British Columbia’s Heritage: A Tourism Journey Through the Thompson Okanagan’s Trails, Rails and Wild West History
From the railway industry to the tourism industry, British Columbia’s heritage lives on. The Kettle Valley Railway was the most expensive railway to build by the mile in the world. In the Thompson Okanagan region, The Great Trail is made up of the former railway lines and spans over 401 km, providing access to rail stories and various forms of recreation all suited for exploring our past and present. Experience it all through exploring abandoned railway lines, heritage sites, restored steam locomotives, and more. Visit the Kamloops Heritage Railway for a themed rail tour on a steam locomotive. Some of the tours feature a re-creation of the famous 1906 Bill Miner Train Robbery. The Kettle Valley Steam Railway in Summerland also offers rail tours, where you can see the Trout Creek Trestle Bridge, the highest trestle on the line. The sound of a steam whistle echoing through the valley reminds you of days gone past. Explore the Great Trail by horse, bike, ATV, and on foot over select sections of the formerly named Trans Canada Trail. The Myra Canyon Trestles in Kelowna are a portion of the original railway, and are one of the most popular parts of the Trail. Experience an easy two-to-three-hour cycling tour along the trestles and through the tunnels. The Naramata Bench is another popular section of the trail that is easily accessible by foot or bike. This section provides the opportunity to visit some of the renowned nearby wineries along the Naramata Bench. Another option for exploring the trail includes a multi-day bicycling tour, where cyclists can cycle from Boundary to Gold Country. There is a wealth of other historical and railway-themed sites to experience in the region. Kelly’s Kaboose in Savona is a railway store filled with toys, model trains, gifts, antiques, and more. The Desert Model Railroad in Osoyoos showcases a miniature model railroad museum. The Kettle River Museum is located in Midway at ‘Mile 0’ of the KVR Trail. The museum features exhibits showcasing the heritage of the KVR, cabooses, the original station house, and more. The Greenwood Museum and Heritage Centre provides history about Greenwood and the railway. Grand Forks also provides various railway heritage experiences: the Railway station, Heritage Courthouse, and Boundary Museum highlights Grand Forks’ role in the railway and provide information about the heritage of Grand Forks. These different experiences will allow you to truly experience the railway heritage in the Thompson Okanagan. From Gold Rush roadhouses to historical farm tours, don’t miss the opportunity to learn more about British Columbia’s heritage. Historic Hat Creek near Cache Creek is a restored Gold Rush era roadhouse with original buildings from the pioneer heritage and a First Nations village. Historic O’Keefe Ranch near Vernon provides history about BC’s ranching and farming heritage. For more information about heritage experiences and railway history, visit our Historical Railway and Western Heritage Tour itinerary: http://traveltrade.totabc.org/itinerary/railway-history-tour/
Star Gazing from an Open Air Suite in the Thompson Okanagan
From high above Canada’s only true desert, explore the night sky with a 16” Meade LX200 telescope from an observatory built into the Observatory B&B, hosted by Jack Newton, acclaimed and widely published amateur astronomer. While you are in the region, enjoy a guided moonlit stand up paddle boarding experience on Osoyoos Lake, the warmest lake in Canada. The annual Mount Kobau Star Party is hosted nearby for observing the spectacular night sky with telescopes and friends, and will be running this year from July 22-30. In nearby Penticton, a roofless room suite at God’s Mountain Estate B&B provides the comfort of viewing the brilliant semi-arid night sky from the living room or private tub. The Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Penticton allows visitors to view the stars from two different telescopes, providing various perspectives of the night sky. Near Big White Ski Resort in Kelowna, the Okanagan Observatory offers public observing nights every Friday, where you can take in the spectacular night sky by using their 25” telescope. The Merritt Astronomical Society hosts an annual Summer Star Quest Festival, where visitors can camp under the stars and observe the incredible night sky above. This year, the event runs from August 19-26. Heffley Lake near Sun Peaks offers night stand up paddle boarding tours with glow-in-the-dark paddle boards. The Kamloops Astronomical Society hosts observing nights at Stake Lake Star Park, an incredible viewing site above and beyond the city lights. The abandoned Ranger Station Lookout on Greenstone Mountain near Kamloops is another great place for observing the night skies. Wells Gray Provincial Park provides a unique night sky viewing opportunities during hut-to-hut hiking experiences, in the comfort of a cozy cabin. In winter, Wells Gray Provincial Park offers peak viewing season for moose and wildlife during the day and unobstructed views of the starry skies before cozying up in log cabins for the night. Experience a mountain-top fondue dinner at Sun Peaks followed by a return to the village on an unlit ski run with only a headlamp to guide you. At regular stops during your descent, and in total darkness, the feeling is like skiing amongst the stars. Snowshoe at night along the famous Myra Canyon Trestles, well away from the city but close enough to enjoy the vibrancy of Kelowna after your adventure. In the south Okanagan, snowshoe trails under the twinkling stars and enjoy a chef-prepared, three-course meal around a bonfire with HooDoo Adventures in Penticton. Big White, Silver Star Resort and Apex feature evening activities that provide amazing views of the night sky.
An Incredible Journey through British Columbia’s Heritage
From Christina Lake to Princeton, the historic railway route that intersects the Thompson Okanagan region is targeted for modifications and interpretive enhancements that will place the Kettle Valley Rail Trail in the category of a must do, world-class traveller experience. The Kettle Valley Rail Trail forms a 401.2 km portion of the Great Trail (formerly known as the Trans Canada Trail) scheduled for completion in 2017 and features tunnels and trestles, incredible vistas, and wildlife viewing. The trail takes travellers through the southern part of the province and into the past and around every corner there is another story to learn about the building of the famous railway.
First Nations Remarkable Experiences
Travel in a voyageur canoe along the shores of Little Shuswap Lake to the Adams River where Sockeye Salmon return to spawn each October, cozy up in a Kekuli for Elder Story Telling learn the legends of the past, attend Kamloopa, the largest Pow Wow in Western Canada, experience how First Nations lived in the desert at the NK’MIP Desert Cultural Centre, make a visit to a First Nations specialty café for fresh bannock and other traditional foods. From world-class golf resorts to formula 1 automotive racing, come and experience what Thompson Okanagan’s First Nations bands have created and are planning in the future for the tourism industry.
Unique Accommodations in the Thompson Okanagan
When touring the Thompson Okanagan, there are a wide variety of accommodation choices but in addition to the standard resorts, hotels, B&Bs and camping, how about going out of the box and trying something more unique. There is a B&B that is run by an amateur astronomer that features a tour of the night skies through a computer controlled 16 inch telescope housed in a roof-top observatory. Another B&B offers a luxurious roof top room… with no roof! Sleep in the back of a covered wagon at an historic roadhouse, in a tree fort or luxury cruising on a lake featuring 1,000 km of shoreline. And there is that Tuscany-Style Villa where you look out over the vineyards, over the Okanagan river valley… later you show up for your cooking class at the winery restaurants demonstration kitchen.
Long Table Events in the Thompson Okanagan
Popularity of Long Table Culinary events in the Thompson Okanagan has nurtured growth in the number and variety of events now being offered. In orchards, in vineyards, in wineries, fine dining to rustic, there is something for everyone’s taste including a 1.6 mile event consisting of a multi course meal using only the best foods provided by artisan producers from within a 1.6 mile radius of Orofino Winery! Quails’ Gate has joined the list of wineries featuring long table al fresco dining events during the summer and the fall harvest. Enjoy an atmosphere that invites conviviality and an appreciation for the summer bounty of the beautiful Okanagan.
Route 97 — over 200 years of road trips
Route 97 is one of the longest roads in North America stretching from Weed, California to Watson Lake, Yukon Territories. It winds through the Thompson Okanagan region from Osoyoos to Cache Creek and it was first used by the Fur Brigade starting in 1811. Pick your theme for stops along the way… heritage, golf, spas and resorts or local flavours including wineries, craft breweries, distilleries, cideries, long table dining in vineyards, and farm to table restaurants. At Cache Creek, connect with another Road Trip route… The Gold Rush Trail and follow the paths of the prospectors.
Freakin’ Farmer, Half Corked Marathon, Dirty Feet Kal Park 50, event names that conjure up the question “What the??” From obstacle races in the desert to marathons in the Rockies, the Thompson Okanagan has a wide variety of Living Well activities and events. A desert Oyster festival, a Fest of Ale, a Feast of Fields, and a Rib Fest. How about the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna? Near Vernon, you can ‘Swing like a Girl’ with a former PGA pro and then step into a Cryotherapy treatment with -110°C temperatures at a European-style Health and Wellness Resort.
New wineries open in the Thompson Okanagan
Four new wineries have opened in the Okanagan in West Kelowna and Penticton. Grizzli Winery in West Kelowna has completed phase one which saw the opening of the winery and tasting room on August 1. Phase 2 will see the opening of the restaurant and accommodations. Also in West Kelowna, another First Nations winery has opened called Indigenous World Winery. Owned by direct descendants of the Syilx people, Indigenous World merges the modern culture with Indigenous history. The Hatch Winery in West Kelowna is an inviting, warm, rustic and entertaining ‘shack from the future’ that invites anyone to come by, try some wine or to just enjoy their lives for however long they can spare to spend. The hatch is a beautiful location with one of the most ridiculous views of the region that has ever been seen. Play Estate Winery is located on the west side of Skaha Lake, the winery will feature an iconic modern architectural building that will house a wine shop and tasting lounge, indoor/outdoor bistro with function space, and a 14 acre vineyard.
Wonder of Winter, much more than skiing
Walking along the colourfully lit streets of a Bavarian-style Ski Resort village, stopping along the way to enjoy a progressive wine tasting of over 30 wineries at a winter wine festival, dog-friendly Nordic skiing trails, wildlife viewing along snowshoe trails, 100,000 + Wildlights amongst the real wildlife, The Spirit Of Christmas steam engine-powered heritage trains, Hut to Hut Back-country, pond hockey tournaments, ice fishing and more. Snowmobiling is another popular sport in the Thompson Okanagan with many trail systems throughout the North and South Thompson, Shuswap and North Okanagan regions. Fat Biking is a growing sport and designated trail systems are being built alongside ski runs with rentals available in the resorts and major centres. Winter wildlife viewing by snowshoe or nordic skiing based in a cozy log cabin with access to viewing frozen waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park.
Electric Car Touring through the Thompson Okanagan
There is now a comprehensive network of electric car charging stations in the Thompson Okanagan including the new TESLA Super chargers. From wineries and resorts to golf courses and fruit stands, every stop to top up a vehicle charge allows time for a wine tasting, a round of golf, shopping or just enjoying a beautiful beach. The Route 97 road network provides many choices for touring routes through the wine region, desert and inland temperate rainforest. And speaking of electric, how about renting an electric bicycle and touring a dozen wineries along a wine trail or renting a Segway and cruising around Sun Peaks Resort or the trails in Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park. The new Thompson Okanagan ‘Charter of Sustainability’ being completed will encourage even more tourism businesses to consider adding charging stations along with additional green initiatives.