We just had an awesome trip to the Okanagan, BC, to do some day trip touring.
This ride is the quintessential KVR wine region tour, for sure! Aside from the stunning views, I think its real charms lie in the fact that it is traffic free (aside from the odd road crossing) and you can make it as short or as long as you like, particularly appealing points for families! It is strictly out-and-back, but the return ride is exceptionally family friendly such that you can make really good time as it is completely downhill. The only downside is that it is a challenging (if not impossible) ride up for kids on single speeds; but, no problem on the ride down (total confidence booster, in fact).
The upper part of the ride is through ponderosa pine forest; the parts below Arawana are through vineyards (and some fruit tree sections closer to Penticton).
When to go
Spring, late summer, and early fall are all ideal times to ride this route. This year (2017) was a late spring, so when we went in early June we had cool evenings and, therefore, mornings, but it got quite warm around the middle of the day (24-26C). In earlier spring (late April through May), you’d be blessed with a show of fruit tree blossoms; mid- to late-spring, the grape vines have leafed out; late summer, harvest fruit; early fall, beautiful fall colours and hopefully cooler riding temperatures.
For us, this region is too hot to ride with young children in the peak summer months (mid-June to mid-September), unless it’s an odd year. Our ideal would be late April, May, and mid-September to early-October. I’m secretly hoping we can make it back for a fall trip this year!
Where to start
You could be as ambitious as starting right in Penticton, itself, which is about 17 km each way, with 357 m of steady climbing at what generally seems to be the steeper end of rail grade (i.e. 2.2%) all the way to Little Tunnel.
Or, your shortest ride would be starting from Smethurst Road, 4.4 km each way and 137 m ascended on the way to the tunnel.
The trail is paved once you hit Little Tunnel, and it continues to be paved until the parking lot at Upper Mission Road. This ride would be about 4.4 km each way, with 88 m lost due to elevation on the way to the tunnel. This segment of trail is paved to make it more accessible to those in wheelchairs, etc. It is also your flattest option.
There are a few other parking lots along the way, namely Arawana Trailhead and Poplar Grove, and there was another smaller lot at where the trail intersected with Granite Court. We parked at Poplar Grove by Hillside Estates Winery and rode out and back from there (12 km; 268 m climbing to tunnel). There is a portable toilet, water, and a bike tool station here, as well as a map/sign board.
This ride took us a leisurely 4 hours, round trip. We had lots of start-and-stop moments at first with my eldest trying to ride but finding it slightly too steep (and when the big kid wants to ride, the little kid has to ride, too…). This included pee breaks and a picnic/play session at the tunnel. And, we weren’t travelling light with water, lunch, snacks, tools, rain jackets, fleeces for the kids, first aid kit, and bear spray. Adult-only pace would likely match Google Map’s suggested ride time and the trip down would be much faster! My 5.5 yo daughter kept a good pace on the whole ride down but it required essentially no pedaling from the adults! You can see me swinging my legs in the picture, below…
A couple of points to round out your day, for yourselves and/or your kids:
- There is a trail side ice cream kiosk just downhill from Hillside Estate Winery.
It was closed in early June when we were there, but I’ve heard that it is open in the summertime!
- Pit toilets are located at (most?) parking lots and there are several en route, too.
Either porta-potties or outhouses.
- There is a water and bike tool station at the Poplar Grove parking lot.
- There are a couple of shaded picnic areas along the route.
- There are many benches with stunning viewpoints.
- Rattlesnake season runs from April to October.
We didn’t see any but ran into a group that apparently did. I don’t know much about rattlesnakes so I did some reading here and it seems that as a blue-listed/threatened species and their innate shyness, you likely won’t see one either. That said, we tried to keep the kids on trail, out of tall grassy and rocky areas. We also ran into a local who walked her dog there frequently, has never seen a rattlesnake, but has seen bull snakes (a subspecies on the non-venomous gopher snakes), which can apparently be confused with a rattle snake.
- Bears are in the area.
Again, we didn’t see any, but a runner let us know that she had seen one. We always carry bear spray and a pen launcher/bear banger.
- Spring is tick season.
Wood ticks are in the area and we picked one up on one of our days, but it was likely from the tall grass the kids were playing in close to where we were staying and not while riding (but that is still possible). We did tick checks each evening. Here is a link for further tips.
- There is no water available en route, so bring lots as it is a hot and dry climate.
We passed some rushing streams that you could likely filter water from, if necessary, but I don’t know how much water is in them at other times of year – for all I know, they could be dry. We each wore hydration packs and I brought about 500 ml extra for each kid.
- At each of the road crossings there are bollards you have to go through.
You can juuuuuust squeeze through with a double Chariot and I could juuuuuust clear it while dragging a bike with the Edgerunner. If you find them frustrating, just remember that they succeed at keeping the trail quad-free!
- The Penticton Farmers’ Market runs every Saturday on Main Street, downtown, 8h30-13h, April to October.
Check it out! The main drag in Penticton was quite lovely and it was completely closed to car traffic for the outdoor market.
We each rode a longtail. My husband was on our new 8-speed Bike Friday Haul-a-Day and I rode our Xtracycle Edgerunner. Our 5.5 yo is still on a single speed Spawn Banshee and the 2.5 yo rode her Strider run bike (which we’ve now got pneumatic tires on) for quite a few km’s. The single speed was not at all great on the way up as it was just a bit too much work; the way down, it was perfect.
The longtails were awesome for schlepping the gear we needed to keep everyone happy and hydrated. They were clearly rare in the region though as we received many reactions throughout the day! We still have a Yepp Maxi on the back of the Edgerunner and we put it to good use when my husband felt a helmet pressed against his butt on the descent; the toddler had fallen asleep, so I transferred her into a clipped in seat.
You do not need suspension; balloon tires are nice (I have Big Bens on the Edgerunner). You do not need super knobby tires. This section is in excellent shape aside from one short sand covered washout by the Smethurst Trailhead (which was only about 20 m long and you could walk through it). The substrate is hard-packed, small crushed gravel.