With grace and humor, “Grandma” Laurie Carter shares her active explorations along British Columbia’s exquisite Okanagan Valley and beyond: a region loaded with accessible nature parks and wilderness reserves, wildlife, and historic highlights as well as nostalgic train rides, winery tours and mouthwatering food and wine recommendations. Some explorations are solo, some with her young grandchildren and some with her inspiring octogenarian “mountain goat” of a father whose favorite direction is up!
We present excerpts and a selection of photos from Laurie’s entertaining, fact-packed guidebook to lure all grandparent-aged adults off the couch, no matter what their location, and out into the great outdoors whether in the Okanagan Valley or elsewhere. Learn more about the book at the end of this article.
I was a serious couch potato and darn proud of it. By the close of my fourth decade on life’s trail, I’d turned my back on the habits of a very athletic youth. My only concession to physical activity was a few weekends of skiing each year, agreed to very reluctantly as a family activity to get us outdoors in winter. How I longed for a warm fire and my soft sofa! Then we moved to the Okanagan Valley, a narrow strip of geography roughly 155 miles/250 kilometers long, dotted with picturesque lakes, parks, small towns, orchards and vineyards.
More precisely, we moved to the bush in the Okanagan Valley. Just 15 minutes from Kelowna, the valley’s largest city (pop. 106,000), my home was surrounded by ponderosa pines and Douglas firs. Bears wandered through my yard and mule deer were a regular sight as I drove into town. When I stepped out my back door, I was on a hiking trail.
Even toddlers enjoy a taste of wilderness sights, sounds and smells with grandma at one of her favorite close-to-home hikes at Hardy Falls Regional Park, Peachland.
Suddenly that couch didn’t look so appealing. And while I make a lot of jokes about the immutable fact that every trail in British Columbia (BC) goes up, my only regret is that I have to spend too much time tapping away at a keyboard instead of lacing up my hiking boots.
The demonstration vineyard and winery at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards near Oliver.
It’s all about motivation. Never mind the thermometer-popping temperature in summer (think eggs frying on sidewalks). The promise of a Tinhorn Creek winery tasting at the end of the 10-kilometer trail loop has me heading for the hills. With a trail guide from the tourism info centre in the town of Oliver, the first section is a steep downhill and hard left turn onto a country road between the fruit orchards with sprinklers misting the leaves and ripening fruit — voluptuous peaches, red and green apples, russet pears, deep violet-blue grapes.
Aspens and alders crowd the riparian creek zone, while across the road, spaced ponderosas hold the steep dry bank. Something big rustles the thick brush and I shade my eyes against the high beam sunlight streaming through the branches. Nothing. But I know a big animal is close. I move cautiously on. Up and up. My calves shriek abuse. Near a string of wild rose bushes, red hips picked nearly clean, a neat pile of scat — black and fresh — confirms my suspicion that I’m not alone. I tell myself the bear has tastier options than a sweaty hiker, but move along smartly all the same.
But the heat and quiet and steady rhythm soon calm me. Author, Bill Bryson (A Walk in the Woods) is right about the therapy of walking — eventually you think of little but putting one foot in front of the other. And the only wildlife that takes any interest is a bumblebee that buzzes in for a look at my yellow shirt and, disappointed at not finding a sunflower, zooms on. Switchbacks carry me up and up (notice the recurring theme) until I top a final rise and, snap, a valley reappears.
Now run by volunteers as a tourist train, the historic Kettle Valley Steam Train offers a 90-minute trip between mid-May and mid-October with two departures most days.
One of two tunnels on the Myra Canyon section of the Kettle Valley Railway Trail is an abandoned railway bed now maintained for first class hiking and cycling recreation.
The hiking partner from hell (an octogenarian who delights in walking me into the ground) keeps badgering me to check out this park. Dad knows I’m always looking for new trails to write about and he promises this one holds a couple of surprises.
Glen Canyon is a linear park, straddling Powers Creek as it makes its last dash to Okanagan Lake. It’s really silly that I haven’t hiked it before with the trailhead only a couple of kilometers from my back door. Naturally our path is up and over. Thankfully, wooden steps have been installed to make it easier and safer. From this point on, it’s like working on an outdoor Stairmaster — up out of the canyon to sunny, dry ponderosa studded hillsides where the air smells dusty and lookouts provide glimpses of a shimmering silver ribbon amid the crowding dark trees below — then down into the canyon, the temperature dropping as the roar of rushing water grows louder and louder.
Waterfalls and wildflowers in Cathedral Provincial Park, not far from the US border.
This isn’t a long hike. It takes us forty minutes, including photo stops (some of which I admit have more to do with catching my breath in the wake of Mr. Super-hiker than any Kodak moment). Lots to see, great exercise and an excellent quickie getaway.
On the way out, we meet a woman walking her dog who tells us about a tiny hummingbird nest that she checks daily. On a branch right above the well-traveled trail, it hangs completely undisturbed and inhabited by two sleeping chicks. Definitely worth the huffing and puffing.
Hiking at Cathedral Provincial Park, mountain goats pass close by on the Rim Trail.
Geo-what? Think high-tech hide-and-seek … think new-age treasure hunt. Geocaching is a game/hobby/obsession with a mushrooming worldwide following, including my dad who loves precise techie-instruments almost as much as bushwhacking. Put the two together and you’ve got a man in heaven. Naturally, he ropes me in.
On my first expedition, he lets me off easy with a cache rated two stars out of five on both the difficulty and terrain scales. It’s a typical Okanagan morning, dry and sunny with the temperature steadily climbing. We walk through a stand of red-barked ponderosa pines with the scent of wild roses in the air. At the first waypoint, we change direction and walk down a moderate hillside covered in roses and Saskatoon bushes.
The author and her “mountain goat” dad check out a geocache on Knox Mountain near Kelowna.
When the GPS says we’ve found ground zero, the real treasure hunt begins. I can testify that finding the right coordinates by no means guarantees finding the cache. This time, zigzagging back and forth in a small search grid we get lucky within a few minutes, spotting the container — a green metal can with a spring-lock lid — under a Saskatoon bush camouflaged by dry branches.
It may sound crazy, but we’re totally buzzed to get the cache open and find the treasure inside. Traditional caches usually contain a surprise. The treasure might be a hat or book or a toy, whatever the last person left behind. That’s the etiquette — when you find a cache, if you take the treasure, you leave something else for the next person. Later, when you log your find on the website, you include a note about what you took and what you left. Our cache is a bonanza. Among the goodies inside — a keychain, rubber airplane, and a small jewel box.
With geocaching, you decide where you want to look and how demanding you want the exercise to be. Dad usually opts for something involving a backcountry trek, but I also know a couple that only goes after caches that are easy to reach from the highway. My grandson Alex is too young to read the GPS yet, but when Grandma gets on those hiking boots, he’s game to go along for the treasure hunt.
The Historic O’Keefe Ranch, Vernon, tells the story of BC’s early ranching. On the property, St Anne’s is a pioneer Catholic church from 1889.
Grandma Wears Hiking Boots: A personal guide to the Okanagan Valley, Little White Publishing, 2010, 270 pages, ISBN 978-0-9812451-0-2. Available at local and online bookstores.
Laurie Carter’s zippy style and off-beat humor make this collection of observations, anecdotes and serious guidebook recommendations a lively page-turner for armchair travelers and Okanagan region explorers.
Included in the book are quick reference guides, detailed maps for hikes and loads of color photos throughout. Theme areas covered include Grandma’s favorite hikes, mountain treks and wilderness parks, farm tours, wine tours, a restaurant guide, best family recommendations, and active winter vacationing in the Okanagan Valley. For sample pages and full details visit the book website.
Photo: Grapevines Restaurant at Gray Monk Estate Winery, Okanagan Centre, offers wine tours and gourmet fare in its restaurant.
Laurie Carter is a writer and photographer whose award-winning work appears in newspapers, magazines and online. She has lived in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley since 1991 where she shares a cozy home with her husband and two SPCA rescue cats, and waits impatiently for the next visit of her grandchildren. www.LaurieCarter.com.