Five ways you can enjoy B.C.'s Thompson Okanagan

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      Ed Kruger recently picked up 20 brand-new mountain bikes. The Kelowna-based travel guide now has over 100 bikes in his fleet, and he’s looking at a busy season.

      A few days before he was reached for a phone interview on April 16, Kruger took tourists from Montreal pedalling for two hours on the restored rail trestles high above Myra Canyon, 18 kilometres from downtown. Lunch was at a winery. In all, the tour took six hours.

      “Most of my cycling is leisurely cycling to gourmet food and wine,” Kruger told the Georgia Straight. “We don’t do any crazy, hard-core rides. Our rides are usually between 20 and 60 kilometres.”

      Known in the business as Trailhead Ed, Kruger arranges and leads bike-touring expeditions across the Thompson Okanagan region. He provides bikes, helmets and other gadgets, transportation, and snacks and water, and he makes reservations for lunches and evening accommodation as well.

      What he’s particularly excited about right now is his three-day tour. Called the B.C. High Line Tour, it was chosen by National Geographic Adventure magazine as one of the 25 best new trips in the world for 2010.


      The first of nine of these excursions lined up by Kruger this year kicks off on the Victoria Day long weekend, starting on May 21.

      On the first day, cyclists launch from McCulloch Lake, proceeding through the 18 trestles and two tunnels of Myra Canyon, which form a section of the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, a former railway line that’s been converted to a multi-use recreational trail. They then descend to Kelowna for winery stops. The first day is capped with dinner in town.

      Day 2 begins with a drive in one of Kruger’s vehicles to Chute Lake Resort, above the village of Naramata. From there, cyclists go on a downhill ride to Penticton for a nice lunch and some more winery stops. Kruger’s charges spend the night in town.

      “Final day we cycle up to Summerland, and jump on the steam train and do a steam-train ride through Summerland,” Kruger said. “Then after that, we finish with a winery lunch.”

      Some may not have the stamina to complete the routes laid out by Kruger, but this shouldn’t be a problem. They can always hop on the tour van and get a head start to some of the wineries on the way.

      “Life is good,” Kruger said of the fun he’s been having since he quit his job at a local soda plant to start up Monashee Adventure Tours 18 years ago. He’ll turn 48 this year.

      Taking in the breathtaking sights of the Thompson Okanagan on a bike with a sumptuous meal and a glass of wine at the end of the road may not be the thing for everyone. But there are other ways of exploring the region.

      The Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association has several itineraries to choose from. Here are a few.

      Wells Gray Provincial Park
      A wilderness area of more than 500,000 hectares, this is B.C.’s fourth-largest provincial park. It is known for its mountain scenery and waterfalls. It also offers a range of outdoor adventure activities, including rafting, kayaking, canoeing, fly-fishing, and horseback riding.

      Even a one-day stay can be packed with activities. Visitors can start with three hours of white-water rafting on the Clearwater River. This can be arranged through Interior Whitewater Expeditions.

      The afternoon can be spent horseback riding at one of the lodges and ranches in the park.

      Another option is to explore the many waterfalls in the area. Dawson Falls is billed as the park’s mini Niagara, with the 91-metre-wide Murtle River dropping over an 18-metre cliff, according to information provided by TOTA. “A few kilometres downstream from Dawson Falls, hear the muffled roar of Helmcken Falls well before you get there,” the TOTA itinerary for a one-day visit to Wells Gray states. “The Murtle River plummets 137 metres into the plunge pool below, and is one of B.C.’s most oft-photographed waterfalls.”

      How about a round of golf? There’s a nine-hole course at the Wells Gray Golf Resort and RV Park. It’s located 20 minutes from the entrance to the park.

      Accommodation is available, as well as camping at Clearwater Valley Resort.

      Hedley-Osoyoos-Greenwood historic tour
      History buffs may want to consider a two-day tour starting with the Mascot Gold Mine in Hedley, a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Vancouver on Highway 3. Built one kilometre up on the cliffs overlooking the Similkameen Valley, this is a uniquely situated mine. It stopped operations in the late 1940s.

      On the way to Osoyoos, a stop at the restored grist mill outside Keremeos is recommended by TOTA. The mill was built in 1877 so that pioneers didn’t have to make a long trip across the U.S. border for their flour.

      Day 1 ends in Osoyoos. The southernmost town in the region, it was the home of the Okanagan Nation before it came to the attention of fur traders in the early 1800s. The local museum boasts one of the best small-town collections of exhibits on natural history, First Nations, and pioneer life in the province.

      Before you leave Osoyoos on the second day, TOTA suggests a visit to the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, which offers a tour of a traditional native village.

      Next stop is Greenwood, which used to have one of the largest copper mines in the world. It also served as an internment area for Japanese Canadians during the Second World War. Visitors can go on self-guided tours of what remains of the camp.

      Farm tour
      This two-day tour starts in Vernon, where visitors can spend the morning at Davison Orchards Country Village. This three-generation family farm grows 20 varieties of apples. Wagon rides are available, and fresh vegetables like corn and tomatoes are for sale. Visitors can also sample old-fashioned pies, jams, and preserves.

      Next to the orchard is Planet Bee Honey Farm. Here, you can observe thousands of honeybees in an apiary. There’s a gift shop, and honey samples are available.

      TOTA recommends having lunch at Gray Monk Estate Winery in Okanagan Centre, describing it as the “perfect setting for discovering fine vintage wines and”¦a great place to relax and enjoy wine country cuisine with an uninterrupted view of the vineyards, lake, and mountains”.

      From there, travellers can drive down to Kelowna for an afternoon in the city’s downtown cultural district, which has three museums.

      For the second day, the tourism association suggests a number of places to visit. One is Summerhill Pyramid Winery, the country’s largest organic vineyard. It is also the most visited winery in Canada, according to the association.

      Another stop is Okanagan Lavender Herb Farm. The half-hectare property has 18 varieties of lavender, promising a fragrant experience overlooking Okanagan Lake.

      First Nations Tour
      TOTA has a three-day itinerary for learning about the rich aboriginal heritage of the Thompson Okanagan.

      Highlights include a visit to the Quaaout Resort & Conference Centre in Chase. The tourism association recommends an overnight stay in this peaceful area owned by the Little Shuswap Indian Band. Travellers can go on a “self-directed native nature walk” and participate in other outdoor activities offered at the resort. Foodies will have the opportunity to sample traditional First Nations preparations of venison and buffalo. Those who want to try chicken or salmon cooked in a clay pot will need to inform staff a day ahead.

      In Kamloops, the Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park has an outdoor exhibit of the archaeological remains of a 2,000-year-old Secwepemc winter village site, four reconstructed winter pit houses, and a summer village.

      Hat Creek Ranch is a provincial heritage site located 10 kilometres north of Cache Creek. Guided tours dealing with the history and culture of the Shuswap Nation offer a number of surprises. There’s an option to spend the night in a pit house—a traditional winter home whose bottom half is built below the ground. A pit house can accommodate up to 20 adults and has outdoor washrooms and a sweat lodge.