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Thompson Okanagan: let me count the ways!

© By By Mike Keenan

When Elizabeth Barrett Browning penned, "How do I love thee?" she was referring to BC's Thompson Okanagan valley, neatly tucked between the Kootenay Rockies (east) and Cariboo mountains (west). Here, one may ski, shoot a round of golf, horseback ride, tour an historic site and sip fermented grape juice at an award-winning winery in a single day. Based upon outdoor recreation and palette, allow me, like Elizabeth, to enumerate the ways. For fans of David Letterman, here are the top ten picks, beginning with recreation:
     1. Mount Robson Provincial Park is a 20-minute drive northeast from Valemount via Highways 5 and 16. Mount Robson, designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site, claims the Canadian Rockies' highest peak, an advancing glacier and the legendary Berg Lake Trail. Here, views of iconic wilderness are incredibly awe-inspiring!
     2. Apex Mountain, a 35-minute drive west from Penticton with 56 km (35 miles) of trails constitutes a must-do for cross-country skiers. The Swedish National Team trained here! Inviting trails are located at the Nickel Plate Nordic Centre and groomed for all abilities, including children and beginners. Plus, there's a heated lodge with a waxing room and kitchen facilities. For alpine aficionados, Apex Mountain Resort with average annual snowfall of 6 m (19.6 ft), accumulates impressive powder over varied terrain and offers short lift lines to accessible slopes.
     The next two choices might be based solely upon their sonorous, compelling names, yet they have plenty to offer as well:
     3. Osoyoos inhabits the valley's southern tip, north of Washington State. It exists in the middle of Canada's only desert, a prime grape-growing region with more than 15 estate wineries within a short, 15-minute drive of the town centre. A popular summer holiday destination, it has shaped into the geographic solution for retirees who wish to escape harsher climates.
     4. Sicamous, at the junction of Highway 97A and the Trans Canada Highway, occupies a narrow channel between Mara and Shuswap Lakes and is known as the "Houseboat Capital of Canada." Ply the calm waters of both lakes with the Monashee Mountain Range for a beautiful background screen. There are golf courses, an expansive trail system and a lively arts scene. Favoured by ideal snowmobiling conditions, Sicamous garnered a snowmobile "Favourite Powder Riding" award.
     5. Wells Gray Provincial Park, a one-hour drive north from Clearwater, displays the impressive Helmcken Falls, gauged twice the height of Niagara Falls, plunging with a roar, 137 m (449 ft) into Helmcken Canyon. Sunset viewing is de rigeur, the whole canyon bathed in soft, orange light. The park promotes healthy hiking, exhibiting lakes, rivers and streams traversing several geo-climatic zones with an incredible variety of flora that favours black and grizzlybears, wolves, cougars, lynx, bobcats, wolverine, moose, deer, mountain goats and caribou as well as a myriad collection of birds (200 species), insects and freshwater fish. Bring a camera for the breathtaking views.


     Have you worked up an appetite? Here are my choices for the palette.
     6. The Okanagan Wine Route includes 60 wineries with unique ambience and tasting rooms, many clustered around the 111 km (69 mile)-long impressive Okanagan Lake, where, after some tastings, one might spot Ogopogo, Canada's version of the Loch Ness Monster. This tasty route snakes through the Okanagan Valley from Osoyoos in the south to Salmon Arm in the north.
     It was Father Charles Pandosy, an Oblate missionary who founded the region's first Roman Catholic mission in 1860; but the good priest also planted BC's first vineyard and apple orchard in Kelowna. Vineyards and orchards, including North America's first Aboriginal winery in Osoyoos, are scattered throughout the valley with wine and fruit festivals throughout the year. The region is blessed with near-perfect conditions for growing all types of fruit including apples, peaches, cherries and apricots.
     7. Vernon offers an array of appetizing local food products and here one may discover how to cook with lavender at a lavender farm; learn about honey production at a honey farm; buy artisan cheese from a "boutique dairy"; pick fruit at a u-pick orchard or, if worn out from hiking, purchase it from a roadside stand. Popular attractions include Gatzke's Farm Market, Kelowna Land & Orchard, Davison Orchards and Planet Bee Honey Farm.
     8. Remember those thick, dripping, sugary jam sandwiches that you devoured as a child? The Summerland Sweets Factory is a family-run company (since 1962) that produces jams, jellies and syrups found on most grocers' shelves. Tours of the factory are free and yes indeed, include delightful samples!
     With freshwater fishing at its finest, the Thompson Okanagan combines opportunities to satisfy both recreation and the palette It's home to more than 1,000 lakes, hundreds teeming with salmon, kokanee, steelhead, whitefish and trout, where anglers cast while viewing spectacular mountains, wetlands, waterfalls, old-growth cedar and hemlock. Say goodbye to stress!
     9. Freshwater fishing tours suit every budget and skill level while fishing charters and resorts offer the equipment and expertise needed to access any location however remote. With 200 nearby lakes full of steelhead, eastern brook and Kamloops trout, Dolly Varden, char and kokanee, Kamloops is touted as a prime freshwater fishing destination. 2,000 hours of sunlight per annum fuels underwater plant growth that supports large fish populations while alkaline waters promote fast growth and size.
     10. The Summerland Trout Hatchery, established in 1928 ranks as the oldest, continuously running BC trout hatchery, yearly stocking fish for 275 interior lakes. An interpretive centre features aquariums, educational models, videos and displays for the entire family.


     Now that you are suitably famished, it's time to rate the best area restaurants, but here I rely on Okanagan Life Magazine with the results of their readers' survey:

1. The Brown Derby Cafe (Armstrong)
2. Hungry Jack's (Enderby)
3. Intermezzo Restaurant (Vernon)

1. Bouchon's Bistro
2. Ric's Grill (Kamloops) & Ricardo's Mediterranean Kitchen (Lake Country)
3. Fresco Restaurant (Kelowna) & La Bussola (Kelowna)

1. Black Iron Grill & Steak House (Penticton)
2. Cozy Bay Seafood Cafe (Summerland)
3. Cantaloupe Annie's (Oliver)

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Thompson Okanagan Tourism: Mount Robson (Alan Fortune), Nordic skier (Don Weixl),
Shuswap Lake (Alan Fortune), Helmcken Falls, Blue Mountain Vineyards (Don Weixel),
Erica's fruit stand (Don Weixl), Kamloops (Don Weixl), Snowmobiling, sunrise on Kamloops Lake (Alan Fortune), Berg Lake hikers (Alan Fortune), canoeing near Mt. Robson (Alan Fortune), sleigh near Salmon Arm (Don Weixl), toboggan near Salmon Arm (Don Weixl), mileage sign (Don Weixl), peppers (Don Weixl)

If you go
This Destination
as seen on
Thompson Okanagan Tourism: http://www.totabc.com
Apex Mountain Resort: http://www.apexresort.com/
Davison Orchards: http://www.davisonorchards.ca/
Gatzke's Farm Market: http://www.gatzkefarmmarkets.com/
Kamloops: http://www.kamloops.ca/index.shtml
Kelowna Land & Orchard: http://www.k-l-o.com/
Mount Robson Provincial Park: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/mtrobson.html
Okanagan Life Magazine: http://www.okanaganlife.com/
The Okanagan Wine Route: http://www.grouptourplanner.com/Okanagan_Wine_Route.cfm
Osoyoos: http://www.osoyoos.ca/
Planet Bee Honey Farm: http://www.planetbee.com/
Salmon Arm: http://www.salmonarm.ca/siteengine/activepage.asp?bhcp=1
Sicamous: http://www.sicamouschamber.bc.ca/
The Summerland Trout Hatchery: http://www.gofishbc.com/slh.htm
Vernon: http://www.vernon.ca/
Wells Gray Provincial Park: http://www.wellsgray.ca/

What's happening, money, distance, time?
Media Guide: http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/

Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/


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