Kelowna, BC, lies in the middle of the stunning Okanagan Valley in beautiful southern British Columbia, Canada. An outdoor enthusiast’s dream come true, there is no end of snowy trails to explore all winter long. But for the seeker of peace and quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of the requisite resorts and ski hills, one must look a little further. But not too much further, since many less inhabited trails are located five to 20 minutes from the downtown core. So, you are blissfully not spending half your day getting to the great outdoors.
Bear Creek Provincial Park is located approximately a 20-minute drive from downtown Kelowna, on the West Kelowna side of the William R. Bennet Bridge (across Okanagan Lake). After crossing the bridge, drive 2km, take the exit to Westside Road, drive along Westside Road for another 7km, and you have arrived at your snowshoeing destination. Parking is ample along the road during the winter months, since the park is actually closed, but the snowy trails beckon snowshoers and hikers.
If you are looking for great views of Okanagan Lake and the city of Kelowna just across, Bear Creek is ideal. The 3km trail has a bit of everything – easy and steep climbs, small bridges and stairs, with plenty of view spots along the way as it follows along a canyon. With a view of plunging falls off one stop area, this is truly an enjoyable snowshoe trail. You will also find numerous photo opportunities and benches to sit, rest, and soak in the winter vistas.
Knox Mountain Park could not be more conveniently located at under a 5-minute drive from downtown Kelowna. Simply head straight down Ellis Street and you will eventually run into the entrance at the north end. Since the gates are also closed to the drive up during the winter months, you will be parking at the bottom and gearing up from there.
I have been hiking this mountain since moving to the area twelve years ago, and have yet to discover all the trails. Trust you will never be bored snowshoeing on this mountain. A wide and easygoing trail called Paul’s Toomb is located part way up, at the first pavilion parking lot. This is easily hiked to from the parking lot at the base of the mountain by following the road. With 4km to amble along to a beach at the end, you will be treated to lovely views of Lake Okanagan and can even spot the previously noted Bear Creek, straight across the lake. Noisy with boaters and jet skiers during the summer months, this trail is very peaceful during winter, and also has strategically placed benches to relax and soak in the scenery along the way. But don’t feel you have to stick to the main trail – there are myriad off-shoots all over this mountain among the Ponderosa pines. Just be sure to backtrack in order to find your way back to your vehicle!
Mission Creek Greenway runs over 17km through Kelowna and is mainly a flat, easygoing trail, but also has more challenging pathways if you access from the entrance to Mission Creek Regional Park, off of Springfield Road, which runs parallel to Harvey Avenue (the main highway through the city). This would be the easiest starting point as there are many accesses throughout Kelowna not easily visible driving by. And only a 10-minute cruise from downtown.
The greenway runs from Okanagan Lake to the Gallagher’s Canyon area. The trail is basically split into two portions: 9km of flat, wide trail that run along the creek, and another 8km (from the regional park), featuring narrower trails, stairs, bridges, and steep hills and switchbacks. Bring a picnic, enjoy the sights of nature, and bring your leashed dog if you have one – they’re more than welcome to enjoy the trails here too.
In order to discover Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park, head from downtown Kelowna on Pandosy Street, which eventually becomes Lakeshore Drive (don’t you just love it when streets suddenly change names for no apparent reason?). After about 15 minutes, you will arrive at a gravel road with parking off to the right. Hop, skip, or jump across the road and you are on your way up to over 23 different hikes on a sizeable mountain.
You can easily spend all day in this provincial park (bring snacks) or as little time as you like. The trails branch off after the creek with a small bridge on the bottom, and then the mountain is your oyster. Be sure to check out the map back at the beginning of the trail to get your bearings. More panoramic views of the Central Okanagan Valley and lake unfold, in addition to the sweet scents of pine filling the air. Enjoy the silent reward of visiting this out-of-the-way area. The kind you can only find up a mountain trail in the middle of winter.
Now an extinct volcano, Mt. Boucherie is also located across Bennett Bridge, in the opposite direction of Bear Creek. Drive a few minutes from downtown Kelowna and turn left onto Hudson Road, right on Guidi Road, then right again on Trevor Road. This road also undergoes a name change and turns into Lakeview Road. The entrance to the park is on the left side, across from a pullout on the right side.
If you make it to the summit, you will experience a 360-degree view of a section of the valley. You can easily spend anywhere from an hour to the better part of the day exploring this more challenging mountain trail. Beware there are sudden and steep drop-offs as well as loose rock and boulders, so best to stick to signed trails. This snowy trek can be done as a loop or you can take on the challenge and head straight up to the summit for the spectacular view.
While you’re planning that peaceful Okanagan snowshoeing getaway, why not book a stay at one of the areas wineries or spa hotels? Now known as a wine lover’s destination, Kelowna and area provide an array of luxury accommodations. Isn’t it good to have something decadent to look forward to as reward after trekking through the snow. Après snowshoe never felt so good!