South Okanagan – roughly the region between Osoyoos and Penticton – is the driest part of the region, with the city of Osoyoos itself in the center of Canada’s only true desert. Osoyoos Lake is an oasis in the desert, rimmed with restaurants, B&Bs and small motels. If you want excursions into the United States, the border is just south of town, past the 27-hole Osoyoos Golf Club.
With Osoyoos, the most southerly point of the Okanagan, as your starting point and working your way north to Salmon Arm, you can experience many places of interest that are not just vineyards and fairways. At first glance, it might seem that the 129 wineries and 50 golf courses along the 259km/155mi length of the Okanagan Valley dominate everything. But there is much more to this region as you will find when you venture off its main touring artery, Highway 97.
Tour the Nk’Mip Desert and Heritage Centre in Osoyoos where you will discover and experience the cultural history of the area’s First Nations and physical attributes of the local terrain.
Resorts in the Osoyoos area include the Walnut Beach Resort, Nk’Mip Resort and the Watermark Beach Resort.
The base of the Okanagan Valley between Osoyoos and Penticton is dotted by numerous wineries, including: Burrowing Owl, Wild Goose Vineyards, Desert Hills Estate Winery, Hawthorne Mountain, Tinhorn Creek, Hester Creek, Crowsnest Vineyards, and Jackson Triggs.
To hit three of these in quick succession turn right on Road 22, about 5km/3mi past the north end of Osoyoos Lake to Black Sage Road and turn left towards Oliver, a community of 4500 that touts itself as the Wine Capital of Canada. The road will take you past several major wineries including Desert Hills Estate Winery, Black Hills Estate Winery, and Burrowing Owl Estate Winery with its attractive restaurant.
Fairview Mountain Golf Course near Oliver is one of the finest layouts in the south Okanagan, while Burrowing Owl, Hester Creek Winery, Spirit Ridge and Silver Sage wineries have resort facilities on their properties.
Vaseaux Lake on Highway 97 is just 30kms north of Osoyoos and many fishers claim it’s one of the best lakes in BC for huge bass, with the lake producing nine-pound and larger bass for decades. Large rainbow trout, kokanee and perch are also residents of Vaseaux. Powerboats are not allowed on the lake so be prepared to row or paddle your way around.
At Okanagan Falls, on the south end of Skaha Lake, stop off at Kenyon Park where the kids can take a swim break.
Penticton’s name comes from the local Salish Native language, roughly translated meaning, “a place to stay forever”. Today’s Penticton is a city steeped in a vineyard and orchard culture, celebrating its past and present with festivals that take place throughout the year.
With a population of about 41,000, it is located on an isthmus between 120km/75mi long Okanagan Lake on its north shores and 24km/15m1 long Skaha Lake on its southern side. Therefore, it naturally offers plenty of water activities. The city is also the home of some of British Columbia’s best recreational opportunities including skiing at the Apex Alpine ski area, boating and fishing on Skaha Lake and Okanagan Lake as well as superb sport climbing areas.
Check with the Penticton Tourist Office to time your arrival with one of the many festivals offered each month during the year – including the Okanagan Wine Festival in late September.
Stroll through the Penticton Farmer’s Market on Main Street (every Saturday, May to October).
Rent a water ski or wakeboard boats or take a lesson. Seadoos, a Pontoon boat, paddleboats, canoes, and kayaks are available for rental.
Nearby Naramata, with twenty-four member wineries that are located along a meandering country road, offers spectacular views of vineyards, mountains, and Okanagan Lake. Many of the waterside wineries have restaurants and bistros.
The south is also famous for its Kettle Valley cycling trail, a route that follows numerous old railroad trestles.
The Kettle Valley Steam Railway operates on the only preserved section of the historic Kettle Valley Railway line, built during 1910-1915. The 100-year-old steam locomotive take you past the rural countryside with live music and historical commentary during the 90 minute ride. Getting there from Summerland (17km north of Penticton) is a bit complicated. Contact the railway for reservations and directions.
Mission Hills Family Estate is one of BC’s most celebrated wineries and its setting overlooks Okanagan Lake. Music concerts are held at the winery’s outdoor Amphitheatre. In addition to the concerts, visitors can enjoy food and wine. Be sure to see the impressive von Mandl family art collection in the Estate Room.
Lake Okanagan Resort is reached by driving along Westside Road, north of Mission Hills. The road takes you along picturesque Lake Okanagan. The road is an alternate route to Vernon and avoids all of the traffic found on the main artery, Hwy-97.