Penticton has all the right ingredients for a perfect getaway. You can, for example, relax on soft sand or play in one of two big lakes, tour more than 70 wineries within half an hour of town, stay fit in the surrounding mountains, and savour farm-fresh food complemented by locally crafted drinks. Head home after a few days feeling relaxed and well fed or—better yet—extend your trip and explore more of BC’s Okanagan Valley.
Tunnel along the Kettle Valley Rail Trail. Photo: @theexpeditionist via Instagram
Situated between Okanagan and Skaha lakes and bordered by vineyards and orchards as far as the eye can see, Penticton boasts stunning vistas in every direction. Start your day with breakfast at The Bench Market, where your morning java is made from locally roasted organic beans. Enjoy their all-day breakfast menu, and be sure to try the house-made granola. Sufficiently fuelled and ready for adventure? Gear up for a bike ride along the Kettle Valley Rail Trail with Hoodoo Adventures. The gentle grade allows for a leisurely pedal through tunnels, along rocky bluffs, and past vineyards—each backed by panoramas of Okanagan Lake.
If you’d rather play in the water than admire it from above, pick a lake and head to the beach. Swim in the calm, clear water, go slow on a stand-up paddleboard or in a kayak, or rent a motorized watercraft and zip around the lake. Get a treat from the giant peach-shaped concession stand on Okanagan Lake, or on Saturdays mornings from April through October, find your culinary bliss at the sprawling Penticton Farmers’ Market.
To indulge in as much of the local food scene as possible, you’ll need to work up an appetite. Take a hike in Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park, or bring your gear and climb the well-known bluffs. This park is a respected climbing destination with dozens of routes (names include Blazing Buttress and Rattlesnake Ledge, and the like). Brag about your achievements over a handcrafted beer and a rock oven pizza at Bad Tattoo Brewing Company.
Penticton Lakeside Resort & Conference Centre is a great place to lay your head for the night. At day break, order eggs Benny at the resort’s Hooded Merganser Bar & Grill before setting out to explore neighbouring communities.
Aerial view of Okanagan Lake from the Naramata Bench. Photo: @preservedlight via Instagram
This small community on the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake is known for its agricultural endeavours. Naramata is made up of several farms and orchards, alongside some of the best wineries in the Okanagan Valley, including Therapy Vineyards. Try their Super Ego, a Bordeaux-style blend, or Freudian Sip, a popular, off-dry white. Poplar Grove winery on the nearby Naramata Bench boasts a glass-walled tasting room with gorgeous views over Okanagan Lake, and their Vanilla Pod restaurant is an absolute must. Vanilla Pod’s menu is inspired by the local bounty, and the presentation is beautiful. Do yourself a favour: sit out on the patio and order the Meats & Spreads charcuterie board with a glass of Blanc de Noirs. You won’t regret it.
While you’re in the neighbourhood, stop by the Forest Green Man Lavender farm for a wide range of lavender products, including hand-made lavender soaps and essential oils distilled on site. Check out the cute village with its general store and artisan shops, and imagine life in one of the community’s many lakeside cottages. The more than 100-year-old Naramata Heritage Inn & Spa is a favourite overnight option.
Fruit syrups available at Summerland Sweets. Photo: @corytography via Instagram
On the other side of the lake is Summerland, home of the Kettle Valley Steam Railway. A restored 1912 steam locomotive leads the charge along 16 kilometres (10 miles) of track built between 1910 and 1915. Highlights of the trip include crossing the Trout Creek Bridge 72 metres (238 feet) above the canyon, and the vineyard, orchard, and lake views along the 90-minute route. Through the summer and early fall, enjoy the Great Train Robbery, where a gang on horseback “robs” train passengers to benefit local charities.
Another way to take in the sights is to climb to the top of Giant’s Head Mountain. The south face of this ancient volcano was carved by glaciers, and resembles a giant’s profile. If you’re feeling ambitious, hike up from ground level; if you’re in it primarily for the 360-degree view, drive up to a picnic area. From there it’s about a 10-minute hike to the summit.
No visit to Summerland is complete without a stop at the eponymous Summerland Sweets. This family-run business was started by a researcher at the local Federal Agricultural Research Station. Ted Atkinson began making fruit jelly candies on his orchard in the early 1960s, and when he retired he turned his hobby into a business. Passed down to subsequent generations, Summerland Sweets has grown into a successful operation offering fruit syrups, jams, and an assortment of fruit wines produced by Sleeping Giant Fruit Winery, launched in 2008.
Highway 97 runs alongside Okanagan Lake in Summerland. Photo: @janvozenilek via Instagram
Penticton is located along Highway 97 in the Okanagan Valley, about five hours from Vancouver. There are a couple of ways to get here. Follow Highway 1 (Trans Canada Highway) to Hope, then take Highway 5 north to Merritt. From there Highway 97C connects to West Kelowna, and Summerland is about 45 minutes south.
Alternatively, from Hope follow Highway 3 through E.C. Manning Provincial Park and the Similkameen Valley, and take Highway 3A north from Keremeos. The 3A connects to Highway 97 about 15 minutes south of Penticton. Another option is to fly into the Penticton Regional Airport or the Kelowna International Airport and rent a car.
Featured image: Looking down toward Penticton, by Joann Pai