Cycling the Kettle Valley Rail Trail

In mid-August, we strapped the bikes on the back of the car, the kids in their seats and drove out to Kelowna. There, we picked my parents up from the airport, then headed south down highway 33 to Idabel Lake. They dropped Leah and I off, and took the car & the kids to a house they’d rented near Oliver. It was just us, our bikes & 5 days.

Despite the “circuit” being from Midway to Penticton, we had decided that we’d like to start at the top of the climb, and so skipped the Midway-Idabel stretch. This turned out to have been a particularly good decision for 2 reasons:

  1. Leah was recovering from pneumonia, and still has nothing like full lung capacity: indeed, on our very first climb, she was breathing hard & needed to use her puffer. Fortunately, that turned out to be the hardest climb of the trip.
  2. We ran into a group of 4 riders who had ridden that stretch, and told horror stories of how difficult it had been: steep, technically challenging and in a bad state, maintenance-wise .

& so we set off from Idabel lake, with our destination for Day 1 being Chute Lake, some 74km away.

Idabel Lake – Myra Canyon

Setting OffThis first part of the trail was gorgeous, easy riding. The trail was pretty smooth, with only a few muddy sections or a few super-rocky sections. Really a great into, riding  through pine forests & around lakes, emerging with fantastic views down towards Kelowna as we neared Myra-Bellevue Provincial park. It was also blissfully quiet – we didn’t see a single other rider the whole time – only 1 man in a fishing boat & some horses.

Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park

Creeper on a TrestleThis is the raison d’être of the trip: the trestle-bridges of the park. It certainly is gorgeous – and will only get more so as the region recovers more from the 2006 fire that destroyed most of the original bridges. The restoration is impressive, and it is well worth the trip to ride or walk this stretch: it’s about 12km in length, and you’ll cross 18 trestle bridges and go through 2 tunnels in that stretch. For better or for worse, this part of the trail is crowded. There are several tour groups running daily trips out from Kelowna, and so yes it’s busy. But it also lives up to all the hype – and can easily be walked or biked at really any level of experience.

Myra-Chute Lake

Chute Lake ResortThis part kind of sucked. For the most part, this stretch follows an old forestry services road that is in serious need of maintenance. If you’re not on a fat-tired bike with suspension, it’s not a lot of fun. You also end up going through a bunch not scrubland without a view. On the flipside, you also get some spectacular views of Kelowna and one last trestle bridge that is truly stunning. But boy were we glad when we finally reached Chute Lake Resort. Which is almost worth a post itself. It’s a charmingly kitschy old hunting lodge, with a very limited menu, but it has cold beer & dank showers, and what more do you want after a long, hot ride? Fun side fact: with a wood/clapboard construction, you can hear everything going on in every other room. Through the gaps in the floorboards of our room, I could see the dining room below. But, a fun place.

Chute Lake – Penticton

Looking SouthThis stretch contains both the roughest stretch of the trail, from Chute Lake to ‘the little tunnel’, and the most stunning, from the tunnel to Penticton. Again, a fat-tired suspension bike strongly recommended due to thick, loose sand and lots of rocks along this stretch. But then you go through the tunnel and it becomes perhaps the most amazing, beautiful trail I’ve ever ridden, through down along the lake through vineyards and orchards right into the Penticton lakefront. This was the stretch that one of my tires finally blew out, somewhere just after the Adra Tunnel. It was also relentlessly hot, as there’s virtually no cover. On the flip-side, this section is 58km, almost entirely downhill.

Penticton – Okanagan Falls

Bridge into Okanagan FallsWe spent an extra in Penticton, staying at a lovely B&B right on the lake, and spent the day lazing down the Penticton channel in inner tubes, and eating dinner at a newly opened Brewery there, Bad Tattoo Brewing (brief review: excellent pizza, their darker beers are their better beers, all good). We then rode on to Oliver, taking the KVR route along Skaha Lake through Okanagan Falls. Signage here was an issue, as getting from Penticton on to the KVR along Skaha was not at all signed – it ends up you ride through a trailer-park campsite with a sign saying “no public access” – just ignore that and keep the lake on your left. The Skaha lake trail is very sandy – I had to walk my bike a fair bit, although Leah, with fatter tires, was fine, but really, really lovely. I could imagine really enjoying spending more time either in OK Falls or Kaleden. The bridge into Okanagan Falls, pictured above, contains a gate midway through, through which kids were jumping into the lake then climbing back out. Well worth a stop, I would think.

Okanagan Falls – Oliver

End of the RoadThis stretch is true “wine country”, and there’s little need to follow the official KVR trail – what little of it exists & is signed, particularly if you want to ride from winery to winery tasting things. The only downside is a 15km stretch alongside the highway – one with a nice, wide shoulder to ride in, but after been so far from traffic for so long, a bit of a let-down. This stretch also is quite hilly if you want to ride up to the wineries. Trust me – you want to ride to the wineries. We stayed our last night at 6 Road B&B just south of Oliver – again, spectacular, nestled into a working Orchard, and conveniently only a few-minute ride up to Tinhorn Creek Winery and Miradoro restaurant, where we ate dinner our last night out.

Final Notes:

  • Don’t ride this trail without a fat-tired bike. Tires & suspension are much  more important than gears – I barely changed gears the whole trip outside of the climbs around Oliver, as it really is mostly a 2% grade.
  • Take more water. We had 2 water bottles + a spare each, and it wasn’t enough. It gets damn hot in the Okanagan, and you’re exposed most of the time.
  • I regret not having a GoPro to take some video of the route – my makeshift camera-on-a-gorilla-pod didn’t cut it.
  • I bought a handleband to hold my phone for this trip, which was awesome. I totally recommend it. I’d also recommend extra battery packs for long rides, which I didn’t have.
  • I wish we’d had another day to ride further south down to Osoyoos and explore that last stretch.
  • Definitely add this to your bucket list. Apart from our first 74-km day, I could imagine Liam doing this trip without too much trouble, so consider it kid-friendly, if you’re willing to take it slower.