When people in Western Washington talk about traveling to Canada, the usual vacation plans include the happening city of Vancouver and oh-so-beautiful Victoria. But mention that hot springs, wine tastings, and a search for a lake monster are on your British Columbia must-do list, and people want to know where the heck you are going. There’s a lot to love about Canada (including the favorable exchange rate, and the Tim Hortons coffee on what seems like every corner). When you’re making your next vacation plans, consider these three lesser-known gems in British Columbia.
If you love wine, you’ll love Penticton and the surrounding small towns with fun names like Summerland and Peachland. This lush area with rolling hills is set between two giant lakes in the Okanagan Valley (that’s how they spell “Okanogan” across the border). There are more than 100 wineries within an hour’s drive from Penticton, making it one of the top wine destinations in numerous polls. We liked our visit to Dirty Laundry Vineyard in Summerland — it has a storied past for doing laundry downstairs and, well, other things upstairs back in the day. Now it’s home to an award-winning winery with a patio perfect for al fresco dining on warm days. If you are taking the family to Penticton, make sure to tour the SS Sicamous Paddle Wheeler, the largest of its kind in B.C. You also can navigate the river channel between Okanagan and Skaha lakes on a floatie you bring or rent. Penticton, translated by the local Salish Native Americans, means “a place to live forever.” If you go, you’ll see why — it seems to have everything one would want or need, from the sparkling freshwater lakes to the fertile grounds. The farmers markets don’t get much better than this. Distance from Bellevue: 327 miles (about 6 hours)
Family- and Fido-Friendly Kelowna
Kelowna is one of the larger cities in our general vicinity that you might not have heard of. As you walk around on (most likely) a sunny day, licking your gelato in a cone, you might wonder, now what? Kelowna is home to a lot of awesome parks for people and pets alike — more than 200 parks and green spaces, if you want to count. Off the beaten path, bird- and turtle-lovers will probably see both at Chichester Wetland Park. Kelowna has all the things you’d expect in a large city — fine dining, golf, shopping, a casino, and an airport. Perhaps the best thing about Kelowna is the sun — chances are the weather will be nice when you visit (they get 2,000 hours of sunshine every year). Distance from Bellevue: 311 miles (about 5½ hours)
Harrison Hot Springs
Harrison Hot Springs is a quiet community in the Fraser Valley along beautiful Harrison Lake. While the lake offers family-friendly activities including bumper boats, kayaks, and other boat rentals and rides, it’s not the main attraction. As the name of the town might indicate, people come from all over the world to soak in the mineral-rich natural hot springs.
The heart of this small town consists of a long road along the lake, dotted with ice cream shops and restaurants on one side and a sandy beach and park on the other. You can stay at any of the hotels on the strip, but only one has the hot springs piped directly into the property — Harrison Hot Springs Resort & Spa. Since the late 1800s, people have been soaking in the warm waters ever since explorers discovered it. There also is the Harrison Hot Springs Public Pool for all visitors to the area to enjoy.
At Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa, there are five pools to relax in and they serve an amazing buffet breakfast every morning that is worth every penny. We also recommend renting a boat or taking a tour on Harrison Lake — take in the view of the amazing homes and maybe see a bald eagle. Distance from Bellevue: 150 miles (about 3 hours)
Floating Water Parks
Bigger kids will dig the floating water parks that can be found on the lakes at all three locations every summer. Basically, the water features are like giant, floating, bouncy inflatable obstacle courses complete with slides and launches into the water.
Bring Your Binoculars
You may have heard of “Nessie” the Loch Ness monster in Scotland — but did you ever hear about Ogopogo, the lake monster of Canada? The creature made Canadian news back in the 1920s. It’s described as 10-to 20-feet long with a horse-, or goat-like, head. It’s said to live in Okanagan Lake, and some believe it may be real and not a legend — perhaps even a primitive type of whale.