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The Thompson Okanagan

Discover acres of orchards filled with springtime blossoms, cool lakes, sandy beaches and hot summer sun, grape-covered vines ready for the fall harvest and snow-covered mountains for incredible skiing. The Monashee mountains to the east, the Cascade mountains to the west with a chain of lakes that flow from north to south, give this Valley its picturesque landscape filled with agricultural abundance and ranchlands, fish filled rivers and lakes, historical trails and spectacular vistas .From lakeside to mountain peaks the entire Thompson Okanagan is a year-round paradise for nature lovers, adventurers, and recreation enthusiasts.

The Thompson Okanagan is also known as the interior of British Columbia and is known for its mild climate. Early springs and warm hot summers extending into fall make it a vacation paradise as well as the perfect climate for wine grapes, as this area is now home to over 80 wineries. Known as the Napa Valley of the North this is the oldest producing wine region in Canada where wineries here now regularly win top awards at wine competitions around the world.

The region can be divided into three distinct areas; The Thompson, following highway 5 and 5A from Merritt to the base of the Rocky Mountains; The Okanagan which follows Highway 97 north and highway 33 north from the US border and heads west along Highway 3, 3A and 97C; The Shuswap extends east from Kamloops along Highway 1.

The Thompson

photo courtesy of PictureBC

The Thompson region starts at the town of Merritt, where settlers first came attracted by the rich grasslands and the wide open spaces, and where ranches still make up a large part of Merritt’s economy today. Merritt is home to the Merritt Mountain Music Festival, held each year in July which attracts thousands of country music fans to see and hear the top names in Country Music. Check out the Country Music Walk of Fame where over the last 12 years hand prints of the best country music artists have been collected and are now on display throughout the town. Take highway 5A north from Merritt through the ranchlands of the Nicola Valley where you can saddle up at a number of guest ranches or relax at the Historic Quilchena Hotel. Go fishing at over 200 lakes including Nicola Lake, Paradise Lake and Chataway Lake.

Take Highway 5 north of Merritt to the largest city of the region, Kamloops, the “Tournament Capital of Canada” and the home of the Rocky Mountaineer Train to the Rockies. While in Kamloops visit the BC Wildlife Park, Kamloops Heritage Railway Train and Sun Peaks Resort, a four season playground where activities range from mountain biking and summer festivals to skiing in light powdered snow. Kamloops means the “meeting of the waters” as the city is situated where the North and South Thompson Rivers meet. Along with hundreds of lakes nearby, the rivers offer lots of activities and waters sports from fishing to white water rafting. Head north on Highway 5 from Kamloops, also known as the “Yellowhead Highway”, taking a scenic five hour drive to Jasper in the Rocky Mountains. Along the way visit the North Thompson Fall Fair and Rodeo in Barriere held every Labour Day weekend since 1950. In Clearwater you can access Wells Gray Provincial Park where you can hike to mountain top meadows, paddle glacial lakes or enjoy the view of majestic Helmecken Falls. In Valemount hike the scenic Berg Trail in Mt Robson Park, go bird watching at the Robert W.Starrat Wildlife Sanctuary which is home to 150 species of birds. Take a helicopter tour or in winter sign up to experience some of BCs best heli skiing

The Shuswap

photo courtesy of PictureBC

This area is easily accessible from all directions, and a place for all seasons. As soon as summer weather arrives, thousands of visitors and residents take to the water. The area’s lakes offer miles of sandy beaches, waterways, secret coves, fishing and houseboating. Shuswap Lake is one of the most popular recreational destinations in BC. The approximately 400 km of shoreline include many provincial parks and offer unlimited water related recreational opportunities. The surrounding mountains provide trails for cross country skiing, snowmobiling, mountain biking and hiking. Or play 18 holes of golf, enjoy an afternoon of wine touring or visiting a heritage site. This area is home to the communities of Chase, Salmon Arm, Blind Bay, Sorrento and Sicamous all of which can be found along Hwy 1 east of Kamloops.

The Okanagan

Travel down highway 97 stretching from Sicamous to the Osoyoos at US Border. This area is known for its mild climate and hot sunny summer temperatures, along with its fast growing popularity for the best wine region in Canada. Visit over 60 wineries as you make your way south. Along the way visit many working orchards and fruit stands. In season pick cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, apples and pears.

From Sicamous heading south you will arrive in the town of Enderby located on the banks of the Shuswap River, making it a natural playground for all water sports, fishing and kayaking. Hike to the top of the Enderby Cliffs for incredible area views or spend an evening at the Starlight Drive In Theatre, one of only two remaining drive-in theatres left in BC. Heading south you will then arrive in Armstrong, located in the heart of the Spallumcheen Valley. Visit the Armstrong Village Cheese Company, tour a working farm or visit the Farmers Market. In August Armstrong is home to the Provincial Exhibition. Continuing south you will arrive in Vernon, a community surrounded by 3 lakes. Vernon is the oldest community in British Columbia’s interior. Beginning in the early 1860s, miners and ranchers began to flock to Vernon after the discovery of gold and favourable ranching conditions. This rich history can be explored at the Historic O’Keefe Ranch located 12 kms north of the city. Visit Vernon’s downtown where you can view 27 building size murals depicting the growth of Vernon into the city it is today. With Vernon being situated between Kalamalka Lake and Lake Okanagan, summer visitors flock to the endless beaches to enjoy the summer sun and all kinds of water sports and recreation. In winter, world class skiing and winter activities can be found at the Silver Star Resort. Vernon is also home to Canada’ s Largest Winter Carnival, held each February.

photo courtesy of PictureBC

Continuing south on Hwy 97 you will reach the city of Kelowna named as one of the top world travel destinations by Frommers Travel Guides. The Gateway to the Okanagan Valley, Kelowna offers something for everyone: golf courses, endless beaches, and a vibrant city centre with theatre, galleries, and eclectic restaurants offering everything from 5 star dining to sidewalk cafes and bistros. The surprise of this urban center is its proximity to rural charm. Within minutes you can be on a hiking trail enjoying beautiful city and lake views, touring an orchard, enjoying a glass of wine on a patio in a vineyard, hitting the links or relaxing a day lakeside, enjoying the hot summer sun or partaking in many watersport activities. Visit the wine museum, a lavender farm, a goat cheese farm, Father Pandosys Mission, The Jammery, along with many fruit stands and the Kelowna Farmers Market. Each spring and Fall Kelowna is home to the Okanagan Wine Festival. In winter spend a day on the slopes of Big White for world class skiing, snowboarding, tubing, snowmobiling and outdoor skating.

Travel south of Kelowna across the floating bridge to Westbank, home of Crystal Mountain and Telemark Cross Country Skiing. Enjoy vineyard dining at Quails Gate Winery and Mission Hill winery along with tastings and tours. From Westbank travel 1ten minutes south to the vibrant waterfront city of Peachland. Soak up some sun at one of the many beaches, hike up Hardy Falls and watch the salmon spawning in the fall. Ten minutes south of Peachland is historic Summerland. Summerland is a town that began in 1906 and was one of the first communities in the Okanagan to develop its fruit industry. The history of that journey can be found at Summerland’s Ornamental Gardens and Agricultural Museum, which is housed in the historic Superintendent’s residence of the former Dominion Experimental Farm, now known as the Pacific Agri-Food Research Center. The town is nestled amongst acres of fruit orchards and lush vineyards and is home to many wineries. Hop aboard the Kettle Valley Steam Train, hike the Trans Canada Trail to Giants Head Mountain, visit the trout hatchery, or relax on the shores of Sun Oka Beach.

Continuing south from Summerland you will reach the city of Penticton, a first nations word meaning “a place to live forever”. Situated on two lakes, Lake Okanagan and Skaha Lake, this is a summer paradise for every water sport and summer activity, with Penticton’s beaches being rated some of the best in Canada. Visit the many Naramata Bench Wineries and the BC Wine Information Center featuring wine education classes, free tastings and a VQA Wine Store with over 400 varieties of VQA wines from around the province. Penticton is home to many festivals including the Okanagan Fest-Of-Ale, Peach City Cruise, Pacific Northwest Elvis Festival, The Annual Consumer Wine Tasting and the Penticton Ironman. In winter the popular Apex Mountain Resort offers all the winter activities including great skiing and a full size Olympic outdoor skating rink.

Heading south again on Hwy 97 you will find the scenic community of Oliver, Wine Capital of Canada, and the northern most tip of the Sonora Dessert. The sun soaked dessert climate of this area allows you to golf from February to December. In winter enjoy skiing and winter sports at Mount Baldy. Other activities to enjoy include bird watching at Vaseaux Lake, hike the Golden Mile trail amongst the vineyards, or enjoy samplings of the 20 wineries that call Oliver home. Just south of Oliver on Hwy 97 is Osoyoos. The name is a first nations word meaning “the narrow place where two lakes come together”. Osoyoos is Canada’s only desert and a summer wonderland. While parts of the desert have been reclaimed, this town is still surrounded by cactus, rolling dunes and tumbleweeds. Osoyoos is a natural wonder at the southern most point of the Okanagan and the northern reaches of the Sonoran desert chain that starts down in Mexico. The area now boasts world class golf courses, acres of orchards and fruit stands and many fine wineries. Visit the Heritage Desert Center. Osoyoos is just minutes from the US-Canada border.

Head west on Hwy 3 to the town of Keremeos, making sure you stop to see Spotted lake. Keremeos is famous for the wonderful produce from its orchards. The Grist Mill and Gardens is an heirloom apple orchard, and some of the finest organically grown gardens in Canada. The gardens vary throughout the year and are always well worth a visit. Heading west from Keremeos on Hwy 3 you will pass the historic mining town of Hedley. Hedley BC has been famous for gold. A thriving mining town during the early 20th century, at its heyday, Hedley boasted a population of over 1,000 people. With 5 hotels and a “forty stamp” mill to process the gold from the massive gold claim in neighbouring Nickel Plate mountain, it was once the hub of the Similkameen Valley. Nowadays, Hedley BC is a sleepy village of approximately 400, where there are many historic sites and buildings for tourists to visit. From the town of Hedley heading west you will arrive in Princeton, situated at the forks of the Similkameen and Tulameen Rivers at an elevation of 650 metres (2100 feet). The town and area are steeped in history. There are over 50 lakes in a 50 kilometre radius. Two rivers offer fishing and water fun. The Kettle Valley Rail Trail and China Ridge Trails offer scenic cycling and skiing. Head north from Princeton on Hwy 5a to connect back to the Thompson region.

Come anytime of the year to this four season playground in the interior of BC. With its mild climate you can even ski and golf in the same day! Ski at one of four major ski resorts, golf at over 50 championship golf courses, pick fruit in season, enjoy the many festivals, while all the while enjoying the incredible award-winning wines of over 60 wineries. Enjoy a sunny terrace overlooking lush vineyards with a glass of wine and fine food after an incredible day of enjoying all the area has to offer!

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