BC Okanagan with Kids: Camping, Parks, Restaurants & More

Jennifer Kossowan is a mom to a 2.5-year old daughter, blogs at her delightful site Mama. Papa. Bubba and lives in Vancouver. But both she and her husband grew up in the Okanagan, part of BC’s sunny central interior that offers warmth and long, lazy summer days. Where would Jennifer send a friend who’s visiting the Okanagan for the first time. She’s most familiar with the Vernon-Lumby-Winfield-Kelowna area, so that’s what we’re covering here.

Family at Echo Lake Fishing Resort

Kossowan with her daughter at Echo Lake Fishing Resort

1. What’s your favorite Okanagan destination with kids?

It’s hard to choose as there are so many wonderful places to visit with children in the Okanagan. That being said, if I had to pick just one it would be Davison Orchards Country Village, near Vernon, BC. It’s been a favourite of mine since I was a girl, and with each year, it gets better and better. On top of being able to pick your own produce (or buy it pre-picked in the market), the orchard includes a small kid’s playground with horse-shaped tire swings, a large grassy knoll perfect for picnicking, hourly tractor tours, a café serving delicious homemade food, a petting zoo that includes chickens, goats, bunnies, sheep, and a donkey.

Family at Davison Orchards

In the Crazy Cow Corral

Even more enticing than all of that though, is the Crazy Cow Kid’s Corral, a huge play enclosure that includes a ride-on tractor track, rubber duck races, giant slides, a tree house, corn bins to play in, a mini golf course, and a huge sandbox, complete with vintage truck and tractor. When you visit, be prepared to stay for the better part of the day – the kids will love it that much.

2. What are some of your favorite Okanagan parks and things to do with kids and why do you like those spots?

Visiting some of the plentiful parks and beaches is an absolute must when visiting the Okanagan with kids. Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park and Ellison Provincial Park, both located in Vernon, are wonderful for biking, hiking, and swimming adventures, while Kal Beach (Vernon), Skaha Beach (Penticton), Hot Sands Beach (Kelowna), Paddlewheel Park (Vernon), and Canoe Beach (Shuswap) offer an array of swimming areas, playgrounds, water parks, and water sports rentals.

Other than beaches and parks, the Okanagan has several really unique spots geared towards families. One of our favourites is Rawhide Ridge Ranch, a working ranch run by passionate owners and filled with wild animals – buffalo, turkeys, and zebras included! Also on the unique animal front, Kangaroo Creek Farm in Kelowna offers the opportunity to learn about and interact with kangaroos and wallabies in a completely non-commercial setting.

Another great spot is the Enchanted Forest. Situated in a gorgeous old growth forest in the Monashee mountains between Revelstoke and Sicamous, the forest is a world of fantasy brought to life. If you’re looking for a little more adventure, Atlantis Waterslides in Vernon is the place to go. With kiddie slides, a popular river riot ride, large hot tub, and slides of all sizes, there’s fun for all ages.

Okanagan splash park

Playing in the splash park at Polson

Lastly, Polson Park, also located in Vernon, is not to be missed. Home to a floral clock, beautiful gardens, duck ponds, a lawn bowling club, a space and science centre, plus a skate park, water park, and children’s playground, you can definitely make a day of your visit.

3. Do you have any favorite restaurants to go with your child in Okanagan?

Though we don’t eat out a whole lot, Friesen’s Country Tyme Gardens in Vernon would definitely be somewhere I’d recommend taking the kids. With hearty, homemade food reminiscent of Baba’s cooking and lots of outdoor seating, wee ones can take in the fresh air and enjoy a delicious meal all at once.

4. Can you recommend any preferred family-friendly hotels or rentawhls? If someone were visiting the Okanagan for the first time, where would you suggest that they stay?

Though it can be a bit of a splurge in the summer months, staying at Lake Okanagan Resort is an Okanagan adventure in itself. Rentals range from studio apartments to 3-bedroom suites, and include gorgeous balcony views and kitchen facilities, which is very convenient when travelling with kids. The resort includes a spa, golf course, multiple pools, various courts, a kid’s playground, an interpretive trail system, horseback riding, and summer kid’s programs, so mom, dad, and the munchkins are sure to be happy.

Echo Lake Fishing Resort a place to stay with kids

Echo Lake Fishing Resort

If you prefer the complete opposite – something small, quiet, inexpensive, very outdoorsy, and not at all commercial, we really enjoy staying at the Echo Lake Fishing Resort. Located outside of Lumby, Echo Lake Fishing Resort has seven small, rustic cabins that line the lake. The cabins come equipped with electricity, propane-operated fireplaces, kitchenettes, cold running water indoors; there are personal outhouses, fire pits, and wharfs outdoors. A small kid’s playground is onsite, along with endless nature to observe and inexpensive boats for rent, which makes for a serene family getaway.

5. Any favorite hikes or camping spots in the Okanagan?

Ellison Provincial Park in Vernon, mentioned before for its beaches and hiking and biking trails, is a very family-friendly spot to camp. In addition to a playground that is almost always filled with kids, it boasts a huge waterfront picnic area, a volleyball court, and designated swimming areas. Haynes Point Provincial Park, located on Osoyoos Lake, is very popular and sometimes difficult to get into, but most would say the ultra warm water is worth the fight. The combination of warm water, lakefront sites, and it being in Canada’s only desert area makes for a special experience.

Also on the popular but worth the effort to get into list is Shuswap Lake Provincial Park. It offers hiking and biking trails, great scuba diving experiences, a large adventure playground and big grassy knoll, as well as horseback riding, parasailing, bumper boats, go carts, and water sports rentals very nearby. The last one is actually a campsite I’ve yet to visit, but always hear great things about. Cedars Campground, just east of Sicamous and the Shuswaps, is known for its river setting, indoor pool, jacuzzi, and elaborate playgrounds.

6. Any toy stores, clothing stores or small-biz shout-outs — somewhere to pick up a new plaything while staying in the Okanagan?

I’m probably a little biased towards Vernon businesses, as that’s where we spend the majority of our time when in the Okanagan, but Vernon Teach & Learn on Main Street is an amazing store that started out small and has grown into a one stop shop for teacher resources, quality children’s toys, and unique learning materials. It also includes a cute ice cream and sweets shop now too! Equally awesome is Chicken Little, a barn-shaped store on 29th street. It’s the best place to buy children’s clothes, baby basics, and innovative kid’s items that aren’t carried anywhere else in the city. They also have a small but wonderful consignment section, and great end of season sales.

Thanks so much, Jennifer! Readers, where does your family eat, stay and play when visiting the Okanagan? Please leave a comment.

Families Travel! Okanagan with Kids

Amy and Mike Sztupovsky live in semi-arid Oliver, British Columbia (about halfway between Pentiction, BC and the US-Canadian border). This couple are real travel aficionados – something made easier by the fact that they unschool their two kids, Lan (5) and Kayden (3).

“When our oldest was coming closer to school age we started to research homeschooling options,” Amy says. “I had never heard of unschooling before but when I started to learn about it, the method really spoke to my heart.”

So this family doesn’t need to worry about pulling the kids out of preschool or school to travel, and travel becomes part of the kids’ schooling. Naturally, Amy’s own website is called Worldschool Adventures. Let’s find out why unschooling and traveling fit together, and what to do in the Okanagan with kids.

(All photos courtesy Amy Sztupovsky: at right, Tuc-El-Nuit Lake)

How did you decide to unschool? What is unschooling?

Unschooling is best described as interest-led learning. We watch for the sparks of curiosity in our children and then we expand upon their interests so that they’re always engaged, involved and curious.

Mike and I have been planning on doing long-term traveling with our children since before they were even born!  The more I read and learned the more excited I became about the unschooling philosophy and I started to attend homeschooling meet-ups in our area.  I questioned mothers who were already doing it and began to get more and more comfortable with how it would work with our family.  We dove into unschooling head first and haven’t looked back since!

Like any type of homeschooling approach, unschooling allows us to take advantage of the off season (and off season prices!) We also like to do many of our outings on weekdays when things are less crowded.

What’s it like to live in Oliver, British Columbia and unschool?

Oliver is a very rural area, which offers both pros and cons for unschooling.  One of the cons is that our town is just too small to offer many of the amenities and programs that a larger center would offer.  But of course, there are many advantages to growing and learning in the rural Okanagan community.  We know where much of our food comes from and take an active roll in the process by supporting farmers markets and u-pick orchards.

Oliver has a fabulous paved pathway along the Okanagan River and we can ride our bikes into town and to Oliver’s fantastic water park, Kinsmen Water Park, near the Kinsmen Playground. We attend local festivals like The Festival of the Grape held every September.

Riding bikes in the Okanagan

Much of our learning stems from observations in our environment and the South Okanagan provides ample opportunities for hiking, biking, and swimming in the summer, and in the winter Mount Baldy Ski Resort is only a half hour drive away where one can ski, snowboard, snowshoe or cross country ski.

Do you go camping with kids in the Okanagan, in British Columbia?  How early do you have to reserve a spot?

There are so many campsites in the Okanagan. The summer months see many tourists passing through and camping on our many beautiful lakes and rivers.  We, however, like to head for the hills when the camping season starts.  Our best resources are a Back roads Map and a Camp Free in BC book.

Almost every mountain lake will have a forestry campsite on it with groomed sites, picnic tables, fire rings, and pit toilets.  They are beautiful and best of all they are free!  Most can be reached within a half hour to an hour drive of the towns but try to get there early as many will fill up on a Friday night. Our favorites are Isintok Lake and Idleback Lake near Penticton.

Do you have a favorite kid-friendly restaurant (or restaurants) in the Okanagan region?

Our favourite restaurant in Oliver is the Fire Hall Bistro.  This old converted Fire Hall has memorabilia and photos of its glory days. What kid wouldn’t want to eat in an old fire hall?

When is the best time to visit the Okanagan?

Many tourists come for skiing in the winter but most of our visitors come in the summer months.  We get very hot weather in July and August and people flock here for our lakes and beaches.  If I were to recommend a time of year though, I would say come in June or September.  Things won’t be so crowded but the weather is still great!

Read more about Oliver, British Columbia at the Oliver Tourism website.

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Have one to suggest? E-mail me at lora AT cascadiakids.com.