International Hike and Bike Trail

Map of the 18.4-kilometre trail in the South Okanagan

The series on the best Okanagan trails continues today with the International Hike and Bike Trail in the South Okanagan.

This 18.4-kilometre recreational pathway follows the Okanagan River as it flows south from Oliver to Osoyoos Lake with four major access points and parking areas along the way.

The north end — 5.5 kilometres north of Oliver at McAlpine Bridge — is the most popular access point for those coming from Penticton or points north. Heading south on Highway 97, turn left onto Tucelnuit Drive, then right on Willow Court into a large paved parking lot.

Many cyclists like the Sheriff and Constant Companion Carmen do the trail as an out-and-back adventure, going all the way to the southern end, near the northern tip of Osoyoos Lake. The first 10 kilometres is paved and then it is a wide gravel trail. The southern access is located on Road 22 off Highway 97, eight kilometres north of Osoyoos.

The two main accesses for Oliver residents and visitors are directly behind the Oliver Tourist Information Centre and behind Kinsman Playground and Water Park.

“It is a very enjoyable trail for all ages and levels,” says Kelley Glazer, executive director of Destination Osoyoos.

“Whether on foot or by bike, this trail encompasses the beauty of the South Okanagan, passing our many vineyards, orchards and farmlands throughout Osoyoos and Oliver. The trail serenely follows along the Okanagan River channel, and acts as a great spot for birding and wildlife viewing.”

“Whether biking through the spectacular countryside or hiking in nearby hills, there are a few things you should remember,” advises the website.

“It can get really hot in mid-summer. We are, after all, the warmest place in Canada. So make sure you have plenty of water, sunscreen, a hat and try to get out earlier on the hottest days. Visitors should be mindful of their surroundings and realize the environment is sensitive. You should know what to do should you have an uncomfortable encounter with a rattlesnake. It is the desert and we do have them out there. Bikers should carry tire repair equipment. The off-path areas do have the invasive plant, puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris) that can puncture a bike tire.”

As the Sheriff, CCC and cycling buddies were at the mid-point last fall, hikers warned us they had seen bears where we were standing as well as near the southern and northern ends that day.

The website exploreoliverbc.ca adds although two trail accesses are right in the heart of Oliver, “once you are on the trail, you are surrounded by nature. There are several oxbows and ponds where you can observe ducks, herons, eagles and painted turtles in their home environment.

“In early summer, watch for the beautiful lily pads that flower bright pink in the ponds. In the summer months, you will find great spots for picnics and secluded swims in the river. Fall brings the changing colors of leaves; the bright red sumac is photoworthy. Fall is also the perfect time for watching salmon spawn in the Okanagan River. Whatever time of year you visit, make sure to bring your camera to capture the beauty you are bound to see in a walk or bike ride.”

The website hellobc.com touts the trail as a wine touring, desert scenery and cycling route all in one with 11 wineries including Silver Sage Winery, Burrowing Owl Estate Winery and Inniskillin Okanagan Estate in Canada’s only true desert climate.

You can combine hiking/cycling with the Garlic Festival (we did) and the Okanagan Fall Wine Festival, both in October. We also cycled the Irrigation Canal Walkway, a popular 12-kilometre round-trip trail accessed from 62nd Avenue just north of Osoyoos Secondary School.

Parking is available around the corner adjacent to the trail sign. The walkway can also be accessed from the Visitor Centre parking lot. This trail follows an abandoned section of the irrigation canal, once the lifeline of Osoyoos that opened up the area for the fruit industry.

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As promised, here’s more information about the Okanagan Rail Trail.

Much of the area surrounding Kalamalka Lake is within provincial protected areas conserving unique drylands ecosystems. You can see raptors perched in ponderosa pine trees, the seasonal change of blooming wildflowers and fish spawning along the shoreline.

The Syilx Okanagan People occupied and used this area for hunting, fishing, gathering, social and ceremonial purposes.

A master plan for the Okanagan Rail Trail is being developed, noted Matt Vader, chair of the Okanagan Rail Trail interjurisdictional committee.

“The master plan will help enhance the Okanagan Rail Trail user experience by improving facilities along the corridor while protecting the natural environment. The master plan will also recognize the cultural and historical values of the region, including the heritage sites and traditional uses by the Syilx Okanagan Peoples.”

J.P. Squire, aka the Hiking, Biking, Kayaking and Horseback Riding Sheriff, is a retired reporter. Email: jp.squire@telus.net