Kelowna isn’t exactly a destination — it’s more like seven. At least. This is the region’s original wine country, set deep in the rugged, mountainous interior. It honors its heritage as the epicenter of BC fruit production while at the same time serving as the gateway to one of the biggest ski resorts in the country. In winter, it’s a snowy maze of snowshoe trails that wind between beaver ponds, past the shores of an 84-mile-long lake, and up slopes that rise 2,500+ feet.
Just to be clear: We’re still talking about the same place. Which of these seven sides will you seek out when you visit? Or will you go for them all?
1. TASTE: Winter wine touring
Wine-making in Kelowna started over 150 years ago when settlers — one lone French missionary, technically — discovered that the climate was conducive to grape-growing. Today, it’s the wine-making capital of British Columbia, and there are over 40 wineries within 20 minutes of town — around 30 of which are open year-round!
That means even in winter you can easily spend a day (or four) exploring the area’s unique wineries. Check out CedarCreek Estate Winery (some terroir-to-table appetizers at their Home Block restaurant are a must); the Urban Tasting Room at Sandhill Winery, located right downtown in Kelowna’s oldest winery location; The View Winery, a vineyard situated on land owned by the same family for five generations; and Indigenous World Winery, one of the world’s only 100% Indigenous-owned wineries.
2. CULTURE: The Kelowna story
The six-block Cultural District in downtown Kelowna was once the center of the Okanagan’s fruit-packing industry but today is a modern hub of art and culture, filled with galleries, theaters, bistros, and museums. The Kelowna Art Gallery is located here, along with more than a third of the city’s public art displays.
But the Cultural District hasn’t forgotten its roots, and there are several reminders that Kelowna is still fruit country — like a sculpture of a giant peach and apple on display next to the Rotary Centre for the Arts. Even City Hall has the words “fruitful in unity” carved into the crest above its front door. To learn more about the farming and vineyard history that shaped the region, check out the Okanagan Wine & Orchard Museum. Pair it with a winery stop, and the experience becomes an experience. One you can take home in a bottle, too.
3. ADRENALINE: Adventures on the slopes
Under an hour’s drive from Kelowna is the powder country of Big White Ski Resort. The mountain’s stats are impressive: 16 lifts, 119 designated trails, 2,550 feet of vertical drop, and an annual average of 25 feet of the very Okanagan champagne powder that makes British Columbia’s interior ski resorts so famous. This is one of the biggest of them all, too — you can run for 4.5 miles from the top of T-Bar to the bottom of Gem Lake.
Don’t limit yourself to riding skis and boards, though. Take Lara’s Gondola from the Village Centre to Happy Valley Adventure Park, on the southeast side of the resort. This place is largely for kiddos and beginners, but Big White Tube Park — also found here — is no tea-cup ride. You’ll high-speed slide down the slopes in an inner tube, on your own or forming a chain with your crew. Some lanes are faster than others, everything’s lit at night, and (most importantly) there’s a lift to the top.
Dogsledding is also an option at Big White. Eight pups from Candle Creek Kennels will lead you along the nearly four-mile trail, and their humans will teach you how and when to “mush.” And then there’s snowmobiling and SXS-ing. The former you can probably picture — tours run up to four hours, and the slopes go from gentle to messy, advanced powder runs. Even mini snowmobiles are offered for kids! “SXS” stands for “Side-by-Side” (an all-terrain vehicle), and driving one makes it easy to beat a path through the backcountry safely.
If you’re dead set on finding more ways to get vertical, check out Big White’s skating rink — it’s the highest in the country — or try your hand at ice climbing a 60-foot artificial ice tower. The best part: All of these activities are offered right in Happy Valley.
4. NOURISHMENT: Small bites + big feasts
In downtown Kelowna, you’ll need help narrowing it down — try considering your cravings by continent. Europe? Make Julia Child proud at Bouchons Bistro, or go a bit farther south to Yamas Taverna. Asia? You can’t go wrong at Thai Terrace or Chatime Okanagan. Local? Orchard Room and Salt & Brick are great options for Kelowna’s famous farm-fresh cuisine.
And that’s just a few of downtown’s options. Cast your net over the whole city, and you’ll wind up with hundreds of places to choose from (cast a vegan net over the city, and you’ll still wind up with over two dozen). Because you’re so spoiled for choice, you might want to do a little research in advance.
Then there’s the après scene at Big White. With 20+ restaurants and pubs to choose from, even if you’re not après-ing anything, you’ll want in. It’s a village-wide party, and everyone’s invited. For starters, catch one of the happy hours — there are three! — at the BullWheel Gastro Family Pub. Then, for a classic triple-cheese fondue, head to chalet-style The Woods. (Did you catch that? Classic. Triple. Cheese. Fondue.)
The Globe Café & Tapas Bar is the place for tapas bites — they even have a vegan tapas menu — and sangria. Save room for their famous Kahlua ganache s’mores, where you roast your own marshmallows at your tabletop.
5. SLOW THRILLS: Hiking + snowshoeing
Due to its location on the edge of Okanagan Lake, Kelowna enjoys a climate that’s more temperate than you’d expect. This means there’s less snow than in the surrounding mountains, so it’s not unusual to be able to hike year-round at Knox Mountain Park, right on the edge of the city. In the winter, you can’t drive all the way to the top, but there are several trailheads from the bottom parking lot — check out Paul’s Tomb Trail, which runs along the lakeshore, and Apex Trail, which gives you some cardio on your way up to amazing views of the city and lake.
If you prefer snowshoeing to hiking, the Telemark Nordic Club in West Kelowna has 35+ miles of trails. Try the new 10-mile Crystal Mountain Snowshoe Trail, featuring a 1,085-foot elevation gain up to several spectacular lookouts (quite a challenge, not for beginners). Kelowna Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Club, meanwhile, has 24 snowshoe trails, most meandering through forests and open clear-cuts and past beaver ponds. Depending on your stamina, you can loop trails together to make your outing as long or short as you want.
For a backcountry experience (and to explore the historic Kettle Valley Rail Trail), head up to Myra Canyon, just 20 minutes from downtown, and take in the beauty of this quiet wilderness trail. It’ll lead you through two tunnels and over 18 lovely wooden trestles.
Of course, Big White offers some epic snowshoeing and hiking, too. There are over 15 miles of Nordic trails — tours run multiple times a day, or you can venture out on your own to enjoy true solitude in the backcountry, a time-honored Canadian pastime.
6. REJUVENATION: Hanging out at the farm
On the southeast edge of the city is Arion Therapeutic Farm, a place guaranteed to be a hit with the kids. This volunteer-driven organization offers daily interactive tours where you can pitch in and get your hands dirty feeding, grooming, and learning about the benefits of interacting with farm animals like donkeys, horses, llamas, and chickens.
If you want to stay overnight in this serene farm setting, there are a few rooms and a large ranch-style bungalow available. Arion also puts on overnight programs such as their simple-but-signature Vegan Sanctuary Retreat.
7. TWIRLS: Channeling your inner skating champion
Kelowna has three indoor skating arenas, but for the very best winter ambiance, there’s outdoor skating right on the downtown waterfront at Stuart Park. You can swirl and twirl on the ice from 6am to 11pm, December through February (weather permitting — check the live cam for current conditions).
When it’s break time, cozy up to the warmth of the fire pit; on weekends, there’s a food vendor where you can grab some comfort-food snacks onsite. And since you’re smack-dab between Okanagan Lake and downtown, your post-skate options abound: Kelowna Art Gallery, the Okanagan Military and Heritage Museums, and dozens of restaurants, cafes, and bars are all within walking distance. All you have to do is take off your skates and go.
Note: The downtown waterfront is a great area for lodging, too. To stay right here, check out the Royal Anne Hotel. Also on the water — but a bit further from the bustle of downtown — is Eldorado Resort. On the other, quieter side of the lake, look to The Cove Lakeside Resort. But no matter which side of winter (or the lake) you’re after, it’s all within easy reach. Take a look at what’s possible, and pick a side — or seven — when you’re ready.