Kelowna, B.C. is known around the world as a summer vacation paradise. Sparkling Lake Okanagan is a haven for thrill-seekers and nature-lovers alike, with sprawling beaches, waterparks, power boating, parasailing, paddle sports and much more. Wineries and orchards in the surrounding hills supply the city with a cornucopia of options for fine dining, luxury tours and family fun.
Winter in Kelowna is no slouch either, once the snow pack builds up. Downhill adventures at Big White Ski Resort, nordic skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, ice wine tours and winter festivals make tempt many travellers.
But what do you do if you have to take an unexpected trip to Kelowna in the shoulder season of early November. And what if you’re travelling with an 11-year-old?
I never wanted to go hiking as a kid, but as I tried to remind the 11-year-old on this trip, once I got outside I usually enjoyed at least part of the hike.
With its flat, wheel-friendly trail surface, gorgeous valley views and story-rich rail trestles, the Myra Canyon Trestles is a perfect destination for a family hike. The trail follows the former Kettle Valley Railway, opened in 1915 to connect the West Kootenays and Boundary Country with B.C.’s Coast, through a spectacular section of wooden bridges and hand-cut tunnels high above the valley floor.
The trail traces that original history of epic pioneer building as well as the more recent history of the Myra Canyon Trestle Restoration Society, whose team of volunteers built boardwalks, guardrails and other features to improve safety in the 1990s. After a devastating wildfire burned most of the trestles in 2003, the Society oversaw gargantuan reconstruction efforts that led to the trail reopening in 2008.
Getting to the trailhead is part of the fun, driving eight kilometres up a smooth gravel forest service road past cattle guards and golden larch trees glowing yellow in late fall. The only issue with the trail, from a kid’s perspective, is that it’s about 20 minutes of walking before you get to see the first trestle. Renting bikes in town would be a great way to see more trestles and up the fun factor (Myra Canyon Bike Rental and Tours offers bike rentals at the trailhead, but they only operate in the summer).
The 11-year-old’s favourite part was spotting charred remnants of the original trestles as we peered over the edge of the reconstructed ones. My favourite part was looking across the valley at the perfectly straight rail line cutting through the trees, lattice-like trestles bridging the gaps over all the wrinkles in the mountain.
For another hiking option closer to town, try Knox Mountain Park, with a variety of trails for all skill levels and panoramic views of Lake Okanagan. We didn’t have time on this trip, but Moccasin Trails offers Indigenous cultural tours from a Syilx knowledge keeper for a hike with ecological and cultural information. We also hoped to check out a Wild Tea workshop at the Okanagan Heritage Museum but it was sold out — bad luck for us, but great to see local Indigenous tourism so well supported in the region.
Kelowna has embraced adrenaline sports, and there are plenty of options for kids and kids-at-heart — even on cold November days clouded with rain and snow. H20 Adventure and Fitness Centre features waterslides, a FlowRider surf simulator, wave pool, lazy river, splash park, diving boards, plus adult-only fitness areas operated by the YMCA.
Then there’s Scandia Golf & Games. What it lacks in glamour, it more than makes up for in reliability. The family fun centre is open seven days a week, rain or shine. If it’s nice out you can try your hand at the expansive outdoor mini golf course, batting cages and go karts, but when the weather’s sour there are dozens of arcade games and indoor jungle mini golf to entertain kids of all ages.
As long as you understand that Scandia is more like a quaint ‘90s arcade than a state-of-the-art Disney park, you’ll have a great time. The decorations are a bit worn, a few of the games won’t work and some of the young employees may act a little aloof, but there’s orange soda on tap and a sprinkling of quirky surprises in this Okanagan stalwart.
For families on a workcation, the Okanagan Regional Library in downtown Kelowna is an indispensable tool. The high ceilings and spacious kids’ area has lots to do, and it absorbs sound effectively so adults don’t need to be constantly shushing. We stumbled upon a drop-in LEGO Club with piles of bricks for aspiring Master Builders, and the 11-year-old’s creation was lovingly placed in a fancy glass display case by supportive library staff — other kid-friendly events are offered year-round.
Reader, it’s time to raise a glass to the life-saving splendour that is BNA Brewing Co. (or more accurately, three glasses in a varied and delicious tasting flight).
How do I love thee BNA? Let me count the ways:
- Alcohol: Uniquely Okanagan craft beers brewed onsite making good use of the Valley’s fruit. I appreciated Purple Rain (blackberry kettle sour) and Otis (oatmeal stout aged on cocoa husks and Peruvian coffee beans), but I walked away with cans of Brilliant Idiot (a hoppy and tropical IPA made smooth thanks to oat milk). They also serve local wine and custom cocktails.
- Art: The paintings, taxidermy, wallpaper and quotable neon signs make great eye-candy, but it’s more than just Instagram-pretty. The place has personality without being crowded. It’s trendy without being cliché. Thanks to excellent interior design, the space doesn’t feel cavernous or busy — even though it’s a giant warehouse and it’s chock full of activities. There are picnic tables near a converted Airstream trailer that acts as the upstairs bar, comfy antique chairs for whispered conversations, bleachers for occasional live music, and…
- Games: BNA has a bowling alley, a bocce lawn, pinball, darts and more, offering plenty of entertainment for all ages — without drowning out adult conversation.
Kelowna is a farm-to-table Mecca, and also a hot spot for curries, dosa and other Indian delights. You’ll have your choice of hand-crafted cappuccinos downtown (and fancy hot chocolates for 11-year-olds).
Kelowna is well connected by road and air, but be prepared for weather delays when travelling in shoulder season (or winter, for that matter). If you’re driving, be sure to have a full tank of gas, snacks, warm clothes and winter tires before taking on the mountain passes. If you’re flying, bring a book in case of minor delays. And if you’re 11 years old, be sure your iPad is fully charged, or bring gloves so you can throw snowballs when there’s a traffic jam at the summit.
Plan your adventures throughout the West Coast at westcoasttraveller.com and follow us on Facebook and Instagram @thewestcoasttraveller. And for the top West Coast Travel stories of the week delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our weekly Armchair Traveller newsletter!