By ADAM BISBY
Special to The Globe and Mail
Saturday, July 6, 2019
There are no wrong turns where the Kettle Valley Rail Trail merges with Chute Lake Road.
Head south on the latter, and drivers, cyclists and hikers eventually reach the Naramata Bench, where 30 wineries sprawl across a sunset-facing stretch of Lake Okanagan shoreline. Pedal or hike north and the most scenic section of the 650-kilometre KVR Trail crosses 18 restored railway trestles, and passes through two tunnels, as it winds along Myra Canyon en route to the National Historic Site's main parking lot.
The journey ends much more quickly to the east and west. Nestled between rocky cliffs and forested slopes that still show the scars of the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fire, the road's namesake lake is home to the newly and gloriously renovated Chute Lake Lodge.
Beyond this serene, secluded intersection, the Okanagan offers a wealth of options for road trippers looking to park and ride. This five-day journey covers some of the region's newest and most enticing experiences, all of which pair very well with pedal power.
DAY 1: WARM UP ON THE OKANAGAN RAIL TRAIL Visitors who fly in with their bikes and panniers can bypass the car-rental counters at Kelowna International Airport and head straight for the southernmost section of the new Okanagan Rail Trail. Connecting the north end of Kalamalka Lake with downtown Kelowna, the 50-km cycling and walking route officially opened last fall after costing more than $50-million to plan, establish and construct.
With a six-kilometre section of trail closed for construction north of the airport, the picturesque route is still ideal for cycling south to Kelowna's plentiful dining and lodging options - the luxurious Marriott Grand Okanagan Resort and lively West Coast Grill stand out - as well as to rental-car locations for the onward journey.
No bike on the plane? No problem. The Okanagan Rail Trail reopens just south of Lake Country Cycle - a 10-minute drive north of the airport - and rents out unisex cruisers, electric bikes, kids' mountain bikes, panniers and trailers. From there, the gentle trail winds north along the clifflined shores of Wood and Kalamalka lakes, where several sandy beaches, the Spion Kop hiking network and Gatzke's Farm Market are among the many worthy detours.
A decadent overnight stop can be made at the Swarovski crystal-themed Sparkling Hill Resort & Spa, which is an hour's ride west of the rail trail as it passes through Kekuli Bay Provincial Park. Rented e-bikes make shorter and easier work of the relatively steep access road, but self-powered rides are more than worth it when Himalayan detox massages, plates of dukkahcrusted black cod and an outdoor infinity pool await.
DAY 2: BIKE BIG WHITE Roughly an hour-long drive east of both downtown Kelowna and Lake Country Cycle, British Columbia's third-largest ski resort introduced chairlift-accessed summer hiking in 2015. Lift-serviced mountain biking followed two years later, with Bike Big White now offering 19 downhill trails ranging from beginner-friendly green descents to hair-raising black diamonds such as the brand-new "Joker." A slopestyle centre is filled with quarter-pipes, boxes and stepdowns, while a rental shop provides dualsuspension bikes, helmets and any other desired equipment.
The free Ride Guide Tip & Tour, offered daily from Thursday to Sunday by the Bike Big White Bike School, aims to help resort newcomers make the most of their time on the slopes. Newcomers to the sport, meanwhile, can enlist in a wide range of lessons, clinics and camps, including a full-day program designed specifically for women.
With everything from chalet rentals and hotel suites to cappuccinos and towering burgers at The Woods pub, on-mountain lodging and dining are similarly diverse and plentiful.
DAY 3: BIG WHITE TO PENTICTON Road trippers can keep their alpine adrenalin buzz going by taking the road less travelled between Big White and the city of Penticton. Instead of backtracking through Kelowna, as their GPS will likely recommend, a more adventurous option continues south along Highway 33 before turning west on McCulloch Road, which soon turns into Okanagan Falls Road. This logging artery may sound sketchy, but it proved its worth last February, when it became the main route between the region's two largest cities after a rock slide closed Highway 97.
As it skirts the 2,154-metre Greyback Mountain, Okanagan Falls Road delivers exceptional views across the Christian Valley. Then, after turning onto Beaverdell Road, drivers are treated to more superb vistas as the route descends into Penticton.
After lunching on grilled artichoke and duck confit at downtown Penticton's stylish Time Winery & Kitchen, visitors can head straight to Freedom the Bike Shop to rent a wide variety of two-wheeled machines. Lightweight road bikes, for instance, are ideal for the 34-km ride west to Apex Mountain Resort, the final third of which was recently deemed the secondbest hill climb in Canada by Canadian Cyclist magazine. A stately comfort bike, on the other hand, might be better suited for wine touring along the Great Trail, the record-setting cross-Canada network that shares most of the KVR Trail's route.
Either way, dinner at the Vanilla Pod restaurant rewards exertions of any kind. Set amid the vines of Poplar Grove, one of the original five wineries on the Naramata Bench, Vanilla Pod serves tapas-style dishes ranging from delicate sablefish to prawns and chorizo sausage on grilled flatbread.
DAY 4: PENTICTON TO CHUTE LAKE LODGE It's a good thing the Penticton Lakeside Resort's comfortable suites are well stocked with complimentary coffee and bottled water, what with Hoodoo Adventures' seasonal shuttle to Myra Canyon leaving its Ellis Street headquarters at 7 a.m.
Resort guests may also want to grab a takeout sandwich (or three) from the inhouse Hooded Merganser Bar & Grill the night before, or load up at the nearby Bench Market, so as to have something to nosh on as they pedal the 36 jaw-dropping kilometres from the Myra Station parking lot to Chute Lake Lodge.
Once they reach the lodge, guests' cares - culinary and otherwise - will likely melt away. Acquired last year by Hoodoo Adventures, the once-decrepit property has been extensively renovated, with the eight cabins and three lodge rooms offering creature comforts such as fireplaces, kitchens, plush bedding and rustic-chic decor. At the same time, the property has managed to maintain the historic character of the former railway-worker rest stop. The foosball and pool-table-equipped Water Stop Restaurant, for instance, remains charmingly clad in pine, with a comfort-food-forward menu that highlights candied bacon mac and cheese alongside local craft beer and wine.
DAY 5: CHUTE LAKE TO KELOWNA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
It's almost entirely downhill from here - nearly 900 metres down, in fact - as cyclists make their way back to Penticton. The gravity-fuelled journey usually takes around 90 minutes - not including photo ops and winery breaks - which may leave enough time to visit the airy Great Estates Wine Experience Centre on the ground floor of the Penticton Lakeside Resort's new West Wing.
As well as offering wine sales, tastings and food pairings, the year-old centre serves up guided seminars such as Wine + Chocolate = Happiness, which shows guests how to pair Maison Mulnati's vegan chocolates with four South Okanagan vintages.
Sixty minutes of sipping and spitting is a pleasant prelude to the hour-long highway drive back to Kelowna International Airport. Of all the wrong turns along the way, a U-turn may be the most tempting.
The writer's travel was supported in part by Travel Penticton. It did not review or approve this article.
The 650-kilometre Kettle Valley Rail Trail crosses 18 restored railway trestles, and passes through two tunnels, as it winds along Myra Canyon.
Top: Bike Big White offers 19 downhill trails ranging from beginner-friendly green descents to hair-raising black diamonds. Middle: The Hooded Merganser Bar & Grill is located right on the shores of Lake Okanagan. Above: Set amid the vines of Poplar Grove, one of the original five wineries on the Naramata Bench, Vanilla Pod serves tapas-style dishes ranging from delicate sablefish to prawns and chorizo sausage on grilled flatbread.