A fairy-tale ski resort, cool culinary scene and energy-burning activities makes BC’s Thompson Okanagan a Canadian favourite.
1. The skiing is mint
The Thompson Okanagan is only four hours’ drive north-east of Vancouver and the jewel in the region’s crown is undoubtedly Sun Peaks Resort.
There, fairy lights are festooned from ski lodge to chocolate store across a pedestrian village reminiscent of those in the Austrian Alps. With Canada’s second largest ski area, skiers and boarders can expect plenty of terrain to explore. The runs are fun, with steep trails for serious riders, as well as fun blues and greens for intermediates and beginners.
Make the most of a day on the hill by signing up for a guided First Tracks tour, where you’ll join a small group of skiers and boarders that hit the mountain as the sun is rising, before lifts officially open. Other resorts in the region include big-name Big White, near Penticton, and Silver Star, near Vernon.
2. The horses pull sleighs
Adding to the magical feel of Sun Peaks Resort in winter are horse-drawn sleigh rides through the village. As the dusk sky turns pink, you’ll clip-clop over snow, past shops and restaurants, and along ethereal forest trails.
If you’re travelling with young children, this is a must-do. The tours run between December and April, and last about 40 minutes: grab a hot chocolate, snuggle under thick blankets and sit back for one of the most relaxing family experiences you’re likely to ever have.
There are also daylight and evening tours, depending on the time of season; book with Sun Peaks Stables.
3. There’s a thriving brew scene
There are a number of cool craft breweries and brew pubs down the hill in Kamloops that are worth spending a few hours in. Our favourite is The Noble Pig, where you can grab a booth, enjoy a paddle of craft beers and munch on classic Canadian dishes with a twist. The pulled pork poutine is smothered in a rich barbecue gravy, the mac ‘n’ cheese comes drizzled with white truffle oil, and the lamb burger with melted brie and marmalade is excellent. As for the beer, expect to find creations such as a mocha porter.
Other top spots to check out include Alchemy Brewing Co. where you can tantalise tastebuds with maple and pumpkin pie ales, and the new Bright Eye Brewing, a small tasting room where beer is served direct from the tanks.
4. The wineries are award winning
The Thompson Okanagan is renowned for its grapes and one of the best ways to sample a few drops is by following the Kamloops Wine Trail. It leads travellers to three wineries: Monte Creek Ranch Winery, a relatively young operation on a working ranch; Privato Vineyard & Winery, which specialises in small-quantity Burgundy-style wines; and Harper’s Trail Estate Winery, home to award-winning Rieslings.
If you don’t mind a beverage and want to leave the driving to someone else, DiVine Tours offers a boutique, professional service. Based in Kamloops, DiVine Tours has won a number of tourism awards and has a range of excursions blending wine, wildlife, beer and sightseeing.
5. You’re surrounded by nature
Lakes, rivers and mountains make the Thompson Okanagan a top destination for travellers who love the outdoors. There are a tonne of hiking trails; one of the best being the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, which you can also cycle.
Golfing and fly-fishing are popular in the region, and, if you’re there in summer, you’ll want to go stand-up paddleboarding. One of the best spots to SUP is on beautiful Kalamalka Lake, in Vernon, a hub for water sports. Boards can be hired from Kalavida Surf Shop, across the road from the beach.
If you prefer a canoe, join Moccasin Trails and learn about the Indigenous Shuswap Nation as you paddle the South Thompson River in Kamloops.
Travelling families will enjoy visiting nearby Tsútswecw Provincial Park to watch crimson sockeye salmon return from the Pacific Ocean to their breeding ground in Adams River. The natural phenomenon happens every autumn, around mid-October, and is a wonderful and educational spectacle.
6. The mountain biking is epic
Kamloops is a mountain-biking Mecca and home to Canada’s largest municipal bike park, the 26-hectare Kamloops Bike Ranch. There’s a great mix of cross-country and downhill trails, and plenty are open year-round.
The ranch has a dedicated area for people practising skills, plus stadium lights so you can continue riding once the sun sets. If you’re craving a nature fix of the alpine kind, head up to Sun Peaks Bike Park, where you’ll find a mix of cruisy trails and serious single tracks.
Novices will love the new 9 km top-to-bottom progression trail, as well as the new Progression Park with jumps, berms and a pump track. The Bike Park features more than 65 km of terrain across 40 trails; it’s open from mid-June to September.
7. There’s plenty for kids
Turn off the screens and set your kids loose at Jump 360, Kamloops. With trampolines, balance beams, foam pits, inflatable slides and even a dodge ball “court”, Jump 360 is the perfect spot for children (and parents) to burn energy. It’s a great winter activity, too, after a holiday at Sun Peaks.
If you’re visiting in summer, you’ll want to head to the city of Kelowna, where there are more than 30 lake beaches, ideal for the smallest members of the family. From Kelowna, you can also go horse riding, kayaking and rock climbing.
8. It’s easy to reach
Around four hours’ drive from Vancouver or a short flight away, the Thompson Okanagan is easily accessible for Australians.
There are regular flights from Vancouver to both Kelowna and Kamloops airports, however if you prefer to drive, the region isn’t far from major highways. For winter road trips, keep up to date on conditions via drivebc.com.
If you don’t want to drive on the opposite side of the road, there are shuttle buses to the region and, for those who want a more comfortable experience, the luxurious train travels through Kamloops, as does the more economical and local train network, VIA Rail.