Not far beyond the Canadian border, a beautiful destination offers a warm welcome and tucked-away surprises. Not only is British Columbia’s Thompson Okanagan home to the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, Canada’s only desert and dozens of twinkling lakes, but the region also features world-class wineries, inventive, fresh fare, and rich indigenous culture that leaves a lasting mark.
Visitors ogle Okanagan Lake views, with the Naramata Bench in the background — Photo courtesy of Destination British Columbia
When connecting through Vancouver, consider staying overnight at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport, perhaps the nicest luxury hotel you’ll ever experience that also features runway views. Thanks to triple-pane, soundproof, floor-to-ceiling windows, noise is no problem here, yet you may lose some winks due to captivating views of nearby peaks and airplane activity.
The chic venue also features an indoor pool, health club, spa, nightly music in the lounge and exquisite dining choices, like an extensive breakfast buffet spread (think fresh fruit, local salmon and grilled avocado creations).
When you’re ready to head east toward destinations like Kamloops and Kelowna, hop on a quick flight or pull out the GPS (and appropriate playlist) for a picturesque road trip. From Vancouver, driving to Kamloops takes about 3.5 hours via Highway 5. As an alternate option, cruise along Highway 1. While this route takes longer (5 hours), it’s a bit more scenic and follows the Fraser Canyon.
At Fairmont Vancouver Airport, the Jade Suite features incredible views of planes on the tarmac and majestic mountains in the background — Photo courtesy of Fairmont Vancouver Airport
Kelowna to Kamloops takes just over two hours. The fastest and most common route (about 2 hours) follows Highway 97, to the Okanagan Connector and onto Highway 5. The other option (just over 4 hours) involves taking Highway 97 south along Okanagan Lake, past Penticton and onto Highway 3. In the snowy season, be sure you have winter tires and allow more time. (Check Drive BC to get the latest conditions and to plan your route accordingly.)
Kamloops, known as a year-round adventure playground, boasts a friendly, small-town vibe typical of places removed from the bustle. The name comes from the Secwepemc word Tk’emlúps, meaning “where the rivers meet” (referring to the convergence of the North and South Thompson rivers).
This stunning region is home to the Tk’emlups Indian Band, members of the Interior-Salish Secwepemc (Shuswap) speaking peoples of British Columbia. Delve into local culture at the Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park, and on Moccasin Trails‘ magic-tinged canoe tours, where flute and drum music, singing and storytelling complement the otherworldly sight of eagles swooping across the shores.
Wintertime visits mean downhill skiing at Big White Ski Resort — Photo courtesy of Destination British Columbia
In this sacred land, you’ll find 100-plus freshwater lakes within an hour’s drive, as well as fantastical hoodoo formations. Every fourth year, a dominant sockeye run – one of the largest in the world – fills the Adams River with millions of salmon who’ve returned home to spawn and end their life cycle.
From mid-December to March, locals and visitors fill their days downhill skiing as well as exploring winter trails via snowshoes, cross-country skis or bikes. Guests enjoy sampling the flavors of the region along the Kamloops Wine Trail (try the blueberry wine at Monte Creek Ranch), at a handful of bustling breweries (including local favorite Barley Station Brew Pub), and at cozy eateries like Red Beard Cafe.
Quaaout Lodge’s cultural workers teach visitors about the Secwepemc people of the Shuswap Lakes and surrounding communities — Photo courtesy of Quaaout Lodge/Destination British Columbia
The tranquil Quaaout Lodge at Talking Rock Golf Resort proves the perfect base, set on the edge of Little Shuswap Lake and offering 1,800 feet of sandy beach. Enjoy amenities like an indoor pool, authentic native gourmet meals at casual Jack Sam’s Restaurant (be sure to try the irresistible bannock bread), and tours of native interpretive areas like a traditional “sweat lodge” and a kekuli – or “winter home” – built into a pit in the ground and once intended to lodge an entire family.
Next up: Kelowna–the gateway to BC’s largest wine-producing region and home to the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, among other outdoors draws. With some 30 beaches and a population that doubles in summer months, Kelowna is a bustling town with plenty of character that’s smack-dab in the middle of BC’s Okanagan Valley.
Giro Okanagan takes cyclists along the spectacular Myra Canyon Trestles, while Hoodoo Adventures journeys through nearby Penticton (giving tour-goers a good excuse to pop into Hillside Winery for some delicious tastings, too).
Colder months spotlight skiing and other snow-centric activities, plus cozying up inside at inviting destinations that pour local vintages and serve food grown at nearby farms. Savor hearty breakfasts in downtown Kelowna’s Waterfront Cafe, or drive out to Summerhill’s Sunset Organic Bistro for sweeping lake views and vegan lunch dishes from soup to “calamari.”
In the evening, fall under the spell of Hotel Eldorado‘s dreamy ambiance and menu, which have made this dining room a prime gathering space since 1926. Though winery options are endless, be sure not to miss Indigenous World Winery, the first 100% owned and operated indigenous winery in the world.
You should also stop by Mission Hill Family Estate, a spectacular, sprawling, European-inspired property with a Greco-Roman amphitheater (for summer concerts), 12-story bell tower and cavernous cellar that impresses nearly as much as the impeccable wines.
At the Delta Hotels Grand Okanagan Resort, enjoy dishes like the roast salmon — Photo courtesy of Delta Hotels Grand Okanagan Resort
While here, enhance your time by booking a lakefront stay at the luxurious Delta Hotels Grand Okanagan Resort, a property in downtown Kelowna with a dramatic setting. In addition to the on-site spa, guests love meals at OAK+CRU Social Kitchen & Wine Bar, a regionally-inspired restaurant with a buzzing scene and sensational wine list.
After spending nearly a week among the warm, kind people of this inspiring land, we can’t help but agree with the region’s tagline: “A landscape as diverse as the adventures within it.” When BC beckons, we gladly obey.