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Vancouver to Kelowna and Beyond: 4 Routes, Countless Hidden Gems

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Grasslands surround the Napier Lake in the Nicola Valley

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We all have our favourite road-trip pit stops when travelling due east from Metro Vancouver to the Okanagan. Like the coffee shop whose good java (and good conversation) fuels a long drive ahead, or the harvest market that stocks the ultimate road-trip snacks. But beyond cherished stops, have you really experienced what this swath of agricultural land has to offer?

Here are four routes made for road tripping—and smelling the lavender along the way.

Travelling Highway 1: The Fraser Valley

Along BC’s oft-travelled Trans Canada Highway, there’s much to explore—and entertain, and charm, and nurture, and…the list goes on.

Tuscan Farm Gardens near Abbotsford | The Fraser Valley

Enjoy Farm Life in the Fraser Valley

East of Vancouver, family-run farms near Abbotsford offer a quick (and quaint) escape from the city, to nourish your soul and replenish your walk-in pantry.

To start, get lost in the lavender at Tuscan Farm Gardens, where fragrant fields bloom alongside a flower garden with a lily pond, fountains, wildflowers, and a rose-trimmed gazebo (advance online tickets are a must). Tuscan’s handmade, natural products like essential oils, honey, tea, and spa products make for ideal take-home treasures. Note: July is the best month to see the lavender in bloom.

Head to third-generation Taves Family Farm, where you can tuck heirloom tomatoes and mini-cucumbers into your shopping bag, sip cold-pressed apple cider in the Applebarn, and make nice with goats and other farm creatures.

Want to hold onto that Zen feeling? Try socially distanced goat yoga at Maan Farms, where small classes are held in the great outdoors, weather permitting. Tip: Be sure to snag some of Mamma Maan’s samosas at their touch-free curbside pickup, post-class.

For more on what to do in the Fraser Valley, visit here.

Fuel Up More Than Your Car in Hope, and Bring Your Bike

Hope might be a gas-station hub for road-trip warriors, but did you know that this town of just over 6,000 is also a hotspot for some seriously good home-cooked meals?

The Owl Street Café, for example, is a “great Canadian pit stop” with melt-in-your mouth omelettes, delicate Dutch Baby pancakes, and decadent caramel lattes. And that’s just breakfast. Consider your next stop as you take in the eatery’s eclectic mélange of owls (ceramic, stuffed, and otherwise)—more than 300 creatures that have been largely donated by customers far and wide.

Home Restaurant feels like, well, home with its warm welcome and just-like-Mom’s comfort food. While technically a chain, the first Home location sprung up in Hope in 1953, and it’s been serving dedicated patrons ever since. This kitchen is currently dishing up a limited menu but be sure to ask “what’s good today.” You might hear about their mushroom, peppers, and tomato veggie-lovers breakfast bowl or their hot turkey sandwich with housemade stuffing smothered in gravy. (Ask if you can get a slice of pie to go.)

For take-out, several hot spots are making it easy for locals and visiting folk to grab and go. At Blue Moose Coffee House, order a cup of joe and a sausage roll or veggie samosa. At the Hope Mountain Café, opt for the berry lemon iced tea and the all-day breakfast poutine. If you love donuts and gooey cinnamon buns, then The Rolling Pin Bakery is for you.

Bike Those Calories Away

It may be wishful thinking, but you could try to two-wheel your calories away. No matter where you fuel up (car and/or stomach), ask the locals where best to hit the mountain biking trail. (If they aren’t eager to spill, provide incentive, like the aforementioned cinnamon buns.) Chances are they’ll steer you to the Hope Bike Park (a.k.a. Coquihalla River Community Park), right next to the Coquihalla Campground. It includes 2.5 acres of woodland with sections for all skill levels, including three pump tracks and seven jump lines.

Travelling Highway 7 to Highway 1: The Scenic Route

We fondly refer to Highway 7 as “the scenic route,” and for good reason. Running parallel to Highway 1 on the north side of the Fraser River, it provides a lovely change of scenery from the slightly quicker Highway 1 corridor out of Vancouver—with some pretty compelling reasons to stop along the way. Here are a few.

 

C Market Coffee in Coquitlam | C Market Coffee

Grab a Coffee, Then Take a Hike in Coquitlam

Drop in at C Market Coffee Roastery and strike up a conversation with Bridgette, the shop’s owner and Master Roaster who makes a really good pour. For more, Olivier’s Bread offers delicacies like eclairs, soft veggie sourdough, and St. Michel, a melty shortbread with pear coulis.

Take your treats and explore nearby Colony Farm Regional Park or the Riverview Lands, or journey 15 minutes north to work up a sweat on the Coquitlam Crunch Trail. This urban hike takes about 1.5 hours and has an elevation gain of 244 metres (800 feet). Eager for some camaraderie? Time your trip so that you can hike with the local Coquitlam Craft Crunchers, a crew that congregates every Wednesday at dog-friendly Mariner Brewing for a 7 p.m. climb.

Farther along Highway 7, the forested community of Maple Ridge is a natural beauty that boasts a bounty of craft breweries and taphouses along their BC Ale Trail. Choose a designated driver, park your car, and stay awhile at local favourites Foamers’ Folly Brewing (try the Blackberry Lemoncello Sour Ale) or Maple Meadows Brewing (the Nitro Margarita Ale is a must). For more variety, check out Ridge Brewing’s Wind & Sea Northwest Pale Ale or have a pull of Silver Valley Brewing’s Californication: California Common.

Get Soaked at Harrison Hot Springs

If you have time, consider a detour 1.5 hours northeast to Harrison Hot Springs. (Tip: Stop at the striking Westminster Abbey in Mission along the way.) The healing mineral waters at Harrison are soothing, but the 60-km-long and 9-km-wide glacier-fed Harrison Lake adds a splash of cold water to guided canoe or kayak adventures with Harrison Eco Tours.

For more ideas along this route, visit here.

Travelling Highway 5/Highway 97 

Ah, the “fast route.” With its nearly straight shot to Kamloops (you turn off onto Highway 97 to make your way to Kelowna), this stretch of road is often overlooked for roadside stops. Here’s your chance to slow down and explore a little.

Stop in Merritt, Canada’s Country Music Capital

With just over 7,000 residents, Merritt may be modest in numbers but it’s big when it comes to country music. Built on ranching, mining, and forestry, Merritt sits at the junction of the Nicola and Coldwater rivers. It’s home to the Merritt Walk of Stars—handprints and bronzed stars that line the sidewalks and adorn the local businesses—commemorating artists who have performed here (think: The Dixie Chicks, Keith Urban, and Tim McGraw). Learn more about Merritt with a stop at Baillie House, whose buildings and general store date back to the early 1900s.

Fuel up for the road ahead at Indigenous-owned Kekuli Café with Bannockwiches, Pow Wow Frybread, and Bannock Flatbread Tacos—all traditional offerings with a modern twist. Explore the surrounding Nicola Valley grasslands, hills, lakes, and ranches. For the latter, the historic Nicola Ranch is just 10 kilometres northeast on Highway 5A—home to the region’s first post office. Stop at nearby Nicola Lake in Monck Provincial Park for a breather (and a photo) before moving along to Douglas Lake Ranch, a fly-fishing spot that boasts a few private-access, stillwater lakes for casting alongside comfy lodge-style accommodations.

Before you head into West Kelowna (Highway 97), take the turn-off towards Peachland/Penticton (Highway 97 South) to Fitzpatrick Family Vineyards, set on the historic Greata Ranch overlooking Okanagan Lake. Fitzpatrick is known for their bubbly, but sample both the still and sparkling options available. Book your tasting in advance.

Travelling Highway 3/Highway 97

This less-hurried route is lined with trees, trees, and more trees. But there’s more to it than that. Here, you can explore vast nature, Indigenous experiences, and unexpected wine tours along the way.

Stay at Manning Park, and Look to the Stars

It’s natural to embrace Mother Nature at Manning Park Resort, where tall trees line the lakeside and wilderness campsites, nature trails, and cozy cabins peppered throughout. You can snuggle in for the night whichever way you choose, but be sure to throw on a sweater, head outside, and look up—waaaay up—to see why Manning Park is an ideal spot for gazing at the stars, year round. (These folks hold regular Dark Sky events.)

Grapes in the Okanagan | Dave Heath

Sip Wine in the Similkameen

While this valley may not receive the same hype as its sizable Okanagan neighbour, the Similkameen is a charming, bucolic place of orchards, ranches, and lesser-known wineries. Enter Grape Escapes Wine Tours, a skilled crew eager to help you explore BC’s “undiscovered” wine region.

 

Sign on for their Similkameen Valley Wine Tour, where you’ll visit five hand-picked wineries. These may include the artisan Clos Du Soleil (co-owned by Dr. Bonnie Henry herself) that produces Bordeaux-style wines infused with the flavours of the rocky landscape. Or you may visit Orofino Winery, a family-run operation that encourages you to stay awhile in one of their luxurious suites that sit atop the winery’s barrel room. The day’s tour will touch on the valley’s approach to farming (more than 40 per cent of all crops here are grown organically) and treat participants to a three-course picnic lunch.

For a bird’s-eye view of the landscape, consider a full-day, four-stop tour with Valhalla Helicopters. High-flying fun begins in West Kelowna with touchdowns at choice wineries in the Naramata Bench, near Oliver, and in Summerland. The tour stops in the Similkameen for leisurely sips of either the full-bodied reds at Seven Stones Winery or the dry-pear and apple pours at Forbidden Fruit Winery, a certified organic tree fruit farm, vineyard, and nature estate on the Similkameen River.

If you’re hungry after all that sipping, take advantage of the area’s orchard setting and visit the array of produce stands, especially for luscious summer peaches and corn. Where to start? Keremeos, the “Fruit Stand Capital of Canada,” of course.

Discover Indigenous Culture in Osoyoos

There are myriad Indigenous experiences throughout the province, and the Okanagan Valley is no exception.

Journey south to Osoyoos to Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, where you can learn about the lands and the legends of the Okanagan people. Here, a striking state-of-the-art interpretive centre, built into a hillside in Canada’s only pocket desert, is home to a 1,600-acre conservation site. As stewards of this endangered land, the Osoyoos Indian Band shares knowledge about desert ecology and wildlife with indoor and outdoor galleries, hands-on displays, education stations, and two multimedia theatre experiences where you can hear the legends of Sen’klip (Coyote).

No matter which route you choose, there are many hidden gems to be found. You just have to slow down, and take the time to find them.

 

Header image: Grasslands surround the Napier Lake in the Nicola Valley | Andrew Strain

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WRITTEN BY: Carla Mont

From: Vancouver
Carla Mont is a former Prairie girl who lives by the ocean. A full-time DBC staffer, she is passionate about Canadian authors, artists, designers, and chefs. A fan of fantastic food, Carla can often be spotted sampling the latest offerings at local kitchens—preferably with a glass of BC bubbly.

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