Photo: Lisa Kadane
With its placid lakes, bountiful orchards and kid-friendly hiking trails, the Okanagan Valley is a popular summer destination for Canadians. But thanks to its mild climate, this outdoor playground keeps families busy year-round, whether they cycle the famous Myra Canyon when the leaves change, carve turns at SilverStar Mountain Resort once the snow flies, or hold joeys (a.k.a. baby ‘roos) at Kangaroo Creek Farm in the spring. Here are the best ways to keep the littles busy, from Vernon to Osoyoos.
This impressive resort, located 24 km northeast of Vernon and modeled after a turn-of-last-century mining town, offers outdoor adventure throughout the year. Ski or snowboard its more than 3,200 acres from November through April, and ice skate, go tubing or enjoy a sleigh ride après-ski. During summer, horseback ride around Brewers Pond or on a trail, then take the new gondola to the summit to hike through wildflower-studded alpine meadows, or rent bikes to go cross-country or downhill mountain biking on the resort’s 30+ km of trails. skisilverstar.com
Meet a donkey named Flapjack and a zebu named Razzle and learn how to lasso wooden “cows” at Historic O’Keefe Ranch, just 14 km north of Vernon. The original 1867 homestead of settler Cornelius O’Keefe is now a popular attraction where the whole family can soak in the history. The ranch also organizes seasonal events, from an Easter egg hunt in spring to a spooky corn maze in fall. okeeferanch.ca
Okanagan Lake gets all the attention, but tourmaline-hued Kalamalka Lake, wedged between Vernon and Oyama, is gob-smacking gorgeous—it’s been named one of the world’s Top 10 prettiest lakes by National Geographic. The best way to experience it is by renting stand-up paddleboards from Kalavida Surf Shop (located just across the street from Kal Beach at the lake’s north end) and gliding its glassy surface south toward Rattlesnake Point. If your kids are too young to paddle their own board, the wide, stable planks make it easy to double them on yours.
Walk among marsupials, feed capybaras (the world’s largest rodent) and hold adorable baby ‘roos, called joeys, between March and Thanksgiving at this hobby farm in Lake Country. Kids will also love holding the parrots and sugar gliders (a kind of possum), petting the curious goats and perhaps watching baby emus run around in the spring. kangaroocreekfarm.com
One of Kelowna’s most famous activities is cycling the Kettle Valley Railway trail around Myra Canyon, a historic section of the path with stunning views of downtown Kelowna and Okanagan Lake. Rent two wheels from Myra Canyon Bike Rentals, located at the trailhead between mid-May and mid-October, and then pedal 12 km (one way) over 18 trestle bridges and through two tunnels as the trail wends a horseshoe around the deep gorge. You can also walk a portion of the flat trail any time of year, and it makes a great snowshoe destination in winter.
The valley is renowned for its orchards, and nothing beats picking ripe cherries, apricots, peaches or apples, depending on the month, right from the tree. Look for signs advertising u-picks (you may want to plan your route as there are many to choose from) and pull off the road—it’s a bit more work to get fruit this way, but you’ll save money, have fun and you won’t believe how good fresh tastes. A few orchards, such as Twin Oaks in Kelowna, are certified organic so you can eat as you pick! Tip: go in the morning before it gets too hot.
Drive an hour east of Kelowna to play in the snow at Big White. In addition to schussing on 2,765 acres of trails topped with fluffy Okanagan powder, you can set the kids loose at the Happy Valley Adventure Centre at the base of the gondola. There, they can ice skate, go tubing at the tube park, joyride around the Mini-Z snowmobile track, or don crampons to scale the 60-foot-tall ice tower. When the snow melts the resort turns into a hiking and mountain biking mecca between the end of June and early September. There are also family-friendly events all summer, such as the Huckleberry Festival in August. bigwhite.com
An easy, 2 km walkway takes families from City Park beach on the shore of Okanagan Lake, past the downtown marina (where there was once a climbable sculpture of Ogopogo, the lake’s mythical serpent, in Kerry Park) all the way to Waterfront Park by the Delta Grand Okanagan Resort. (Between December and late February, Stuart Park—also located along the boardwalk—is transformed into an ice skating rink complete with a warming bonfire and a skate rental shop.) Loop back through the compact downtown cultural district to visit the Kelowna Art Gallery, the Japanese-style Kasugai Gardens and Okanagan Heritage Museum, or to browse boutiques and souvenir shops on Bernard Ave. downtownkelowna.com
Chug past orchards and vineyards and enjoy lake views from the comfort of a restored 1912 steam locomotive on a 90-minute train ride between mid-May and mid-October or during Easter and Mother’s Day and in December on select Christmas Express dates. Time your visit for a Great Train Robbery ride (with regular departures through the summer), where cowboys stop the train and re-enact a hold-up, robbing passengers for local charities. kettlevalleyrail.org
Rent an inner tube or raft from Coyote Cruises, slather on the sunscreen, and jump into the warm water of the slow-moving channel for a 7-km float that connects Okanagan Lake with Skaha Lake and takes a couple of hours to complete. Splash, play and watch the parade of funky inflatables jockey for position under a blue Okanagan sky. Be sure and book the bus ride back to Penticton with Coyote Cruises.
Paddle past siltstone bluffs and towering ponderosa pine trees on a guided kayak tour with Hoodoo Adventures. Stop for a snack and refreshments on a private beach to refuel (or take a brunch tour with coffee and breakfast burritos)—and perhaps dip into the warm, steely blue water of Okanagan Lake for a swim—before returning to Penticton. Double kayaks are available for kids who aren’t quite ready to pilot their own watercraft.
Climb into the bed of a red vintage 1952 Mercury pick-up truck and tour around Covert Farms, a 650-acre organic farm and winery south of Penticton between Okanagan Falls and Oliver. While the parents learn about sustainable regenerative organic farming and organic winemaking, the kids will be busy plucking ripe grapes from the vines and sampling juicy strawberries, tomatoes or other produce. The tour ends with charcuterie on the outdoor picnic tables, a wine tasting for adults, and bouncing on the jumbo jumper jumping pillow—or feeding the herd of highland cows—for kids. Come summer, there’s also a giant slip ‘n’ slide for the kids to cool down on. In September there’s a farm adventure race for the whole family: The Freak’n Farmer.
Walk the 1.5-km elevated wooden boardwalk trail at the Osoyoos Desert Centre to learn about desert ecology and local wildlife in one of the country’s most endangered and fragile ecosystems, where prickly pear cactus and aromatic sagebrush grow in an arid landscape populated by coyotes, snakes and even scorpions. Be sure and spend time inside the interpretive facility where hands-on exhibits and props such as real snakeskins, fur, insect displays, owl pellets, skulls and antlers get kids excited about this unique environment. desert.org
The railway fun continues at the Osoyoos Desert Model Railroad, the largest of its kind in North America with over 2 km of track. It features 45 computer-controlled model trains and 19,000 hand-painted miniature people living and working in a mountainous landscape of European-style towns. See if you can spot the miniature kid running away with his mom’s bikini top, the monkeys in the zoo or the bungee jumper. You could easily spend a couple hours inside the building in awe over owners Poul and Ulla Pedersen’s labour of love. osoyoosrailroad.com