Okanagan Valley: The British Columbia Wine Region You Need to Know
A view of vineyards in Okanagan Falls, a wine-producing community in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley. (John Hollands)

Okanagan Valley: The British Columbia Wine Region You Need to Know


Wine might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Canada, but in south-central British Columbia there's a wine region with 10,000 acres of vineyards, nearly 200 wineries, an abundance of natural beauty, and year-round outdoor adventures.

You may not have heard of the Okanagan Valley, but this 124-mile-long, 12-mile-wide swath of viticulture goodness is home to a dozen designated wine subregions, some of which have been officially recognized as recently as 2022. The valley was carved by glaciers that left behind long narrow lakes, rolling hills, microclimates, and nutrient-rich soils that make it particularly good for growing grapes and fruit trees.

San Franciscans can get here in about four hours by flying into Kelowna International Airport through Vancouver. Or, you can make it a road trip; without stops, it takes around five hours to get to Kelowna from Vancouver. Either way you go, it’ll be worth the trip for wine lovers; most of the wine produced in the Okanagan Valley is consumed within Canada, so you’re sure to taste something unique.

Where to Stay in Canada's Okanagan Valley Wine Country

(Courtesy of Sparkling Hill Resort)

At the northern end of Okanagan Lake is Sparkling Hill Resort & Spa. Founded in partnership with Gernot Langes-Swarovski, more than 3.5 million Swarovski crystals can be found throughout the resort. Along with beautiful views of the lake and surrounding mountains, and all those crystals, the 40,000 square foot KurSpa is world-class with a choice of more than 100 treatments, an indoor saltwater pool, seven themed steam and sauna rooms, and a cryo cold chamber. For something a bit more low-key near Vernon, SilverStar Mountain Resort has hotel rooms and condo options, complete with private hot tubs, and you’ll be perfectly positioned to wake up and get out on the mountain.

Moving south along Okanagan Lake from Vernon, Kelowna is the region's largest city. A stay at Delta Hotels by Marriott Grand Okanagan Resort puts you in the heart of it, near downtown and the cultural district and on the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake. It’s got a full-service spa, restaurant, and art gallery featuring prints by Dr. Seuss. On the other side of the lake and a bit further from the bustle of downtown, The Cove Lakeside Resort is an all-suite resort with its own private beach.

At the southern end of the valley is Spirit Ridge Resort along Osoyoos Lake. It’s Canada’s only desert, and the landscape makes it feel a bit like the American southwest with sagebrush and pine trees. The adobe-style resort celebrates its connection to the area’s indigenous past, present, and future at the nearby Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Center; on the menu at The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry; and at the tasting room for Nk’Mip Cellars, North America’s first Indigenous-owned winery.

Wine Tasting + Dining in Okanagan Valley

Overlooking Okanagan Lake, Mission Hill Family Estate is a luxurious place to taste with a celebrity clientele.

(Courtesy of Mission Hill)

With so many wineries to choose from in the region, it can be hard to narrow down where to go. If you’re near the southern end of Okanagan Lake near Penticton and Naramata, Grape Savvy can take you on a tour of some of the area’s best wineries. You can also design your own tour via their a hop-on, hop-off trolley. Vivid Tours in Kelowna can take you on a full-day, half-day, or sunset tour of wineries throughout the central Okanagan.

A can’t-miss winery in the region is Mission Hill Family Estate in West Kelowna; they’ve been producing award-winning wines for decades. You can get a tour of the majestic estate overlooking Okanagan Lake, with its 12-story bell tower, grass amphitheater, and wine cellar that ends with a tasting of their wines and some sumptuous snacks in a room dominated by a large Chagall tapestry and a grand piano signed by the likes of Olivia Newton-John, Celine Dion, and Sting. Or, go for a full wine-paired meal at their Terrace Restaurant.

Cedar Creek Estate Winery in Kelowna, known for its cool climate wines including chardonnay and pinot noir, was named 2022 Winery of the Year at the Wine Align National Wine Awards. Sample their wines in spacious stone buildings that lend the winery a European flair, or enjoy dinner on site at Home Block. The restaurant is dedicated to terroir-to-table dishes that pair perfectly with the wines. Another good spot to enjoy tasting Okanagan's wines with a lakeside view is at Quails’ Gate Estate Winery. You can settle in for a meal at one of the picnic tables around the grounds or at the high-end restaurant, Old Vines.

If you want to try multiple wineries' offerings without having to change venues, the recently opened District Wine Village in the southern Okanagan has tasting rooms for 13 wineries as well as a brewery and distillery. For an outstanding dinner paired with the best wines from the region, there’s Naramata Inn, built by the town’s founder over 100 years ago. While the renovated mansion is now a 12-room boutique hotel, its main draw is its outstanding restaurant with a menu focusing on local and sustainable ingredients. Wine director Emily Walker has curated the rotating wine menu that highlights local wines, including some hard-to-find options, as well as some international choices. You can also enjoy an eclectic and impressive selection of wines in their wine bar, Eliza.

It's not just wine in the Okanagan. Marten Brew Pub in downtown Vernon makes high quality craft beer and serves it alongside tasty dishes like a 12-hour smoked pork sandwich. Red Bird Brewing in Kelowna is a locally loved place for live music, wood-fired pizza and, of course, good beer. Penticton’s Slackwater Brewing has seasonal beers on tap and a great weekend brunch menu. For cider fans, La Petit Abeille has unique options like sparkling apple, carrot, and ginger cider. Cambium Cider Co. in Vernon is founded on a third-generation apple orchard, and everything from the growing to the bottling is done on the property.

Fun Things to Do in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley

(Courtesy of SilverStar)

Winter Sports

While the large resorts in Whistler and Banff may be better known for skiing and snowboarding, the Okanagan Valley has plenty of ski resorts with short lift lines. SilverStar has 132 runs for all levels, a natural ice skating rink, Canada’s largest daily groomed cross country ski network, and snowmobile tours.

Warm Weather Lake Fun

Warm summers and miles of lake shores make the Okanagan Valley a popular vacation destination for boating, parasailing, kite surfing, and all-around beach fun. For a one-of-a-kind tour of Okanagan Lake, Tiki Time Tours runs private charters and public tours complete with karaoke and a swim stop.

SilverStar’s bike park, open in spring, summer, and fall, is one of the best in the country for riders of all abilities. But if you want to combine your bike ride with more history and less speed, ride on a guided tour of the Myra Canyon Trestles; unguided options are also available. The Kettle Valley Steam Railway has been turned into a trail nearly 400 miles long, and one of the most beautiful portions of the trail is along the scenic Myra Canyon. The winding 7.5-mile one-way trail takes you through tunnels and over 18 trestles high above the canyon floor, and the views are outstanding.

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