Most cities have their fair share of hidden gems. Whether they exist as spectacular views, local coffee shops, or awesome green space you can rest assured they are enjoyed by both locals and tourists alike. The Okanagan Rail Trail is somewhat of an outlier, as it is only in the process of being developed into a recognized multi-use trail so it sees far less traffic than the hotspots like Knox Mountain and Myra Canyon.
As an adventure cyclist, the idea of a rail trail leading right out of the heart of downtown Kelowna veering North to eventually end in Vernon had me yearning for Spring to come. There is no doubt that the Okanagan Rail Trail is a hidden gem in the making. The trail links Kelowna and Vernon together, skirting along side Ellison Lake, Wood Lake, and Kalamalka Lake. The route offers a comfortable mix of seclusion while constantly reminding you of your proximity to local amenities. This means setting out on a half day, full day, or overnight adventure is well within everyone’s grasp whether you are hiking or cycling.
On March 24th 2017, my friend Andrew and I saw a perfect opportunity to make the most of the warm weather and ride the 40 kilometres to Kekuli Bay Provincial Park, just south of Vernon, on Kalamalka Lake. Our plan was to spend the night at the campground and return in the morning; packing everything we needed on our bikes – so that’s what we did!
DOWNTOWN KELOWNA TO THE AIRPORT (12km)
The Okanagan Rail Trail is easily accessed from the North side of the Parkinson Recreation Centre, there also happens to be plenty of parking here for those walking or shuttling in with bikes. Following the paved trail on the Eastern side of the Rec Centre will bring you to the more developed Rails with Trails pathway, which is another great route for getting through the city. Use the crosswalk on Spall Road to transition onto the Okanagan Rail Trail, and let the off-road adventure begin!
Currently this section includes some of the rockiest and chunky terrain along the route, which will eventually be hard-packed as the rail trail project continues to evolve. You won’t believe you are still on a rail trail as you wind between some of the most industrial areas of Kelowna, eventually leading out to the outskirts of the city and the airport. This is also one of the most unique areas along the trail as there is a solid chance to catch a glimpse of an airplane landing toward the east, and airport crew working on planes to the west.
OLD VERNON ROAD TO OYAMA (18km)
As quick as the airport appears, it is soon left behind as Ellison Lake takes its place. Where the trail crosses over Old Vernon Rd, there is a spot for parking which would be great for those looking to avoid the more industrial sections within the city. This is the first truly scenic portion of the trail – following the East side of the lake, away from the highway and its hints of civilization nearby. A short section through Lake Country brings us to the long stretch of trail that skirts along side Wood Lake. The next 7 kilometres follow the edge of the lake closely, passing cottages and the vineyards that make the Okanagan so unique. Within no time, we reach the small town of Oyama… home to the Oyama General Store and Grill, the perfect spot to stop for lunch or to grab some snacks to continue on for the day.
OYAMA TO KEKULI BAY PROVINCIAL PARK (10km)
The final stretch from Oyama to Kekuli Bay Provincial Park is full of expansive views of the ridge in front of Cougar Canyon to the east, and Vernon to the North. Although from a map highway 97 appears to be quite close to the rail trail, the truth is the trail is dropped down close to the lake and you’ll likely believe you are far from any civilization at all. Take the time to look back down towards Kelowna for the best views, you’ll likely be surprised at how far you have come! Kekuli Bay Provincial Park campground offers basic amenities for car camping, which made a great place to spend the night after an afternoon of riding.
Another bonus of the location is that the sun rises across the lake and warms up the sites quickly, which was especially pleasant after the below freezing temperatures we experienced at night. If you are planning on staying at the campground, it is best to pack all of the food you will need ahead of time because there is little available near the park. We packed enough water for the night but there is running water for those who need it, and if it is out of season and the water isn’t turned on, water from Kalmalka Lake can be boiled.
TIPS FOR CYCLNG THE OKANAGAN RAIL TRAIL
– The trail is rocky and bumpy the majority of the time, so a bike with tires that are at least 2″ wide would be preferred. This won’t be as important as the trail is resurfaced.
– Bring a spare tube or patch kit, and know how to use it.
– There are reports of bears in some areas along the route, so sing songs or bring bear spray. (we didn’t see any!)
– Plan a day trip before tackling the full trail, to get a feel for the surface conditions.