British Columbia’s Thompson Okanagan, a vine-fringed haven for winemakers, is also the province’s Lake District, and, for generations, a favoured family holiday spot for Western Canadians.
The region stretches from the sagebrush and ranching country near the mighty Fraser River in the west, to the Monashees in the east, to Mount Robson in the north and the US border in the south.
At its heart is a long, fertile valley running north-south along Okanagan, Skaha, Vaseaux and Osoyoos lakes, where vineyards, orchards, golf courses and forests of ponderosa pine blanket the hills above a string of warm, beach-fringed lakes. Okanagan Lake, the longest of the three at 135 kilometres (84 miles), is also said to host Ogopogo, a shy, but harmless, creature; rarely seen but possibly related to Nessie of Loch Ness.
The region is home to well over 150 quality wineries and more than 50 scenic golf courses, as well as four stunning mountain ski resorts. World-class destinations and travel experiences in the Thompson Okanagan — such as Sparkling Hill Resort, and the Rocky Mountaineer luxury train trip — are being recognized across the country and internationally as ‘must-visits’. And the region is easily accessible by road and air, with Kamloops, Penticton and Kelowna welcoming a combination of direct flights from Vancouver, Calgary, Whitehorse, Cranbrook, Fort McMurray, Edmonton, Seattle, Toronto and Los Angeles.
Less known are the Thompson Okanagan's other landscapes: the hundreds of trout-stocked fishing lakes in the rolling ranch country around Kamloops; the vast boreal forests of the north; the many reaches of Shuswap Lake, where vacationers can explore 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) of shoreline by houseboat; and Osoyoos, located in Canada’s only desert at the northern tip of the Great Basin Desert system, where 2,000 hours of sunshine annually help support species found nowhere else in the country.
Some of BC's biggest, most dramatic wilderness parks are found in the Thompson Okanagan. One such draw: Wells Gray Provincial Park, home to the stunning 137-metre (450-foot) Helmcken Falls, Canada's fourth highest waterfall, and plenty of outdoor adventure. Here, you can paddle in North America’s largest canoe-only lake, cast a line, hike and even take in views of moose, bear and mule deer. The area surrounding Blue River features one of the highest concentrations of bears in North America. A must–see: Mount Robson Provincial Park, east of Wells Gray, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site surrounding the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.
Each year, vinophiles flock to the Thompson Okanagan to tour and taste during the region's three annual wine festivals. Others come to hike and bike on the area's long-distance paths, including the famous Kettle Valley Rail Trail, and to fish, canoe and camp in the backcountry. First Nations and western heritage culture can be experienced throughout the region during many events and festivals.
Still more come to golf at the region's many championship courses, enjoy spa treatments, savour local cuisine in vineyard-and-lake view restaurants, pick sun-drenched peaches and cherries and bask on lakeside beaches. As an added touch, the region is also home to world-renowned, growing waves of organic producers and quaint winery bistros overlooking the lakes of the Okanagan.
In winter, savvy skiers head to the Thompson Okanagan's well-equipped, family-friendly resorts to enjoy the famous champagne powder (that's snow, extra fluffy).
Those with enough time and energy do it all.