Think Western Canada and it's all jagged mountains, lush forests and great skiing. What you might not think of? A desert-like landscape with world-class wines, nearby beaches, and lots of local produce. But that’s exactly what you’ll find in Canada’s Okanagan Valley.
Nestled in between Vancouver and Calgary sits Canada’s Okanagan Valley, with an unexpected micro-climate that makes for warm, dry temperatures and an almost desert-like landscape. The Valley is made up of five lakes and a handful of small towns, each with its own charm and appeal. You could easily drive the whole area in about 4 hours, but we’d recommend taking your time and making a weekend of it.
So if you're after beaches, hiking, wineries, local produce and farm-to-table cuisines, a weekend in Canada’s Okanagan Valley should definitely be on your road trip radar.
Osoyoos: Drink wine in the “desert”
Sitting at the southern tip of the Okanagan and just 4km from the US border, Osoyoos is the most “desert-like” town in the region. Grab a drink while soaking in the landscape at NK’MIP, a winery that’s known for being the first Aboriginal-owned winery in North America. If big reds are more your style, head to Moon Curser, where you’ll love their moody hand-drawn wine labels as much as the wine.
Oliver: Seek out the Late Harvest Cabernet Franc
Head to the Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery, one of the oldest wineries in the region. While you’re there, be sure to try their Late Harvest Cab Franc, essentially liquid gold. Being a “late harvest” wine, it has a higher sugar content then typical wine, making it a perfect dessert wine. It’s less sweet than ice wine, but perfectly sweetened to leave you wishing you had bought more than one bottle.
Lake Country: Go north for more wineries
When in Canada’s Okanagan Valley, be sure to head north past Kelowna, to Lake Country. Both Arrowleaf Cellars and Gray Monk Estate Winery are serving up delicious wine and tasty food, while sitting high above the valley floor offering beautiful views of the vineyards and lake beyond. Arrowleaf Cellars will even allow you to bring your own food, and enjoy it on their picnic tables with a bottle of their wine.
North Naramata: Enjoy lunch amidst the grapes
Head to the JoieFarm winery for lunch, where you can devour a freshly baked pizza in their garden, while sipping on a bottle of their wine (we’re partial to the rosé). If you’re lucky, they’ll be selling homemade ice cream sandwiches for dessert.
South Naramata: Support the new kids on the block
The recently opened Little Engine Wines is run by a husband and wife duo, originally from Calgary. Their tasting room feels bright and modern, and is filled with rustic wood accents, a unique vibe in the region. Nicole (co-owner) will likely be behind the bar pouring, she’s friendly and chatty, so be sure to ask her all your wine related questions. We’d recommend their gold tasting list, the wines are top notch, and they come with cheese pairings.
Keremeos: Rock-paper-scissors to pick a fruit stand
Keremeo’s main drag is lined with so many fruits stands, you’ll think you’re seeing double. You may need to do a lap or two before settling on which one to stop at. Just know that whichever one you choose will be overflowing with fresh, local bounty. If it’s late summer, look out for the abundance of stone fruit and melons; if its early fall, grab all the squash you can find and hoard them for the winter.
Okanagan Falls: Pull over for ice cream
Even if you’re just passing through, you can’t be in Canada’s Okanagan Valley without stopping at the very popular, family run, Tickleberry’s. After falling hard for the landscape and abundance of fresh fruit, owners Dale and Jen relocated from the Yukon in the late 80’s and starting making ice cream full time. Their flavour list is so long and so varied that you might just have to get 2 scoops (don’t say we didn’t warn you). If ice cream isn’t your thing, try their homemade fudge or kettle korn.
Penticton: Soak up some lakeside sunshine
You have seven different beaches to choose from, each more beautiful than the next. No matter which one you choose, the sand will be white, the water ripe for swimming, and the wine not too far away.
Kelowna: Get local with a farm-to-table dinner
Kelowna’s downtown sits on the shore of Okanagan Lake, and makes for a perfect spot to spend your night. Go to RauDZ for dinner and enjoy a very seasonal, local, menu. The crab cappuccino soup was unlike anything we’ve ever eaten before, and the tomatoes in their heirloom tomato salad tasted so fresh, you’d think they had just been plucked from their vines. They don’t take reservations so get there early.
South Kelowna: Go for the goat cheese, stay for the gelato
At the southern end of Kelowna is Carmelis, a family owned boutique dairy, making some of the best goat cheese around. Stop in for a sample, or to stock up for the weekend. While you’re there, try their goat milk gelato - totally unique and definitely worth a try.
West Kelowna: Treat yourself to dinner at a winery
Two of the largest, and most well known Okanagan wineries are in West Kelowna. Spend the afternoon at Mission Hill or Quail’s Gate, getting a tour of the winery, and sampling some of their wine. Once evening hits, stick around for the sunset and treat yourself to dinner in their dining room overlooking the Lake.
Did you know we lead boutique food and wine tours for food lovers? Come join our next Salt & Wind trip!
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Opening photo by Kkgas; all other photos by Shelley Ludman