The Okanagan Valley is… It’s a 160-kilometer-long slice of sun-drenched heaven with long lakes, rolling mountains, and lots of heart-pumping, drink-sipping, 100% Canadian fun.
I jumped at the chance to go on a three-day bike and walking trip around Penticton, British Columbia, with some friends.
DAY ONE – ADVENTURE ON
Penticton is known for rock climbing at Skaha Bluffs and water sports on the Okanagan and Skaha Lakes. It also has a lot of cycling opportunities that go beyond the famous Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) Trail.
On the first day of our trip, we tried mountain biking for the first time at the Campbell Mountain trails. Shooting stars, saskatoons, and arrow-leaved balsamroot grew in large numbers on grassy slopes with tall Ponderosa pines.
We huffed and puffed while the others drove up to the city view. Well, I huffed and puffed. We rode to the top, down the backside, through the gulch, and back to the parking lot.
It was a great 10-kilometer introduction to mountain riding in the Okanagan. On the same trail, we also saw a few other hikers.
Even though the Naramata Bench is known for its grapes, we drove right by them all to stop at Legend Distilling and try some of their liqueurs and spirits. I drank Doctor’s Orders, a gin made with apple, elderberry, and lavender from the area.
Slow Poke sour cherry vodka was also popular, but everyone agreed that Manitou was the best.
For this delicious drink, oranges and sumac berries from the area are mixed together. We bought a bottle and had it for dessert several nights in a row by pouring it over vanilla ice cream.
Did You Know?
The Interior Salish word snpintktn, from which Penticton comes, means “a place where people live all year.”
EXPLORING PENTICTON’S HISTORIC BUILDINGS
You could cycle on a different path every day, but a good idea is to stop at The Bench Market for a cappuccino and then walk around downtown Penticton.
At the tourist centre, you can get a walking tour map with information about historic buildings in the area.
I’m always looking for old stories, and historical resources are a natural way to learn about a place’s past.
The S.S. Sicamous is always beached on the southern shore of Okanagan Lake, close to where Lakeshore Drive ends. This paddlewheeler is the most visible and tangible piece of Penticton’s history.
It was built in 1914 at Port Arthur, Ontario, for the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Canadian Pacific Railway took it west in pieces so that it could be a hub for transportation on the lake.
The Georgian Revival-style Warren House can be found by going west on Lakeshore Drive. It was built in 1912 for the president of the Kettle Valley Railway. It shows how beautiful the city was when it was young.
The house of David Riordan is on the south end of Winnipeg Street. During Prohibition, wealthy hotel owner Riordan is said to have kept wine in the basement of 689 Winnipeg Street.
Even though the previous owner had a bad reputation, the house is still very nice. Go east on Eckhardt Avenue from the bootlegging stories to 112 Eckhardt Avenue. This big property on a corner is where the Gibson House is.
It was built in 1906 for Frank H. Latimer and is one of the oldest homes still standing in the city. Latimer was the civil engineer who mapped out Penticton and did the surveying.
The current name comes from Dr. John J. Gibson, a well-known public figure who lived here from 1946 to 2000.
The last must-see on my list is the Leir House at 220 Manor Park Avenue. In the late 1920s, wealthy timber magnate Hugh Leir, his wife, and their 11 children lived there.
The Penticton and District Community Arts Council now meets there. That many kids makes me want to get a drink!
With five craft breweries in town, it’s clear what the best drink is for today. We celebrated our day by having a taster flight of beer at The Cannery’s taproom and then eating the best nachos we’d ever had (their spicy jalapeo sour cream drizzling is just delicious). Anyone want to take a growler?
THREE BLIND MICE
On our second day of riding, there were four of us, but the mountain bike trail system we chose to explore was called “Three Blind Mice.” I’m going to be honest: I wasn’t happy about the unexpected timing of the broadcast.
I went left, and the bike went right. There are many paths through this rocky hillside system. Some are tougher than others. In my case, the one I call Fred is one of the tougher ones.
Chipmunk is a good place for new riders to start out. It goes up gently to a bench and then runs through woods and meadows before going down to the KVR.
No matter how you ride or walk to the end, there’s a lot of spirit there. There are more than 60 wineries on the Naramata Bench. Two of my favourites from today were Elephant Island and Ruby Blues.
Both have good wine, but the story behind Elephant Island’s name caught my attention when I first went there. In the 1970s, an architect and her husband bought a “white elephant,” which caused a lot of talk about how things should be built.
The architect was called “Eye Land” because of how he saw the land. In 1999, Elephant Island Winery opened for the first time.
Ruby Blues spoke to the other half of my creative soul with its bright decor and flashy VW buses. I had to buy a bottle of their famous and easy-to-drink Red Stiletto!
THREE WAYS TO STAY – PENTICTON ACCOMMODATION
Whatever your favourite thing to do or drink is, Penticton seems to have it. The same could be said about looking for a place to sleep at the end of the day.
I went to Penticton three times and stayed in three very different kinds of places, but they all had one thing in common: gorgeous views of the lake.
If you want to go camping in Penticton, you could stay at the low-cost Wrights Beach Camp, a VRBO, or the more expensive Penticton Lakeshore Resort.