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Summer Travel in Canada: Okanagan Valley and Beyond, Part 1

Canada has finally lifted quarantine restrictions for the fully vaccinated, but not for unvaccinated children. This, along with many other factors, brought us back to British Columbia this summer.

First, the COVID situation in Canada has improved substantially compared to where we were a month ago; second, we had very fond memories of British Columbia from our first post-pandemic trip last year; and third, the cheap air fares were just too good to forego.

This time around, we decided to spend most of our time in the Okanagan Valley, which will be the focus of this post. We also headed to Vancouver Island for a few days afterwards, which I’ll cover in the next post, along with a summary of how I used my points to save big on this trip. 

A Trip of Many Firsts

This trip was exciting for many reasons. Aside from curing my cabin fever, it was the first time I got to try out my newly-minted Hyatt Globalist status.

It was also the first extensive road trip we’ve taken as a family and the first time we left the kids’ tablets at home, despite knowing the long drives we would be embarking on.

Lastly, this was also the first time we flew in business class (albeit just one-way) as an entire family.

The Itinerary

The Okanagan area is located in central British Columbia, and is increasingly being known as the Napa of the North, as it is just beaming with wineries. This might lead you to think that it is a place geared more towards adults. However, it also has plenty of beaches, trails, orchards and outdoor attractions to suit even the youngest of travellers. 

One thing to keep in mind if you’re planning a trip to interior British Columbia during the summer months is that forest fires are a pretty common occurrence, so remain flexible with travel bookings in case a last-minute change needs to happen, as it did in our case.

Our entire trip was 14 days, flying into and out of Vancouver from Toronto. We spent eight nights spent in the Okanagan region, which will be the focus of this series, followed by four nights on Vancouver Island and a couple of nights in transit, as follows:

  • Vancouver: 1 night
  • Osoyoos: 3 nights
  • Kelowna: 3 nights
  • Salmon Arm: 2 nights (originally booked for 1 night, followed by 1 night in Kamloops, but opted last-minute to cancel Kamloops due to the forest fires)
  • Chilliwack: 1 night
  • Parksville: 3 nights 
  • Victoria: 1 night

As you can see, this was a huge road trip. If you want a more leisurely trip, just focus on the Okanagan area and leave Vancouver Island for another trip. In fact, I would recommend spending a few more nights in Kelowna, from which you could do more day trips, as there is so much to do around there. 

Flights

Air Canada was offering great pricing on tickets for travel within Canada just a month ago, for both cash fares and Aeroplan redemptions, which made it a tough decision whether to pay cash or use points. We ended up doing both.

We booked one-way fares between Toronto and Vancouver in economy for $125 per ticket. Having a CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card made me eligible for another promotion offering $25 back in cash fares over $100, bringing each ticket to only $100 per person. 

For our return flight, we booked it on points. I could have booked a cash fare coming back; however, my husband and I both have eUpgrade credits expiring this year, so instead we opted to book latitude fares at 17,700 Aeroplan points per person which we then upgraded to business class.

Car Rental

I tend to book with Hertz for cars, but this time around I went with Avis because they were substantially cheaper at a corporate rate.

We could have also flown direct to Kelowna, instead of Vancouver, and saved ourselves a 4.5 hour drive. The reason we didn’t was because one-way car rentals are generally more expensive than if you pick-up and drop-off a car at the same location. 

We opted to save $400 and drive the 4.5 hours. If you prefer to do a one-way rental, it is cheaper to rent from Vancouver and drop-off in Kelowna, rather than the other way around. 

 

Day 1: Vancouver 

We stayed a few nights in Vancouver last year and really enjoyed it. This time around, we were in for only one night before making the 4.5 hour drive to Osoyoos. The kids loved Science World last year and had been asking to go back, so we did that for the day. 

Tip: If you’re staying in Vancouver for a few days and visiting a few attractions (for example, Science World, Capilano Suspension Bridge, and the Sea to Sky Gondola), consider getting your attraction tickets through VancouverAttractions.com to save 20-35% off your tickets. 

Accommodation: Hyatt Regency Vancouver 

Price: $109 per night (frontline worker special offer code THANKYOU that expires early September) for standard room with two double beds

If you recall, last time we stayed at the The Westin Bayshore, but since my Marriott elite status has been automatically extended till the end of 2022, I took the opportunity to try out my new Hyatt Globalist benefits. 

The hotel is nothing out of the ordinary. The building is a bit dated but they have renovated the rooms to make them a little more modern.

The room was pretty standard and I was upgraded to one with a balcony, but it was nothing more than a cement patio so nothing to get excited about.

The location is very convenient, being located right in the middle of downtown Vancouver, with many restaurants and shopping within walking distance. 

They offer overnight parking rates at over $40 a night but you’re better off paying through the hangTag app, which offers hourly and nightly rates for much cheaper.

They had an outdoor pool and hot tub which the kids thoroughly enjoyed. 

Breakfast was also a win. It featured a continental self-serve section, with fruit and baked goods individually packaged in plastic and a beverage station. You can also select a cooked-to-order dish on top of that.

Although pancakes aren’t officially on the menu, they will make them if requested and I have to say they were one of the best I’ve ever had.

Breakfast is included with Globalist status, and although the benefit technically only covers two adults and two children, they did not charge me for our third child. Breakfast would’ve come to $88 in itself for our family if we had to pay.

If you don’t have status, there is a Tim Hortons and McDonald’s located right outside which would keep most kids happy. For the adults, there is a Starbucks located in the lobby. 

Days 2–4: Osoyoos

Osoyoos is most southern part of the Okanagan region and home to Canada’s only desert. It is known for its hot weather, fruit orchards, wineries and having the warmest lake in Canada – Osoyoos Lake. It is smaller and more laid-back than Kelowna but every bit as family-friendly. 

The drive to Osoyoos from Vancouver is about 4.5 hours. Most of it is along Hwy 3. For the first 2 hours, there are plenty of places to stop along the way for gas and food. Once you pass the town of Hope, options become more limited. 

A brief stop at around the halfway point can be made at Manning Park Resort. There’s an outdoor public washroom, a little grocery store (that sells alcohol too) and a family-friendly restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

Driving another 45 min further you’ll hit the small town of Princeton with a few fastfood joints and gas stations as well, and then Hedley, once a thriving mining town. As you approach Osoyoos you’ll start noticing a lot of fruit stands, orchards and wineries.

Accommodation: Spirit Ridge Resort, Hyatt Unbound Collection

I won’t say too much about this property, as it deserves a post of its own (stay tuned!), except that it is a Hyatt property and the only big resort in town. It is definitely worth a stay if you are in Osoyoos, especially if you have status with Hyatt. 

Price: $350 per night for a one-bedroom with two queens, upgraded to One-Bedroom Lakeview Villa; I redeemed one Category 1–4 Free Night Award, so only paid for two nights

Unfortunately, we were hit with a heat wave for the first few days in Osoyoos which limited our activities a bit, but we still managed to have a good time. If hot weather is on the forecast, I would recommend doing most of the outdoor activities early in the morning before noon and leave the afternoon for the beach or pool. 

Activities:

  • Go fruit picking. Osoyoos has plenty of orchards. Hillside Orchards has a variety of fruit offerings depending on the month you visit, from an assortment of berries, cherries, peaches and more.
  • Chill at the beach. There is a small one on site at Spirit Ridge; however, within a 10-minute drive, there are plenty of nicer options, like Gyros Beach or Legion Beach Park. 
  • Do some wine tastings. There are so many wineries, but if you have young kids, I would highly recommend Covert Farms. It is about a 30-minute drive from Osoyoos and their winery is only a small part of their 650-acre farm, but they offer a variety of tasting and tour options, some catered just for kids with a farm tour and juice tastings for only a few dollars.

If you don’t go for a paid option, the kids are still free to interact with their farm animals and play on the jumping pillow and waterslide as you watch them and enjoy your wine tasting.

We actually paid a bit more and did their Private Hands-On Harvest Tour, which took us on an educational tour around their winery and farm grounds in the back of a red 1952 Mercury truck, followed by strawberry picking and their wine and juice tasting afterwards. 

  • Try a water sport. We hired a boat and captain for an hour through ATB Water Sports and tried water tubing and kneeboarding for the first time, and finished wishing we had booked longer. 

  • Osoyoos Desert Centre. Located a short drive outside the main town, there is a small building here with interactive displays and an educational 1.5km boardwalk trail (stroller friendly) through the desert environment.

They do run one-hour guided tours a few times a day and I would encourage you to join one if possible as the guides are great at providing information on the local flora and fauna. 

  • Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre. Located right beside Spirit Ridge Resort, this is a small educational centre owned by the Osoyoos Indian Band. It is a great place to introduce kids to the original inhabitants of Osoyoos and their culture. They also have some snakes on display and a short outdoor trail that leads to a reconstructed village.

  • Rattlesnake Canyon. A small amusement park with rides, mini-golf and go karts seems to be quite popular amongst the locals. Due to the heatwave, the park was closed, so we unfortunately did not have a chance to visit on this trip.

Days 5–7: Kelowna

Kelowna is the biggest city in the Okanagan Valley and comes with everything you would expect of a city.

There is a vibrant waterfront with a nice walkway along the shore of Okanagan Lake, a community park, beaches, water sport activities and plenty of restaurant offerings. The city is surrounded by provincial parks, trails, mountains, wineries and orchards. 

Kelowna is a 1.5-hour drive from Osoyoos. Although you could drive straight there, I would suggest a stop in Penticton to do the popular river float. The float takes place on the 7km channel between Okanagan Lake and Skaha Lake and essentially acts as a lazy river.

The whole float takes about three hours but can take faster or longer depending on the current. You can also just do half the channel and end off at Green Mountain Road.

We rented our tubes from Coyote Cruises, which provides a variety of tubing arrangements for individuals, couples, or families and friends. You can also pay for their bus service to return you back to where you started from either the halfway point or at the end. Children must be at least four years old to participate.

If you’re looking for a good lunch or destination between Osoyoos and Kelowna, I would highly recommend 19 Bistro @ Fitz, which is located on the property of the Fitzpatrick family vineyard. Not only do they have decent wine, but they have a large patio that directly overlooks Okanagan Lake. 

Accommodation: Delta Hotels by Marriott Grand Okanagan Resort

When travelling with young kids, location is key, and the Delta definitely has that. It is located right on the waterfront, offering a variety of watersports activities on the pier just outside.

It is flanked by two family-friendly beaches and within walkable distance to the community park and the restaurants and shops of downtown Kelowna. 

Price: We stayed over Canada Day long weekend, so prices were over $700 for a standard guest room with two queen beds. Because of the astronomical rates, I opted to redeem 60,000 Bonvoy points per night instead.

I had used Suite Night Awards in hopes of being upgraded to a one-bedroom suite; however, they did not get confirmed as the hotel was almost fully booked. We were still upgraded to a slightly larger deluxe guest room with one king bed and a sofa bed. 

It was a pricey redemption, but for the same location and quality of accommodation, I wasn’t finding anything cheaper. At least here I would have my elite benefits. In the end, I was not disappointed.

Ricky has planned an upcoming stay here too, and we’ll have separate review of this property in the coming weeks. 

Activities:

  • Cherry picking. Like Osoyoos, the orchards are plentiful. We went to Kuipers Family Fruit Farm which has a nice view of Okanagan Lake, but Arndt Orchards also is a popular one. Typically cherry picking season begins early to mid-July.

  • Chill at the beach. Tugboat Beach and Hot Sands Beach are centrally located with public washroom facilities.
  • Try a water sport. This time around, we gave parasailing a try with Ogopogo Parasail. It wasn’t a cheap activity, but I did get to go free as it happened to be a windy day and they wanted a bit more weight on the sail than the combined weight of my three kids. 
  • Kelowna City Park. Complete with beach and playgrounds, it’s a great place for kids. You’ll also find a sculpture of a dragon-like creature in the park, known as the Ogopogo. Haven’t heard of it before? Then check it out on Wikipedia and now you’ll have a story to tell your kids.
  • Myra Canyon Trestles Trail. This is a very scenic 24km trail along a steep canyon that consists of trestle bridges and tunnels that were once used by the railway at the turn of the last century. You can hike or bike it and you can just complete a portion of it.

We rented bikes on site from Myra Canyon Bike Rental; however, it is recommended to pre-book, as bike selection may be limited depending on demand. They have a great selection of bike options for the family, including tandem bikes (great for kids like my daughter who aren’t quite confident enough to ride long distances on their own) and bike trailers for toddlers. 

  • Mission Creek Park. Aside from some easy trails, there is also an indoor educational centre and discovery backpacks that can be signed out with activities to do as you embark on your hike. There is also a nice playground onsite.
  • Kangaroo Creek Farm. This place is a petting zoo with kangaroos and offers a very unique and rare opportunity for your kids to see and interact with kangaroos up close. There are also a variety of other birds and animals on site and was one of my kids’ favourite places to visit on this trip. 

  • Although there are many ice cream and gelato shops around the waterfront, be sure to give Parlour Ice Cream a try. After you pick up the ice cream, take a stroll along the boardwalk or Kelowna City Park which has plenty of green space, a beach, and a playground for kids.

Days 8–9: Salmon Arm

Salmon Arm is located 1.5 hours from Kelowna and is more of a business and transit hub. We were heading both east and north of here to a few attractions, and so made it our base for two nights. Initially, we had planned to stay only one night, but with the forest fires around Kamloops, we stayed an extra night here instead.

Along the way between Kelowna to Salmon Arm is Log Barn 1912, a small place to buy a snack and stretch the legs if needed. It has goats and other quirky statues that young kids may enjoy seeing.

Accommodation: Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Salmon Arm

Price: $240 per night for a standard guest room with two queen beds, upgraded to a King Suite with sofa bed. I found the cash rate a bit steep for a Fairfield Inn and so instead, redeemed 17,500 Bonvoy points per night for this Category 3 hotel.

This new hotel opened March 2021 and has fairly modern decor. Location wise, it is quite close to the waterfront, but not on it. It is located across from a secondary school; however, because school was out at the time we visited, this was not an issue. 

The room was equipped with a Keurig, mini-fridge and microwave. There was a large desk and a set of low-set drawers with plenty of space to lay luggage on top. E

ven though it is called a suite, there was no wall between the bed and seating area, but the room did have two smart TVs (one in each in each area), which was the perfect set up as the kids could watch their shows while we enjoyed ours.

COVID-19 did put a halt on some amenities. Breakfast was complimentary and should have been a hot breakfast, but due to COVID, the hotel currently offers a self-serve continental breakfast. The microwaveable breakfast burritos were actually decent. The patio and lounge have yet to be opened.

The pool, hot tub and gym were open. The pool had a spiral waterslide, which was a hit for my kids. There are coin-operated laundry machines, but washing and drying a load will cost you $6, and that’s before the charge for the detergent (so bring your own).

Activities:

  • There’s not much to do around Salmon Arm, but the wharf is worth a visit. It is one of the longest wooden wharfs in North America in a very picturesque setting. At the end of the wharf is a small cafe that serves ice cream, and also a few picnic tables making it a great spot for a snack or takeout meal. There is also an easy trail system around the wharf. 

  • The Enchanted Forest. This was actually the attraction that brought us up to Salmon Arm. It is a fairytale-themed attraction located a 45-minute drive east of Salmon Arm. Situated in the woods, it features statues and play structures based on common nursery rhymes and fairytales.

It also has a nature trail that leads to a dock, where you can take small boat out for a paddle in their wetlands. Adults may find it either cute or a little quirky, but my four-year-old absolutely loved it. The older kids were OK with it, but really enjoyed the attraction next door.

  • SkyTrek Adventure Park. Located right beside the Enchanted Forest, this park is perfect for older kids who love to climb, which is my middle child. They have two treetop-trekking courses for kids, depending on their height and age. For younger kids, there is a sky gym. They also have tree climbing, wall climbing, and other cool activities. 
  • D Dutchman Dairy. After a day of outdoor activities, this dairy farm located right off the highway is a great stop on the way back to Salmon Arm for some ice cream. While you’re there, you can also visit their baby calves and milking cows.

The next day, we drove two hours north from Salmon Arm to see a couple of impressive waterfalls: Spahat Falls and Helmcken Falls (one of Canada’s top 10 waterfalls).

This far trek may not be worth it for everybody, especially if you’re travelling very young children. If you do decide to go, the trails are easy and suitable for young kids and it only takes a five- to 1o-minute walk to reach the falls, with additional trails should you choose to make more of a hike out of it.

Spahat Falls
Helmcken Falls

On our way back down from the falls to break up the drive, we made a stop at the BC Wildlife Park in Kamloops, seeing that the forest fire situation seemed under control.

This park mainly features animals native to British Columbia that cannot be reintroduced into the wild, including the rare Spirit Bear (also known as a Kermode bear), a black bear that is white because of a recessive genetic mutation. 

And from the BC Wildlife Park, we began our journey back to Vancouver Island.

Conclusion

The Okanagan Valley is another beautiful part of British Columbia that makes for a great family vacation destination.

Your kids can come back telling their friends they’ve been to Canada’s only desert and that they played with kangaroos, while you bring back some good wine. 

Towns and attractions are spread out, so it can be a bit of a drive from one destination to the next, but thankfully there is no shortage of interesting pit stops along the way. If you’d rather not do the full drive, then fly straight to and from Kelowna; you can easily spend a week there and it makes for a great base from which to embark on day trips.

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which we continue onto Parksville and Victoria on Vancouver Island. I’ll also share my overall impressions of our first road trip, how our return flight in Air Canada business class with the kids went, and how I used multiple points currencies to save big on this trip.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll also cover a more in-depth review of Hyatt’s Spirit Ridge in Osoyoos and the Delta Grand Okanagan Resort in Kelowna. Until then, wishing you all fun and safe summer travels!

9 Comments
  1. Dean

    Wow great details on a fantastic adventurous trip !Thank You so much for sharing I go often to Kelowna and SalmonArm. Will be doing a property development on Shuswap lake just north of SalmonArm at Sunnybrae. One of the most gorgeous parks if you go back that way one day to visit is Harold Park it is located aprox 28 miles from SalmonArm and is about 12 miles east of transCanada hwy on a winding twisty paved road that follows the lake . Harold park has beautiful trails and bridges that cross waterfalls etc. It has RV camping and day camping it has a beach,playgrounds etc .

  2. issackaka

    Thanks for sharing Amy, looking forward to your hotel review!!

  3. Amy YYZ

    Then it should post as long each individual ticket was over $100. It did take over a month for the credit to post for me.

  4. Kevin

    Amy I did register for the promo before June 30th

  5. jovin

    Thank you for this. We will also be heading to the Okanagan and will stay at sprit lodge. I look forward to reading about it more in detail.
    Was the Hyatt place in Kelowna not a viable option vs a Marriott choice?

    1. Amy YYZ

      Hyatt Kelowna isn’t cheap either, going for about $300 per night. In the end we went for the location/amenities and the fact that we had enough Bonvoy points to cover our entire stay at the Delta rather than pay out of pocket.

  6. Phil (YYC)

    stoked to return to Kelowna (we go every other year or so) from YYC, im driving out and towing the motorcycles (my sister’s and mine) and then the wife and kids are flying out, and my folks are meeting us too. Going last week of July and always amazing time!

  7. Kevin

    How do you actually receive the $25 per ticket on Air Canada flights if you have an aeroplan credit card. We booked a trip to Alberta using the CIBC Vis Infinite on points. Can we get the credit and if so do we have to call Aeroplan or CIBC?

Amy Tung

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