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When planning a road trip in British Columbia, Vancouver is an excellent starting point. Vancouver has a major international airport on Canada’s west coast and is a vibrant city with lots to do. However, don’t get stuck in the city too long. Get out and explore some of the best places in BC on an epic road trip!
One of my favorite drives is from Vancouver to Kelowna in the Okanagan Valley – one of the warmest (and most beautiful!) regions in the country.
While you can fly from Vancouver to Kelowna, you’ll miss all of the excellent stops along the way! It’s worth renting a car or driving your own to explore the area. In this guide, I’ll take you through the 13 best places to stop on your Vancouver to Kelowna road trip.
About the Drive from Vancouver to Kelowna
The drive from Vancouver to Kelowna is about 450 kilometers (280 miles) and should take just over five hours without stopping. The route starts on the main Trans-Canada Highway #1 before turning off onto Highway #5 and then Highway #97C, which goes right into Kelowna.
The Highway #5 route is considered the “Northern Passage” from Vancouver to the Okanagan region. It’s a well-maintained road that is relatively straight and easy to drive. It is the main road used by trucks in the area. There is another route via Highway #3, but it is narrower with more twists and turns and takes longer, so I prefer the other route.
If you’re planning to do the trip in the colder and snowy months (typically November to March), your car will require winter tires. These tires will give you extra grip for the ice and snow you’ll likely encounter along the route. Winter tires are mandatory on most B.C. highways from October 1 until March 31, so you could be fined if you don’t have them.
If you aren’t used to winter driving, B.C. winters present a variety of conditions from snowstorms to icy roads to avalanches and even clear, sunny days. The conditions can change within the same day, so always check a road report and forecast before you leave. It’s also worth booking a hotel partway through the trip to take your time and have a place to stay if weather conditions get dodgy.
If winter driving isn’t for you, plan to take this drive in the summer or fall. No matter when you’re driving, try to drive during daylight hours so you have the best views of not only the scenery around you but also the road conditions.
2022 Road Update: Highway 5 Coquihalla is currently only open to commercial traffic. It is set to reopen soon, check here for traffic updates and road closures due to construction and other interruptions.
13 BEST Stops on the Drive from Vancouver to Kelowna
Before we get into the best stops between Vancouver and Kelowna, don’t forget to check out the best things to do in Vancouver, there are so many choices! To help you, be sure to check out all our Vancouver blogs. These include the best easy hikes in Vancouver, things to do in Vancouver for free, where to stay in Vancouver, the best things to do in Stanley Park and so much more!
1. Golden Ears Provincial Park
This is a slight detour off the main highway, but less than an hour from downtown Vancouver, and is one of the largest parks in British Columbia. Golden Ears Provincial Park is an excellent spot for hiking with various trails to suit all levels. Keep an eye out for wildlife here including deer and beavers!
Try the Lower Gold Creek Falls Trail for a nice walk through the forest with mountain views and two different spots to see the stunning waterfall here. The Park is really popular in the summer, especially on weekends and holidays, so make sure to arrive early as the parking lots will temporarily close when they reach capacity, typically from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Alouette Lake is a beautiful place to relax and has a large beach with a swimming area and a place to rent canoes and kayaks on the weekend. The views from the lake with the mountains surrounding it are stunning, so bring your lunch and have a picnic on the giant lawn in front of the beach.
2. Maan Farms Market and Estate Winery
Maan Farms started in the 1970s as a berry farm and has grown into a destination full of activities for the whole family. Of course, they are well-known for their amazing strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries – plan to come anytime from June to August to have a taste!
This area is known for its absolutely gorgeous flowers and Maan Farms hosts a Sunflower Festival every August where the fields are full of the bright, yellow flowers. There are perfect photo-ops in the sunflower fields, or try the Secret Sunflower Picnic where you can have lunch right in the middle of the blooming sunflower field!
Maan Farms also offers berry picking, a petting zoo, goat yoga, a wooden play structure for the kids, and a great restaurant with Mama Maan’s Kitchen (try the samosas!). End your experience with a drink from the winery. Every wine is produced in-house and has two pounds of berries per bottle.
Please note: Maans Farms is not a cheap place to visit, so those on a budget should skip this stop.
3. Harrison Hot Springs
To get to this town (named after its famous hot springs), you’ll take a detour off the main highway, turning onto Highway #9 for about 20 minutes. This small town has some great activities with lots of restaurants and cafés, as well as some cute shops to pick up everything from souvenirs to local art.
A great place to spend a night is at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort. This way, you can try out the best hot springs BC has to offer for free as a hotel guest and join other well-known past guests like Clark Gable, John Wayne, Michael Bublé, and Liam Neeson.
There are five different hot mineral springs pools including indoor and outdoor pools. The water here has among the highest concentrations of dissolved mineral solids of any mineral spring!
If you don’t want to stay at the resort, there is a public hot springs pool in town you can visit for a couple of hours. Or head down to Harrison Lake to enjoy the beach which has areas for swimming, playgrounds, and lots of other water activities. Finish the stay here with a meal of authentic German food at The Black Forest Restaurant. Book a table on the large balcony overlooking the lake and try one of their famous Schnitzel dishes!
There are plenty of fun things to do and see in Harrison Hot Springs!
4. Bridal Veil Falls Provincial Park
This is the perfect place to pull off the highway and go for a hike to a spectacular waterfall. From the parking lot, it’s a short hike of only 15 minutes on a relatively easy path to reach the Bridal Veil Falls waterfall – which is truly incredible.
Along the path, you’ll pass broadleaf maple and cedar trees and then see the waterfall through the trees at the end of the path. There’s a viewpoint here overlooking the falls, and you’ll see why they get their name! The water cascades down 60 meters (197 feet) over the wide, smooth rock ledge, creating a veil effect with the white water. It’s the sixth-largest waterfall in Canada and a must-see on your Vancouver to Kelowna road trip.
While you’re here, plan to stay a bit to enjoy the park. There’s a great area here for a picnic, so bring lunch!
You can find the fall’s location on Google maps. Note, the falls are only open during the summer months
Hope, BC is a small town on the route with some neat things to do or is a good place to spend a night on the drive. As you drive around town, you’ll notice all the wooden sculptures throughout thanks to an International Chainsaw Carving Competition that takes place here every year. It’s why Hope is called the Chainsaw Capital of the World!
Kawkawa Lake is a nice spot with a beach, picnic area, a dock, and a large parking lot. It’s a popular spot for waterskiing and stand-up paddleboarding and is easy to get to off the highway. It’s also warm enough to comfortably swim in during the summer (unlike some other glacier lakes), so take advantage of a stop here on a warm day!
Another way to cool off is with a drink at Mountainview Brewing Co. It’s the first craft beer brewery in town! Grab a pint along with the yummy snacks and sandwiches they serve and enjoy the view. All the beer is brewed right in Hope with fresh mountain water! Try “The Dark Side of Town” with classic dark German lager or “Main Squeeze” a sour ale brewed with organic peaches and plums.
If you want to spend a night here, Hope has some really great Bed and Breakfasts and hotels to stay at. Set up on Thacker Mountain, the High Hopes Bed and Breakfast has private balconies with every guest room so you can enjoy the view of the mountains, the town itself, and the nearby Coquihalla and Fraser Rivers. Plus the homemade breakfast is superb!
6. Othello Tunnels
While going from Vancouver to Kelowna, a stop at the Othello Tunnels is a must! They are located east of Hope in Coquihalla Provincial Park.
These abandoned train tunnels and bridges were built by blasting through solid granite in 1914. The Canadian Pacific Railway needed a route to connect the Kootenay Region with the coast of B.C. and built the railway over three mountain ranges. It’s considered one of the world’s greatest engineering feats for the time.
It’s free to explore the tunnels and is a fun adventure for the whole family. The tunnels start only 10 minutes from the parking lot and it takes about 20 minutes to walk through all five of them. It does get quite dark in some parts, so bring a flashlight (or your phone) as you wander through.
The scenery around the tunnels on the trail is beautiful too with the Coquihalla River, so make sure to have your camera on hand. This area has even appeared in several movies – look for the cliff above Tunnel #2 where the cliff jump scene was filmed for Rambo: First Blood.
7. Needle Peak Hike
For experienced hikers, Needle Peak is a more difficult trail with a huge reward. At the end of this 4.3-kilometer (2.7 miles) hike (one way), you’re treated to spectacular views in all directions of the Coast and Cascade mountain ranges. If you’re not up to scaling the peak, you can hike part of the way and still enjoy some great views.
The trail opens up after about an hour to give a good view of Needle Peak ahead and then the area between Needle and Flatiron Peaks. You can stop once you reach that area known as the “saddle” as the hike only gets more difficult from here!
If you are planning to climb all the way to the top of Needle Peak, be prepared for a difficult climb on the exposed rock. Don’t attempt on a rainy or wet day as the rocks will be slippery. If you’re not a confident hiker and climber, leave this part to the pros.
8. Falls Lake Trail
This is a good, short hike to stretch your legs on the drive from Vancouver to Kelowna. Falls Lake is a stunning lake surrounded by mountain peaks on all sides – worth getting out of the car for!
It’s about a 30-minute hike from the parking lot to Falls Lake. The trail is relatively wide and well taken care of. It follows a creek to the shore of the lake. The forest scenery is nice, and then the trees open up and the lake appears in front. You’ll see Nak Peak on the left and Zoa Peak on the right.
The lake is a good spot for a swim on a hot day, a nice place to have lunch or a snack, or just relax and enjoy the view.
Merritt is a small community off the highway that is a great place to stop for food or fuel on the drive. It’s known as the “Country Music Capital of Canada” and you can easily see why while wandering through the town.
There are murals of country music legends throughout the town, including many that are tributes to artists who have performed here including Keith Urban, Leeann Rimes, Johnny Reid, and Aaron Pritchett.
If you’re in a hurry, there are a variety of fast-food restaurants here to choose from. If you have a bit more time, visit Kekuli Café. They serve yummy Indigenous food in a coffee shop environment. The fresh, handmade Bannock (including Bannock sandwiches) are raved about by locals and tourists alike!
To break up the trip, Merritt has some good hotel options. The Best Western Plus Merritt Hotel is the newest hotel here with 83 rooms, a pool, and a free breakfast. If you stay here, the nearby Nicola Lake is another great area to explore to extend your road trip.
This will be a slight detour off the road from Vancouver to Kelowna, but it’s worth it if you’re planning to spend a night in nearby Merritt. Grab a hotel here in Peachland if you want to stay in the area a bit longer.
Peachland is set along 11 km (6.8 miles) of lakefront in the beautiful Okanagan Valley. It’s within driving distance of 200 estate wineries and microbreweries and is close to great skiing at either Big White or Apex Mountain in the winter.
A fun activity, while you’re here, is to see the local area on an ATV! Okanagan ATV Tours offers tours in every season on a wide variety of trails so you can enjoy the scenery and have fun. A two-hour tour is $146 CAD and includes all the equipment you need as well as a safety orientation. The tour has lots of stops for photos and your guide will also give you some of the history and stories of the Okanagan Valley along the way.
Another great high-adrenaline activity here is zip lining! ZipZone Adventure Park in Peachland has the highest freestyle zip lines in Canada that cross over the Deep Creek Gorge. It’s easily one of the best things to do in the Okanagan Valley! There are six different zip lines including the “Speed Freak” which is the longest and fastest zipline in the Okanagan at 550 meters (1,800 feet)! You can also do the “Step into Space” where you literally step right off the edge and drop 76 meters (250 feet) below and even a zipline where you ride upside-down!
11. Okanagan Lake
Okanagan Lake stretches over 135 kilometers (84 miles) with Kelowna at about the halfway point of this massive lake. Okanagan Lake has an impressive 30 different beaches you can visit before finishing the drive to Kelowna. Also, keep an eye out for Ogopogo – the lake monster who supposedly lives here.
One of the most popular beaches is Boyce-Gyro Beach. It has snack shacks, a rope swing, an inflatable playground on the water, and volleyball courts.
For a quieter beach, I enjoy going to Pebble Beach. It’s calmer here and has a beautiful view of the lake – bring your sandals though. True to its name, it is rocky here! Marina Park is another good spot for families – it has a fenced-in playground, a beach area, and a covered picnic shelter.
Staying a night or two in the Okanagan Lake area is a great way to visit multiple beaches and relax. I recommend checking out The Cove Lakeside Resort. The location can’t be beat as it’s close to West Kelowna, but also the beautiful lake. Every room is a condo-style suite with a kitchen, so this is a good place to base yourself for a few nights while in the area.
12. West Kelowna
You’re here … almost! You’ll enter Kelowna on the west side, where there are some absolutely amazing wineries you can’t pass by. I’m a wine lover and this is one of the best places in the world to have a glass of wine. The views are incredible and the wines equally so.
Because there are so many wineries to visit and wines to taste, I recommend booking a wine tour. This ensures you have a safe ride from place to place. This wine tour for West Kelowna is a great option – it’s four hours long and includes tastings, snacks, and tours of four wineries.
My favorite winery in the area is Ciao Bella Winery. It has Italian-style wines that are dry, crisp, and refreshing … the Rosé here is incredible! They also have delicious snacks including charcuterie boards (Sputini platters) you can have in the picnic area overlooking the vineyards. The owners here are so nice and the last time I was here, I stayed all afternoon talking to them and enjoying the wines.
For an upscale experience, Mission Hill Winery is my pick. It’s a gorgeous location looking out onto vineyards and Okanagan Lake. The entire property inside and out is stunning including the cellar and tasting room. They are the only winery in the country that has won “Winery of the Year” five times! The Merlot here is a personal favorite, but the Reisling is great on a hot summer day.
13. Downtown Kelowna
But what many visitors don’t realize or take advantage of is the active lifestyle that also surrounds Kelowna, BC. The locals love the area and get out and about all year around. During the winter in Kelowna, they hit the slopes, and in the summer, it is all about the mountains and lakes.
For the size of Kelowna, the network of bike-friendly trails is the most extensive anywhere in Canada and they are beautiful to explore! If you aren’t traveling with your own bikes then you can rent these e-bikes from Lakeside-Eco Sport. They will let you pick from many different GPS itineraries that you can follow from the app. The price starts at $39 CAD for 2 hours and you can also rent them for 4 or 8 hours.
If you don’t want to self-explore check out this Bicycle Tour on Historical Kettle Valley Railway. It stretches from the Myra Canyon to Penticton and the beautiful route passes Okanagan Lake and Chute Lake. You’ll see wildlife and wildflowers, cross bridges, go through tunnels, and learn about the history of the railway. End the 24 km (15 mi) cycle with a winery tour of 3-4 boutique wineries! I really think the value of this 9-hour tour matches the $259 CAD price tag.
One of the next best things to do in downtown Kelowna is a food tour! It’s all about fresh produce here, and all of the treats made with it. We actually love food tours and have done them all over the world including a food tour in Vancouver recently. In Kelowna, we did this incredible food tour and couldn’t recommend them enough. You get to try 7 different samples from local businesses around town while learning some history from the area. It lasts 3 hours and costs just $83 CAD which is a great value for this type of tour!
If you need something to wash down all of that amazing food with, head over to Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery. This place is a retail shop offering locally-made spirits as well as a tasting room and bar. You can sample high-quality spirits for $5 a tasting. Or, join one of their many guided tours and tastings.
Alternatively, visit some of the best craft breweries in Kelowna such as Kelowna Beer Institute. More of a coffee person? Then you’re in luck because there are some incredible cafes and coffee shops in Kelowna!
One of the best free things to do in Kelowna is simply walking the waterfront. Go for stroll along the water’s edge. Visit the marina, waterpark and playground, Hot Sands Beach, and of course the iconic Ogopogo statue! For a little longer walk, walk the Waterfront Boardwalk to Tugboat Beach – it’s beautiful at sunset!
Want to continue further to Banff? Check out our guide to driving from Kelowna to Banff for another epic road trip itinerary!
Where to Stay in Kelowna, BC
The truth is that there are so many hotels in Kelowna that it can be hard to know which one to choose for your stay. Well luckily for you, Dan and I have stayed in a lot of different hotels in Kelowna and have been able to narrow it down to our absolute favorites!
Here are the best places to stay in Kelowna including our personal top choice, a few budget options, mid-range options, as well as some luxury options for those of you looking to spoil yourselves!
Coast Capri Hotel Kelowna – Our Top Choice
We’ve stayed at our fair share of hotels in Kelowna, but last time we stayed at the Coast Capri Hotel and loved it! Our pool-view room was perfect with a huge balcony, two large queen beds, and even a desk area so that we could get some work done (when we weren’t busy down by the pool, of course!)
One of the best things about the Coast Capri Hotel is that it’s affordable without sacrificing any of the comforts you’ll need for a relaxing and enjoyable stay – suitable for almost all travelers and budgets. The location is central and the amenities are top-notch.
If you’re visiting in the summer be sure to go to the pool where you can order food and drinks to enjoy poolside – we even had cocktails in the pool one night!
You can book this hotel on Booking.com. Be sure to book as far in advance as possible because these guys are often fully booked!
Low Budget Hostels in Kelowna
Samesun Kelowna – This is easily your best budget option and one of the only options for backpackers. A dorm bed in a mixed room costs $41 CAD whereas a private room with a shared bathroom costs $108 CAD. The reviews are really good and the property is quite modern, plus, there is a large common kitchen and indoor and outdoor lounge spaces. The location is perfect if you want to be close to downtown and they include a free breakfast that includes fruit and pancake mix. You can easily book a room on either Booking.com or Hostelworld.com.
Medium Budget Hotels in Kelowna
Days Inn by Wyndham Kelowna – This hotel is located a few minutes from town and although it’s not fancy it was just renovated and costs $152 CAD for a queen room with a sofa. The property also provides toiletries and a complimentary continental breakfast each morning. Outside there is a pool to enjoy in the summer and it’s also reviewed as a clean hotel with friendly staff.
Dilworth Inn – I’ve personally stayed at the Dilworth Inn. This place is a great medium-budget option that’s a little out of the city center but very close to the farmers market and other great amenities. They also have an indoor pool, spa, and sauna! Some of the queen rooms even have kitchenettes and cost $175 CAD a night so you can save more money and eat in your room.
Hillcrest Farm Market B&B – If you don’t mind staying a little out of the city then you may just fall in love with the family-run Hillcrest. It’s located 8 km (26 mi) from the city center but is beautifully located. It’s around $250 CAD per night but includes an awesome breakfast downstairs at the cafe! Most of the rooms have private balconies, a fireplace, and mountain views. There is also a cherry farm on the property which has a unique story behind it.
Delta Hotels – This is the best high-budget hotel in Kelowna. It does come at a hefty price of $420 CAD a night but it’s superbly located. It has both an indoor and outdoor pool as well as an onsite casino! If you can afford it, treat yourself!
Tips Before You Go
- The drive from Vancouver to Kelowna is about 450 km (280 miles) and can be done in around five hours without stopping. However, this is a beautiful part of the country, so it’s worth making this into a one- or two-day journey (or more) to enjoy spots along the way.
- In the winter, be prepared for changing weather conditions and that you may have to stay the night along the way. If you can, book a hotel partway through in Harrison Hot Springs, Hope, or Merritt. It’s typically easier to book a hotel on short notice in the winter, but always better to plan ahead if you can.
- In the winter (from October 1 to March 31), winter tires are mandatory on most B.C. highways and are essential for extra grip on snowy roads.
- Leave early in the morning! Whether from Vancouver or other spots along the way, this will give you lots of driving time in daylight and also get you the best spots at places like Golden Ears Provincial Park, Bridal Falls, the Othello tunnels, and the various beaches on Lake Okanagan in the area before any crowds arrive.
- Bring your camera! This is a scenic part of Canada surrounded by mountains, forests, waterfalls, lakes, and beaches, and you’re going to want to capture all the unique and memorable places you visit.
Renting a Car in British Columbia
If you’re arriving in British Columbia via plane, then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. British Columbia is a large province and traveling between the best places to visit in BC requires transport. Although you can use public transport on some occasions, this means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.
Car rental in Canada isn’t relatively cheap, but it’s not that expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with a pick-up and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though, depending on the time of year. For car rentals, I use the website Discover Cars. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used Discover Cars all over the world, including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.
Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic, you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!
Canada Travel Essentials
Before you decide to head off and explore the gorgeous mountains, lakes, towns, and cities around Canada it’s important to have the right equipment. Of course, it’s likely you’ll have most of the basics already but there are some common items people forget that I never travel without.
Crampons: In winter, crampons are super handy, but what people don’t realize is that they come in handy in summer too. In fact, up until mid-July, you can still expect icy conditions in the mountains. The pair I use is only $37 CAD and they have lasted me 3 seasons so far!
Waterproof shell: Most people will have this item but I thought I’d include it anyway since it’s so handy in Canada. The Columbia waterproof jacket is a lightweight windproof jacket that will seriously save you in many situations. The best part, though? It comes in pink!
Scent-proof bag (for bears): Most people think you only need to keep the smell of food away from you when you’re overnight camping. However, bears can smell the food in your bag while you’re hiking and the best way to avoid an encounter is to use a scent-proof bear bag. Basically, you put your food in the bag and the bear cannot smell it while you’re hiking. This is one item most people never have (I never hike without it) but it could save you and the bear.
Buff: I love my buff! Seriously, I go nowhere without it both in winter and summer. There are a few brands around but I always buy the original Buff (you know, the one from Survivor!) They’re a little more expensive but the material is good quality and both breathable and quick drying.
Dry bag: I have expensive camera equipment, so I always travel with a dry bag large enough to fit some of my equipment. It can be a camera, book, binoculars, or even my keys. Regardless, a dry bag gives me peace of mind! The MARCHWAY bag is really good quality, and when not in use, takes up only a small amount of room.
Binoculars: I love my binoculars! Seriously they have come in handy so many times, especially when I’m looking for wildlife. The best part is, I use a set that only costs $25 CAD and they serve my basic needs without any issues!
Don’t get Caught without Travel Insurance!
We never travel without travel insurance! We’ve had a few instances during our travels when one of us has ended up in the hospital, and travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars over the years!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance, we both have policies with them whenever we travel.
They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!)The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!) While most travel insurance companies left people stranded, SafetyWing fully reimbursed us for our last-minute, pricey flights!
Also, because it is so affordable, there really is no excuse not to take out a policy. Check prices and get a quote online here with SafetyWing (you can even take out a policy if you’re already traveling!)
Thanks for reading!
I hope that after reading this guide you feel prepared, and excited, to explore this beautiful region of Canada! Regardless of what season you decide to do your road trip from Vancouver to Kelowna, you’re sure to have plenty to see and do!
The best part about this road trip is you really do get a lot of variety with it. From hikes to hot springs to wineries! It has it all. So enjoy yourself, and take your time as you make your way from Vancouver to Kelowna and allow yourself to take it all in.
Be sure to check out some of our other posts before you go!