Kelowna is located midway along the eastern shoreline of Okanagan Lake in the Okanagan Valley.
The city lies in a fertile agricultural bowl, ideal for orchards and vineyards, sheltered by ridges of dry grassland, ponderosa pine, and Douglas fir forest that rise to forested highland plateaus. Here the rolling terrain is punctuated by small fishing lakes and the occasional mountain peak like Big White.
The Monashee Mountains, a range in the Columbia Mountains, lie to the east while the Cascades and Coastal Mountains to the west, cause the rain shadow effect that produces the area's semi-arid climate.
Okanagan Lake, which stretches 110km/68mi from Vernon in the north to Penticton in the south, is a focal point of Kelowna. Downtown waterfront parks provide public access to a long stretch of shoreline with beaches, marinas, boat launches, and picnic areas. Look for similar amenities at other municipal parks, plus campsites at Bear Creek Provincial Park.
Stroll the boardwalk in the Rotary Marshes at the mouth of Brandt's Creek (at the north end of downtown) where waterfowl nest in the wetlands and an osprey platform is occupied every summer. Hike or cycle the Mission Creek Greenway, which borders the largest tributary of Okanagan Lake. This is an important kokanee salmon spawning stream.
Big White Ski Resort
Big White Mountain, located 56km/35mi southeast of Kelowna in the Okanagan Highlands is the tallest nearby mountain peak at 2,318m/7,606ft. On average, 750cm/25ft of dry champagne powder snow falls annually, making for superb downhill skiing conditions at Big White Ski Resort from late-November through mid-April.
Climate and Weather
Kelowna experiences four distinct seasons, however, summers are long and hot with average daily highs in July of 27.6˚C/81.7˚F, and many days well into the 30˚C/90˚F. Humidity is very low. Winters are short and mild with average January highs of -2˚C/28.4˚F and little snow. Spring is marked by an abundance of showy wildflowers, especially the brilliant yellow arrowleaf balsamroot that carpets the hillsides, while stands of aspen and cottonwood turn golden in autumn. Precipitation averages just 340mm/13in annually.
Variations in altitude make the seasons somewhat elastic. It is perfectly feasible to play a morning round of golf in Kelowna, followed by an afternoon of skiing at Big White Ski Resort. This changing climate also means it is necessary to bring layers when visiting the mountains in summer. Temperatures and weather conditions can vary quite dramatically.
Winter tires are strongly recommended when heading to Big White from early autumn through late spring. Road conditions at higher elevations can be treacherous even when excellent in the valley.