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The Okanagan hosts a wine festival in May, to open the season, and in early October, to close the season; both weekends are fun and busy times to visit. High season is defined from wine festival to wine festival.
The hot dry summer, especially July and August, is peak season here, and weekends get crowded. May and June are quieter, and most wineries are open, so either month can be a good alternative to the midsummer peak.
However, September just might be the best time for an Okanagan wine-tasting trip. Everything is still open, the weather is generally fine, and the vineyards are full of grapes ready to pick. Many wineries release new wines in the fall, so there are more tasting options.
In winter, the Okanagan becomes a popular ski destination, with several low-key but first-rate resorts. If your main objective is wine touring, though, many wineries close or reduce their hours from November through April.
Three days from Vancouver is barely enough time to enjoy the Okanagan; five days to a week would be optimal.
The best place to start a wine-tasting tour is at one of the two area wine info centers (Kelowna or Penticton). You can get an overview of the area's wines, get help in organizing your time, and usually taste a wine or two.
We've included a selection of the best wineries, but our list is only a fraction of the Okanagan's more than 200 producers. Because new wineries open every year, ask for recommendations at your hotel, or simply stop in when you see an appealing sign.
The main airport for the Okanagan wine country is in Kelowna. There's also a small airport in Penticton.
Air Canada and WestJet both fly into Kelowna from Vancouver. From Vancouver, Air Canada also serves Penticton; flights take about one hour.
Taxis generally meet arriving flights at the Kelowna Airport.
Okanagan Airport Shuttle provides transportation from the Kelowna Airport to local hotels for C$10 per person, to Vernon for C$32, and to Silver Star for C$60, with slight discounts on the return trip. Big White Shuttle runs scheduled service between the airport and resort for C$80 round-trip. You'll need your own transportation to reach Apex Mountain Resort.
Greyhound Canada runs buses from Vancouver to Vernon, Kelowna, and Penticton, with connections to smaller Okanagan towns. The Kelowna Regional Transit System operates buses in the greater Kelowna area.
To get to the Okanagan by car from Vancouver, head east on Highway 1 (Trans-Canada Highway). Just east of Hope, several routes diverge. For Oliver or Osoyoos in the South Okanagan, take Highway 3 east through the winding roads of Manning Park. For the Kelowna area, the fastest route is Highway 5 (the magnificent Coquihalla Highway) north to Merritt, then follow Highway 97C (the Okanagan Connector) toward Kelowna. To reach Penticton and Naramata, you can either take the Coquihalla to 97C, then turn south on Highway 97, or take Highway 3 to Keremeos, where you pick up Highway 3A north, which merges into 97 north. Allow about five hours of driving time from Vancouver to the Okanagan region.
If you're traveling from Whistler, consider the back route. Highway 99 travels through Pemberton to Lillooet. From here, take Highway 12 to Cache Creek, where you'll join Highway 1 traveling east to Kamloops. Take the Highway 97 exit to Vernon, the northernmost town of the Okanagan Valley. This is not a road to drive in winter, and whenever you go remember that gas stations are few and far between. In summer, the 561-km (350-mile) drive can take about seven to eight hours.
Several major agencies, including Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, and National, have offices in Kelowna.
Big White Shuttle (800/663–2772.)
Greyhound Canada (800/661–8747. www.greyhound.ca.)
Kelowna Regional Transit System (250/860–8121. www.bctransit.com/regions/kel.)
Okanagan Airport Shuttle (250/542–7574 or. www.okanaganairportshuttle.com.)
WestJet Airlines (888/937–8538. www.westjet.com.)
Like the California wine regions, Okanagan has attracted gourmands and the restaurants reflect that. They also benefit from the amazing fruit harvest here. From summer to fall, every month reaps a harvest of different fruits, from cherries and plums to nectarines, peaches, and several varieties of apples.
The wine industry has added a quiet sophistication with the development of higher-end lodgings and boutique inns geared to wine-and-food lovers. This means that from July to September you need to reserve early, especially if you're planning on visiting on a weekend. The Kelowna region is more urban (and less picturesque), but it has a greater range of accommodations and other services. The Naramata and Oliver/Osoyoos areas are both prettier and more rural.
Monashee Adventure Tours has full- or half-day bike- and wine-tour combinations, and other tours around the Okanagan. Arbutus Routes also has biking tours of the Okanagan wine country.
With Okanagan Limousine you can tour the wine area in chauffeur-driven style. It offers half-day and full-day tours to wineries in Kelowna, Summerland/Peachland, Naramata, Oliver/Osoyoos, and Okanagan Falls. Okanagan Wine Country Tours offers narrated three-hour, four-hour, and full-day wine-country tours. There's even a floatplane tour over the lush valleys to the Okanagan's Golden Mile near Oliver. Distinctly Kelowna Tours pairs winery visits with walking excursions, zip-lining, and other adventures.
Arbutus Routes (604/935–7566. www.arbutusroutes.com.)
Distinctly Kelowna Tours (250/979–1211 or 866/979–1211. www.distinctlykelownatours.ca.)
Monashee Adventure Tours (250/762–9253 or 888/762–9253. www.monasheeadventuretours.com.)
Okanagan Limousine (250/717–5466 or 866/336–3133. www.ok-limo.com.)
Okanagan Wine Country Tours (250/868–9463 or 866/689–9463. www.okwinetours.com.)
The knowledgeable staff at the British Columbia VQA Wine Information Centre will tell you what's new at area wineries and help you plan a self-drive winery tour. The center also stocks more than 500 local wines and offers complimentary tastings daily. It's a good place to stop and find out about places to stay and eat.
Hello BC has information about the province, including the Okanagan. The Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association is the main tourism contact for the Okanagan. Towns like Osoyoos, Kelowna, and Penticton have visitor information centers, though not all are open year-round. Some, like Discover Naramata, are virtual only.
British Columbia VQA Wine Information Centre (553 Railway St., Penticton, BC, V2A 8S3. 250/490–2006. www.pentictonwineinfo.com. July–Aug., daily 9–7; Sept.–June, Mon.–Sat. 9–6, Sun. 10–5.)
Destination Osoyoos (250/495–5070 or 888/676–9667. www.destinationosoyoos.com.)
Discover Naramata (www.discovernaramata.com.)
Hello BC (800/435–5622. www.hellobc.com.)
Penticton & Wine Country Visitor Information Centre (250/493–4055 or 800/663–5052. www.tourismpenticton.com.)
Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (250/860–5999. www.totabc.com.)
Tourism Kelowna (250/861–1515 or 800/663–4345. www.tourismkelowna.com.)