Pedaling through British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley means panoramic views, fresh mountain air, good food and wine. It’s a rough gig! …
It’s all down hill in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. At least that’s how it felt on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail (KVR), a 600-kilometer railway trail converted to a multi-use path snaking from Hope to the U.S. border. I hoped to burn calories I’d gained at the valley’s numerous wineries from a bicycle seat.
Cool fresh mountain air brushed my cheek as I pedaled my rented cycle into a tunnel in the Myra Canyon, a small bat fluttering towards me before changing course and disappearing into the cave’s dark corners.
The 18 trestle bridges in the canyon are one of the most popular cycling destinations in the Okanagan and I could appreciate why as views of the valley bottom peeked through wooden slats on the first bridge and I felt the thrill of riding at 1400 meters elevation.
A few minutes later Gord Hotchkiss, owner of Giro Okanagan and my guide, announced I’d reached the highest point on the trail and it would be downhill from here. Imagine my disappointment as I’d yet to break a sweat!
Hotchkiss explained that the KVR had been built to transport silver discovered in the Kootenays in 1877 to US markets. The railway owners didn’t care about passengers or stopping in towns, hence the trail’s location high above the valley bottom and the steep, bumpy drive from Kelowna to access the trail.
Even though the trail was gently downhill I struggled to make time or burn off the pizza I’d consumed earlier at Summerhill Winery’s Sunset Organic Bistro. Every corner produced another panoramic valley view, charred trees from the 2003 forest fire contrasting with golden larch and offering a reason for (yet) another picture.
Even with the photo stops I finished 12 kilometers before dark. I picked up the trail the next day north of Penticton where it curved around vineyards laden with fruit. Dark purple grapes basked in soft autumn light, their flesh protected by nets from marauding starlings.
A sailboat moored in the aquamarine waters near dusty cliffs evoked a feeling more of the Mediterranean summer than Canadian autumn. The sweet smell of sage bushes hung in the air.
I used my brakes more than my pedals as I coasted past the vineyards over the clay soils of the Naramata Bench and into Penticton.
After returning my bike I headed to Hillside Winery, one of the region’s first wineries, its bistro ranked one of Canada’s top 100 outdoor dining venues.
I nibbled on seafood risotto and Caesar salad while nearby winemaker Kathy Malone and her crew manually sorted grapes. Pale Pinot Gris grapes tumbled along a conveyor belt while nimble hands sorted out rotten fruit.
As I tasted the fruity refreshment of a 2017 Muscat Ottonel I realized slowing down let me savor the tastes and the sights. I vowed to return, perhaps adding a few more kilometers to even out the scales.
If you go:
Air Canada and WestJet offer direct flights daily from Calgary and Edmonton to Kelowna and Penticton.
Find trip planning information on the KVR Trail at the Kettle Valley Railway website.
Check out Summerhill Pyramid Winery for organic and biodynamic farm food. Time your visit to coincide with a pyramid tours.
Look for Hillside Winery’s detour sign on the KVR for wine tasting or good eats.