Can’t-Miss Outdoor Experiences in the Thompson Okanagan

We’ve gathered the very best things to do in the Okanagan during your next outdoor adventure.

East of Vancouver and west of the Canadian Rockies, British Columbia’s Thompson Okanagan is known for hillside vineyards set between chains of lakes, as well as a mild, desert-like climate (yes, Canada has a desert!). This combo draws campers who hike or cycle the trails, paddle the waterways, and ski or snowboard the often-sunny mountains. With more than 200 wineries between Osoyoos near the U.S. border and Kamloops to the north, the Thompson Okanagan is one of Canada’s prime wine regions, too. Whether you’re camping, glamping, or RVing, read on for our top tips and recommendations for getting the most out of your trip to the Okanagan.

Photo by Hipcamp Photographer Mary Paquet at Back Forty Vineyards in Peachland

Find yourself outside

Provincial park explorations

Managed by the Osoyoos Indian band, sẁiẁs Provincial Park sits on a narrow strip of land jutting into Osoyoos Lake, while further north, both Bear Creek and Fintry have beaches directly on Okanagan Lake. At Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, you can hike or cycle above the changing blues of its namesake body of water. Wells Gray Provincial Park, northeast of Kamloops, is known for its more than 41 named waterfalls and miles of hiking trails that criss-cross the vast park’s diverse terrain. 

Photo by Brian S. at Lakeside + Lakeview Forested Camping, 200 meters from Wood Lake and the Okanagan Rail Trail
Adaptive trail riding along the Kettle Valley Rail Trail in Penticton // Photo courtesy of Travel Penticton / Nathan Penner

Rail Trail pedaling

The Thompson Okanagan sections of the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, a nearly 400-mile (650-km) recreational pathway that follows a former railway line between Hope and Castlegar, are popular with cyclists, especially the Myra Canyon area near Kelowna where the route traverses a series of wooden trestle bridges. North of Kelowna, the Okanagan Rail Trail involves pedaling along the shores of Kalamalka Lake.

Salmon Arm Wharf on Shuswap Lake // Photo courtesy of Destination BC / @miraecampbell

Water adventures

Canoe, kayak, and paddleboard throughout the region on Okanagan, Skaha, and Osoyoos lakes, take a leisurely float down the Penticton Channel, or cruise Shuswap Lake in a houseboat.

Hit the slopes

Come winter, you’ll want to hit Sun Peaks Resort near Kamloops, Big White Ski Resort outside of Kelowna, or SilverStar Mountain Resort near Vernon, all of which are family-friendly mountains where lifts typically run from late November into April.

A summer walking tour overlooks a BC lake. // Photo courtesy of Indigenous Tourism BC/Brendin Kelly/ Moccasin Trails

Explore Indigenous culture

Indigenous peoples have lived in the region that’s now known as the Thompson Okanagan for centuries. Take time as you travel to learn about the history and present-day culture of these communities. 

A First Nations pit house at the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre // Photo courtesy of Destination BC / Andrew Strain
Walking along the boardwalk behind the Nk’mip Desert Cultural Centre // Photo courtesy of Destination BC / Shayd Johnson

Run by the Osoyoos Indian Band, the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre introduces visitors to the desert environment of the South Okanagan and to the Indigenous people who call it home. Check out the exhibit facility, wander the desert trails, and in summer, chat with interpreters who lead guided walks and programs such as “Snakes Alive,” about the area’s reptiles.

On the same property, stop for a tasting at Nk’Mip Cellars, Canada’s first Indigenous-owned winery, or sample creative dishes, many made from traditional ingredients like salmon, beans, and elk, at The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry, the Indigenous-inspired dining room at Spirit Ridge Resort.

Photo courtesy of Indigenous Tourism BC/ Brendin Kelly / Kekuli Cafe

In West Kelowna, take a guided tour of the small but well-designed Sncewips Heritage Museum, where guides walk you through First Nations history and discuss contemporary issues facing the communities. Nearby, visit Indigenous-run Indigenous World Winery, then stop for a hearty bannock sandwich layered with salmon, back bacon, or venison at Indigenous-owned Kekuli Café. (A second Kekuli location can be found in Merritt.)

The guides at Moccasin Trails offer excellent walking and paddling tours, starting from either Kelowna or Kamloops. They’ll share legends of the Syilx and Shuswap peoples, teach about medicinal plants and traditional foods, and introduce you to present-day cultures as you explore the trails or waterways. 

Bright Eye Brewing in Kamloops serves up tasty flights. // Photo courtesy of Destination BC/Nathan Martin

Taste your way through the region

Black Sage Road

You’re never far from a tasting room in the Thompson Okanagan. Highway 97 and Black Sage Road, which travel through Oliver and Osoysoos, are lined with wineries, many with excellent restaurants, including Burrowing Owl Estate Winery and Hester Creek. Don’t miss District Wine Village, where a dozen winery tasting rooms are built around an outdoor amphitheatre that hosts summertime concerts.

CedarCreek Estate Winery // Photo courtesy of Destination BC/Andrew Strain

Kelowna area

You’ll find more wineries in Penticton and Naramata, where it’s worth booking a multi-course meal at the historic Naramata Inn. Many of the region’s larger producers are based in Kelowna, including Mission Hill Family Estate and Cedar Creek Estate Winery, where leisurely lunches overlooking the vineyards are a highlight. You can also take a beer crawl through Kelowna’s North End, where Vice + Virtue Brewing, Kettle River Brewing, and Red Bird Brewing are among the microbreweries clustered within walking distance.

Kamloops

Kamloops has both an emerging wine industry and a buzzing craft beer scene. At Monte Creek Winery, enjoy a glass of wine and a light meal on the terrace overlooking the craggy desert hills, or stop for samples at the family-owned Harper’s Trail Estate Winery or Privato Vineyard and Winery. A craft beer tour can take you around the city, from Bright Eye Brewing on the Thompson River’s north shore, to Red Collar Brewing downtown, to Iron Road Brewing west of the city center.

A farmers’ market scene in Vernon. // Photo courtesy of Nic Collar

Shop local for one-of-a-kind memories

Local crafts and artisanal products, from fruit sodas to honey to cheeses, draw both residents and visitors to the Thompson Okanagan’s markets and art showcases.

Cheese, please

Cheesemakers like Kelowna’s Carmelis Goat Cheese, Penticton’s Poplar Grove Cheese, and Grass Root Dairies outside Salmon Arm welcome cheese lovers.

Photo courtesy of Destination BC/Andrew Strain

Farmers market strolls

Penticton has one of the region’s larger farmers’ markets, taking over several blocks of the city’s Main Street on Saturdays from mid-April through October. The Kelowna Farmers’ and Crafters’ Market, Kamloops Farmers’ Market, and Downtown Salmon Arm Farmers’ Market are also worth checking out, as is Kamloops’ Kweseltken Farmer’s & Artisan Market, which showcases Indigenous producers and crafters.

Something sweet

Family-owned Farming Karma Fruit Co. in Kelowna makes several varieties of sodas from peaches, cherries, and other fruit, while in Vernon, Planet Bee Honey Farm offers tours of its beehives and honey-making operations.

Looking for an Okanagan campsite?

See all of our nearby camping, glampsites, and cabins in the Okanagan.


This post was written in partnership with the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA), a non-profit society, governed by an elected Board of Directors, which represents business and community tourism interests of the Thompson Okanagan region of British Columbia. TOTA is supported by and representative of Destination British Columbia and the B.C. Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, and Sport.

TOTA is an industry-led organization that represents and supports all business and community tourism interests in the region, while also helping to implement provincial tourism policies. Learn more at TOTABC.org, on Instagram (@thompson_okanagan), Facebook, or Twitter (@thompsnokanagan).

Based in Vancouver, Canada, writer Carolyn B. Heller specializes in immersive cultural, culinary, and experiential travel. She shares stories from her travels across six continents for publications including Lonely Planet, Travel + Leisure, Atlas Obscura, Explore, The Takeout, Roads & Kingdoms, Montecristo, Canadian Traveller, Trivago, and Perceptive Travel. She’s the author of three Canada guidebooks and has contributed to 50+ other travel titles.

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