In this photo essay I begin my travels in the heart of the Okanagan, Kelowna. A favoured city with tourists coming from Alberta and Saskatchewan for our warm, sunny days, Kelowna acts as a hub for the region.
It’s a city surrounded by orchards, wineries, golf courses and rolling hills leading up to the ski mecca of Big White. At this time of the year, it’s great to be able to head off on a hike up local landmarks, through leaf-strewn parks running beside streams where salmon spawn, bike down to the beach on an old-style cruiser and shop at a local farmers market.
My journey begins at the Prestige Beach House which sits next to downtown Kelowna City Park and Hot Sands Beach, situated on Okanagan Lake.
After grabbing a coffee and a quick breakfast at the West Coast Grill and Oyster Bar, I head to my first destination: the Kelowna Farmer’s and Crafter’s Market.
Situated on the corner of Dilworth and Springfield, the market runs every Saturday and Wednesday from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. This is one of my favourite spots to start any Kelowna journey and I’m always amazed at the big draw the market has become after starting with just a few farmers years ago in a small parking lot across from Orchard Park Shopping Centre.
The market has more than 165 vendors showcasing the bounty of the Okanagan Valley, from locally produced fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy, to homemade foods, artisan baking and handcrafted pottery, jewellery, woodwork and more (like little pink tutus!).
It’s a great place to grab another coffee, a freshly baked blueberry scone and walk the aisles chatting with the farmers, people-watching as you go.
From seed farmers, to organic purveyors, cheese makers and musicians, they all contribute to the fabric of the market - a multi-cultural, multi-generational group that perfectly capture the soul of the Okanagan Valley.
Mission Creek Greenway is a linear trail that runs 16.5 kilometres along Mission Creek connecting park space, interpretive viewing areas and rest spots as well as providing natural areas for wildlife. The greenway is a year round mecca for lovers of the outdoors. Each day more than 1,000 people use the trails for walking, running, biking, and horseback riding.
Mission Creek has always been an integral part of the Kelowna community. Before the arrival of European settlers, the creek was used by First Nations people for their traditional fisheries. Today, a lot of families take in the spectacle of Kokanee salmon running in the creek.
For me, I just wanted to take in a little quiet, peaceful walk and nod at the others on the trail with a quick “good morning.” It’s a nice way to break from the hectic week.
After brunch, I decided to explore Kelowna’s lakeshore via bike. From my home base, the Prestige Beach Hotel in downtown Kelowna, you can borrow a retro-type cruiser bike and explore the waterfront. I hopped on a bike and peddled off toward Rotary Marsh, an environmental project of the Rotary Club of Kelowna.
For many years, the Marsh has been a successful demonstration of the importance of the small wetland area. Brandts Creek had carried industrial waste, agricultural runoff and all the debris from the streets of the city that the storm sewers delivered found its way to Okanagan lake at this point. The Rotary Club raised the funds allowing the marsh to be built, creating a fantastic photo stop (many people spend hours taking pictures of the ospry, ducks and turtles found in the marsh) and creating a ‘settling pond’ within the marshland to filter out the debris that used to run directly into the lake. For the city it’s a ‘win-win’ situation. For me it’s also a spot I found two ‘models’ who posed for my camera.
Valencia and her daughter, Olivia are residents living only a few minutes from the Rotary Marsh. “Living downtown is great,” Valencia tells me. “You’ve got the beach just a few minutes from home … biking the pathway gets you off the road for the most part … and it’s tough to beat the scenery.”
After talking with some bikers on the trail, I found that if you started at the Rotary Marsh, you can ride the lakeshore heading east along a trail without riding on the road most of the way. “From here, follow the pathway which keeps you close to the lake and if you want to do a 10-k ride make “the big apple” your end destination,” one rider told me, “from here to that beach landmark and back is a good 10-k ride.” My goal was set.
The route took me past Tugboat Beach, the newly constructed Kelowna Yacht Club and down Abbott Street. I noticed a couple of bikers leave the Abbott Street trail and turn into a small side street leading me to a bird sanctuary.
Getting off the bike, I walked down a wooden plank trail that brought me to the edge of Okanagan Lake. Looking out, I could see across the lake to the hills on the South side of Kelowna, home to a many vineyards that I would later discover. Taking a sip of water, I looked up to the trees and could see the sun breaking through the trees in a hypnotic fashion. It was a nice, peaceful moment about half-way through my ride.
Heading off, I left the park and rode the bike corridor until I hit Gyro Beach and “the big red apple”. By the time I got back to the Prestige Beach House, it was about a 40 minute ride.
For a lot of walkers and hikers in Kelowna, the hike up Knox Mountain is a daily ritual not to be missed. It’s rated moderate to difficult and from the varied ages I saw on the trail (and the number of dog walkers) this is a good trail for just about every fitness level.
There were the “over 60s” who took the relatively easy, wide dirt trail along Paul’s Tomb to the younger, fitter set who ran the trails, or peddled their mountain bikes up steep terrain.
Knox Mountain, located downtown is easy to access and close to hotels, coffee shops and Okanagan Lake. To get to Knox is very easy, all you do is drive down Ellis Street until you hit the end where you will be able to park your car at any of three ‘base camps:’ the lower parking lot, mid-way up and also near the top … all have areas of free parking.
The park is well-marked and maps show the variety of trails you can take. My choice today was to hike Apex Trail. With camera in hand, a bottle of water in my small pack, I headed off from the midway point of the mountain.
Knox Mountain is the largest park in the city of Kelowna. Stretching out for 766 acres, the summit rises 646 metres above the level of Okanagan Lake. Surprisingly, I found the trails fairly easy to navigate … stopping along the way to admire the scenery below and the far off hills that surround the lake.
As I left the parking lot, headed for the trail, I noticed a small marker. Wondering what it signifies I stopped (and photographed) and read that this little stubble of a tree was the 6th billionth tree planted in the province of BC. Impressive as that is, I wondered who had done all that counting of trees in the province. I started walking up the trail with that thought rattling around in my head.
Although it seemed like a lot of physical activity to fit into one day, I found it quite “doable” and felt that anyone with at least a bit of physical level in their lives could accomplish what I did. It should also be noted that my friends who are wheelchair bound could also accomplish a lot of what I did. Most of the trails and pathways are handicapped ready, fairly level and flat (except for Knox Mountain, that would be a tough workout).
It was a great day of seeing what the Okanagan has to offer … but it was time to chill out and end the day with Happy Hour back at the West Coast Grill and Oyster Bar where oysters are “buck a shuck” … yes, really … a dollar. Every day from 3:00 pm - 6:00 pm, the West Coast Grill & Oyster Bar conveniently located inside the hotel offers a Happy Hour that the locals claim is the best deal in town with ”buck a shuck” oysters, drink specials and be sure to ask about their Oysters Rockefeller of the day! For me, oysters paired with wine is a great way to unwind and think back on the day, realizing that the Okanagan is rich with things to do, places to go and people to meet.
Visiting the valley in the fall still provides lots of opportunities to explore and enjoy the area with the cooler weather, less tourists but filled with adventure.