchards on the KVR

Touring local wineries on the Naramata Bench after our ride (great if you have to go back and get your vehicle anyway)

Beach time at Manitou Park in Naramata. This beach is much less busy than other Okanagan beaches, has grass, two playgrounds (one directly beside the beach,) and picnic tables. As of 2016, it had a great dock to jump off of as well but it was washed away in 2017 from a spring flood. Hopefully it returns in the future.

We always make a point of coming here for an afternoon either after biking or on a separate outing.

Manitou Beach, Naramata

Three - Paddling the Penticton Channel and spending the day at Skaha Lake


An annual tradition! You can pick up your own floatie, raft, or inflatable water vessel at Canadian Tire in Penticton and then head down to the channel for a couple hours of peaceful floating while you say hi to the local duck population.

Floating the Penticton Channel

The only challenge for this outing is finding a way to get back to your vehicle at the end of your float. We've found a few options for this one.
A. Have an adult bike back (stash a bike at Skaha Beach ahead of time) while the rest of the family hangs out at Skaha Beach.
B. Pay for the shuttle for at least one adult from Coyote Cruises and rent tubes as well if you need. Note, you'll want to find out how far the shuttle is going though because sometimes they will only pick you up from the half way point rather than at the end of the channel.

Or, if you're lucky, perhaps you have a family member in your group who doesn't want to do the float and is quite happy to just pick you up at the end. Or you have two vehicles in your group and you can set up a shuttle. (We've done both of the above before.)

Tip for floating the channel: Go early! We always go in the morning before the crowds descend on this tiny channel. Otherwise you'll be playing bumper boats with the masses. 

Stand up paddleboards are fun on the channel too if you go early before it's crowded


Highlights of Beach Time at Skaha Lake

Skaha Lake Beach and Sudbury Beach are both nicely situated at the end of the channel and have fabulous sandy beaches. They also have docks for jumping off of (a priority for my family when searching for a beach) and slides for little tots along the water's edge. Stand up paddleboards can be rented at Sudbury Beach as well which is a nice bonus.

Beach Fun at Sudbury Beach, Skaha Lake

Other highlights would include walking, scooting, or biking along the paved pedestrian pathway along Skaha Lake over to the big playground and splash park at the far end of Skaha Lake Beach. En route you'll pass a Tickleberry's Ice-cream kiosk and a smaller "nature playground". For more on this area, check out the website for Skaha Lake Park.

Skaha Lake Park Playground

 

Four - Beach Time on Okanagan Lake in Penticton 


Now that you've spent time at Skaha Lake, it's time to head to Okanagan Lake on the other side of Penticton.

Highlights of this area for our family:

Beach time beside the lake (great sand and docks for jumping off of)

WIBIT Aqua Park!!  So far my husband's always gotten to go free on this (kids 7 and under get a free parent supervisor) but next year is going to get expensive when we have to pay for two of us to play on the Wibit. I suspect however that it's a cost we will happily pay because it's always a huge highlight for my son and one of the things he most looks forward to doing in the Okanagan.

The Penticton WIBIT (worth every dollar)

Mini Golf and other fun attractions at Loco Landing. While not entirely "cheap" it's pretty hard to say no to a couple of adventures at this theme park when the kids see it and immediately start begging to go check it out. What I love best about this place is that you can buy a value pass and let the kids try everything. The pass covers every activity in the park including Mini-Golf, Go-Karts, the High-level Ropes Course and any 7 Fun Zone activities!

Playing on the High Ropes Course at Loco Landing

This year we just enjoyed the mini-golf and the high-level ropes course (which I got to accompany my son on for free) but next year we'd consider investing in the full value pack.

We both got to play on the high ropes course at Loco Landing

Finally, we always end our Okanagan Lake day by heading across the street to Salty's Beach House. This restaurant/pub takes children on the main floor and has a fabulous patio! It's also a great place to watch the family on the Wibit if you have members not out playing.

Hints for Salty's Beach House: Go early because it gets very busy here! If you want a patio table, go an hour before lunch or dinner would begin. Think 11am for lunch or 5pm for dinner.

For more on Penticton and the surrounding area, check out Visit Penticton.

Climbing the giant slide on the Penticton WIBIT


Five - Rock Climbing at the Skaha Bluffs


A new "favourite thing to do in the Okanagan",  we just visited the Skaha Bluffs south of Penticton for the first time this summer. While you can go here for a hike, rock climbing is the real "draw" and there are over 20 separate climbing walls/areas in this provincial park.

We just headed to one of the first walls called "Daycare" to climb at because it was the closest to the parking lot and had a lot of easy routes on it. It's also one of the few places you can find "walk up" anchors for top roped sport climbing.

Rock climbing at Skaha Bluffs, Penticton

To see a map of the climbing areas at Skaha, visit this link to the Skaha Trail Map. I'd also recommend picking up a copy of the guidebook to climbing at Skaha if you plan to do some family climbing here.

If you want to try rock climbing but don't have the training or the gear, give Russ a shout with Skaha Rock Adventures. We met Russ in the parking lot at Skaha about to take a family out for a few hours of climbing and he had all the required gear, making it an easy outing for novice or first time climbers.

Climbing on "Day Care" at the Skaha Bluffs

Important safety notes if planning to visit Skaha in the summer: Go early because the sun bakes this park  and you won't want to be hanging out much past 11am. Alternately, Skaha is a popular place to visit later in the afternoon when shade returns to the bluffs. Also watch for rattle snakes! We saw one while there and you wouldn't want kids running off down the trails a mile ahead of you, unaware of what to do if they see a rattle snake.

Hiking out at noon, ready to find the nearest beach!


Six -  Enjoying an Adventure Day in Peachland


Searching for an epic zipline adventure in the Okanagan, brought us to the ZipZone in Peachland: Canada's highest freestyle zipline at 381 feet high.

The ZipZone promises (and delivers:) 

"Six of the highest, longest , fastest, epic-est zip lines in Canada, criss-crossing the breathtaking Deep Creek Gorge. Breathtaking views, maximum exhilaration!"

We did all 6 lines and had a BLAST. After, we headed downtown Peachland to Swim Bay and spent some time cooling off in the lake.

Read about our adventure here: Vacation Fun in the Okanagan at the ZipZone, Peachland. 

Epic Ziplining in Peachland at the ZipZone

Swim Bay is seriously the best beach in the Okanagan for those who like jumping into lakes rather than spending their day building sand castles. Swim Bay doesn't have much for sand but more than makes up for it in cool stuff to do as a family!

Getting ready to jump off the low diving board at Swim Bay

Jump off of two diving boards!
Jump into Okanagan Lake off of a zipline or rope swing
Jump into the lake off of one of the several docks

Repeat. Many times. (And send somebody to grab coffee from one of the nearby shops if you're going to be hanging out here for a while.)

For more on the area around Peachland, visit Destination Peachland and make sure you stop to visit a winery or two on your way home from the beach.

Playing on the rope swing at Swim Bay

Seven - Biking the Myra Canyon section of the KVR


Of all the sections of the Kettle Valley Railway, this is by far the most popular (and busiest) for good reason. In a short 8.5 km distance, you'll ride over 18 trestle bridges and through 2 tunnels. It's a great ride for children and very well maintained (though certainly not paved.)

Our first ride on the KVR back in 2013 (Myra Canyon)


Tips for this ride: Arrive very early to avoid the crowds. Also, make sure your children are ok with basic bike skills which would include being able to pass pedestrians safely as this section of trail sees a lot of foot traffic near the beginning. The bridges are also fairly narrow so novice riders should walk them when the trail is busy.

For more on biking the KVR from Myra Station to Ruth Station check out my previous story: Biking the Kettle Valley Railway from Kelowna to Osoyoos.

Biking through one of the tunnels along the Myra Canyon section of the KVR


Other area highlights:

We recently discovered the Kelowna Mountain Bike Skills Park off of the Mission Creek Greenway which was a great place to spend an hour or so. There's a pump track, jump park, and a wooden structure with ramps. Check out the map on the site above and plan your return route from Myra Canyon so that you pass by the bike park.

Kelowna Mountain Bike Park


Eight - Getting Adventurous at WildPlay Kelowna


We visited WildPlay Kelowna for the first time this summer, enjoyed our first high ropes aerial course, tried an awesome guided zipline course, and challenged ourselves on the "What's to Fear" free fall jump. It was an AMAZING day and we'll be back next year for sure.

Having a BLAST on the Monkido Aerial Course at WildPlay Kelowna


The Monkido aerial park was our favourite part of the day and you can read all about it in my recent blog post: Getting "Wild" on our Summer Vacation in Kelowna.

We finished off our day with some winery tours in the Fab. Five Collection and then headed downtown for dinner (number nine below.)


Enjoying a day of adventure together at WildPlay Kelowna


Nine - Exploring Downtown Kelowna


We always spend at least half a day downtown Kelowna at Hot Sands Beach and City Park.

Playing at the spray park downtown Kelowna beside Hot Sands Beach


Highlights of this Visit:

WIBIT Aqua Park (and this year we spent time at both the Penticton and Kelowna Wibits)

Sunset on the Kelowna WIBIT (after spending the day at WildPlay)

Playing at the spray park with water slide, playground (with zipline,) and skate park - all side by side at City Park

Playground at City Park, downtown Kelowna

Walking, along the paved waterfront pedestrian pathway between City Park and the Delta Grand Okanagan Resort. (Look out for Ogopogo, the mythical sea creature that lives in Okanagan Lake)

Ogopogo and the annual photo with this fun sculpture downtown Kelowna

Lunch or dinner at the Earl's rooftop patio. (And as with all popular restaurants, aim to arrive early for lunch or dinner if you want to get on the patio.)

For more on family fun in Kelowna, visit the Tourism Kelowna website.

Views from the roof top patio of Earls downtown Kelowna


Ten - Enjoying Good Food and Spirits


Number ten is more of a general thing, but we try to fit a wine tour or two in to each day spent in the Okanagan. Fortunately there are vineyards spread across the entire valley and there will always be a winery near your chosen activity for the day.

One of our favourite wineries that we like to visit is Gray Monk, located north of Kelowna in Lake Country (conveniently close to the Kangaroo Creek Farm so that you can pair wine tastings and kangaroo hugging for your day outing.) Gray Monk also has a gorgeous patio and restaurant so we often visit for lunch. (after visiting the kangaroos.)

Another winery that we love is Summerhill Pyramid Winery.  This Winery also has a bistro with a gorgeous patio overlooking Okanagan Lake so plan your visit around lunch and enjoy a flight of wine with your meal. It is conveniently located in South Kelowna and would be a great place to stop after biking on the KVR in Myra Canyon (number 7 above.)






And finally, no visit to the Okanagan is complete with a visit to the Bad Tattoo Brewing Company in Penticton. They have fabulous pizza and equally awesome handcrafted beer. I'm currently in love with the Tramp Stamp Pale Ale and can't bring myself to enjoy any other beer anymore. It's that good!










Enjoy your next trip to the Okanagan and let me know if I've missed something my family should check out next year when we travel west again for our annual summer vacation. I'm already counting down the months...


1 comment:

  1. These days, everyone seems so busy that it can be hard to find time for family activities whether they are weekend trips, week long vacations, gathering for lunch or dinner, or even just brief visits.

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