The drive from Vancouver into the South Okanagan Valley is one of the most breathtaking in Canada. It shuttles you through Manning Provincial Park and between the peaks of the Cascade Mountains, delivering you to the heart of British Columbia’s picturesque desert landscape, teeming with vineyards, lakes, and never-ending views.
The Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) has provided stewardship of the land for millennia and helped build what is now one of the province’s finest travel destinations.
The fall is an ideal time to visit. The season presents the region’s colours and colourful character in full splendour. Not only is the landscape at its optimum beauty but the towns of Oliver and Osoyoos are energized by harvest activities, several of which are tied to Indigenous heritage.
Here are ways to discover the depth of experiences in the South Okanagan this fall and to immerse yourself in the culture of the regions as generations before have done.
Find Enrichment at the NK’Mip Desert Cultural Centre: Inside and out, this heritage museum offers opportunities to understand the South Okanagan better than any other facility in the valley. The interactive displays and exhibits detail the OIB’s history, including how its members have used plants from the area for medicine and inventive tools. The NK’Mip Desert Cultural Centre also has more than 1.5 kilometres of trails to explore, featuring strolls to a traditional pit house and sweat lodge, and close-up views of the unique metal sculptures of artist Smoker Marchand.
Savour Indigenous Food and Wine: The Bear, The Fish, The Root and The Berry launched in April and is garnering rave reviews under executive chef Murray McDonald. McDonald named the restaurant after the Four Food Chiefs, the symbols of sustenance for the OIB. The chef regularly teams with winemaker Randy Hall and his protege Justin Hall at their award-winning NK’Mip Cellars to provide a superb culinary experience at Spirit Ridge Resort — Unbound Collection by Hyatt. The winemaking team returns the favour by making sure Spirit Ridge is stocked with their finest vintages and varietals.
NK’Mip Cellars also participates in some of the wine-focused fall festivals in Oliver and Osoyoos. Notably, the Festival of the Grape features dozens of wineries pouring choice wines for the public, along with live entertainment, an art show, and the not-to-be-missed grape stomp. Strip off your shoes and socks, roll up your pantlegs, and start crushing grapes the very, very old-fashioned way.
Saddle Up On a Horse: Graceful equines have been an integral part of Indigenous life in Western Canada for more than three centuries. Horses have helped OIB communities survive, aiding them in moving to higher ground during floods and in taming the land for irrigation and farming. So, a horseback ride in these parts is as much about culture as it is giddy holiday fun. To get saddled up, visit Indian Grove Stables at Spirit Ridge Resort.
Tee Off in Front of a Legend: Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the NK’Mip Desert Canyon Golf Course is keeping your eyes off of the scenery. The 18-hole course faces directly at n’aylintn, the massive granite monolith that is one of the South Okanagan’s most recognizable landmarks. A round of golf on this course owned by the OIB offers more than exercise and a test of your skill – it gives you plenty of opportunities for memorable snapshots and plenty of challenges for any handicap.
Photograph the Fall Colours: Speaking of cameras, be sure to keep yours handy when you meander through this area rich with flora and fauna. Eye candy awaits in the form of lush autumn colours that splash like paint through the vineyards and along the lakes. Head to the top of Anarchist Mountain for a spectacular view of Osoyoos and its landscape.
Feel the Spiritual Energy: Take it from chef McDonald, a native Newfoundlander who recently relocated to Osoyoos. The desert is full of spirituality that you will want to tap into when you stay at Spirit Ridge Resort. “You get this feeling that comes over you when you first drive up this road. This spiritualness. It’s a special place,” McDonald says, noting Spirit Ridge’s abundance of activities that add to its appeal. “You come to one resort area and you have multiple restaurants, you have a winery, you have a cultural centre, you have a golf course, all within, I can literally, reach out and knock on the winery. They have all that in one little area, and [it] that just makes it that much more of a magical, cool thing.”