Last Updated: October 18th, 2022
Located at the north end of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley, Vernon is surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the province, including many lakes, mountains, and farmland. This makes Vernon a great place for outdoor adventure.
Smaller than Kelowna, which is located further south, Vernon is also a great place to enjoy the Okanagan without as much hustle and bustle. You can rest and relax while golfing, bike or hike the many trails, or strap yourself into a kayak and paddle across the scenic lakes.
The population of Greater Vernon is just over 60,000 and like the rest of the Okanagan Valley, Vernon has a semi-arid climate with very hot dry summers and mild winters. If you’re looking for a lush green look, you might want to come in the spring before the sun turns everything yellow. However, the summer is when the city really comes to life with lots of tourists and locals enjoying that summer heat.
Whether you’re a local looking for new things to do or you’re visiting Vernon for the first time, below are the top things to do in Vernon, British Columbia!
Named for a local Indigenous chief, Kalamalka has been described as the “lake of a thousand colours” thanks to it being a rare “marl” lake, which changes colour throughout the year. Green, blue, or turquoise in colour, depending on the season, Kalamalka Lake is largely made up of calcium carbonate deposits (a component of limestone) that changes colour according to the temperature and the sunlight.
When sunlight reflects off the limestone crystals in summer, the colours are in the green and turquoise range. However, in winter, when the temperature drops, the crystals dissolve, and the colour turns blue. This makes Kalamalka a beautiful lake to admire during your visit to Vernon, but also a wonderful lake to explore.
In fact, we spent a large portion of our time in Vernon around Kalamalka Lake. It’s a great lake for paddling and watersports, as well as picnics and short hikes. It’s also home to the Okanagan Rail Trail, which is great for walking and biking. Plus, there’s a variety of provincial parks that dot the shore as well.
If you just want to see the lake, we’d recommend either a stroll along the Okanagan Rail Trail or a short hike along the Kalamalka Lookout Trail, a 2.6 Kilometre nature loop that can be found just off Highway 97 that offers beautiful views of the lake.
Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park
Located on the east side of Kalamalka Lake is Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park, a beautiful slice of wilderness that’s perfect for picnics, short hikes, or relaxing at the beach. If you end up kayaking from Kal Beach as we did, this provincial park is a great place to stop, take a break, and perhaps climb up to Rattlesnake Point for stunning views of the lake. Other popular spots are Juniper Bay and Cosens Bay, the former being accessible by boat or on foot.
Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park covers 3,218 hectares and is a lovely example of North Okanagan grassland that is dotted with ponderosa pine and groves of Douglas-fir. The spring wildflower show is also spectacular to witness and the largely undeveloped park has an all-season appeal to those interested in its natural setting.
The park is also home to a variety of animals, birds, and reptiles. To date, around 432 varieties of plants have also been discovered, which is quite rare for such a small area.
The main beach on Kalamalca Lake is Kal Beach, which can get quite busy during the hot summer months. This is where we started kayaking on the lake but it’s also home to a prominent pier for boating and is popular for swimming, picnicking, and fishing.
Boating enthusiasts can bring their own boats or rent canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards nearby. If you’re hoping to park, it’s advised to arrive early. There’s free parking on the other side of the train tracks via Husband Road or paid parking to the east of the beach, across the street from Alexander’s Pub and Liquor Store.
Go Kayaking or Paddle-Boarding
On a calm day, kayaking or paddleboarding around Kalamalca Lake is pure bliss. However, there are other lakes as well, such as Okanagan Lake and Swan Lake. Whichever lake you choose, you’ll need something to paddle.
During our visit, we rented kayaks from Ed’s Mobile Kayak Rental, which is really convenient as he can meet you where you want to paddle, eliminating any need for you to transport them. If you’re looking for paddleboards, Kalavida Surf Shop is a great option as they’re within walking distance of Kal Beach.
Go Water Biking
Why ride a bike on land when you can peddle one across the lake? Kelowna Water Bikes is one of the newest attractions in Vernon, providing super fun Water Bikes that anyone can enjoy. Peddle at your own pace across Kalamalka Lake, enjoying the spectacular views all around you. These bikes are super easy to use as they don’t require balance, are almost impossible to capsize as they have a catamaran-style configuration, and are fast and efficient. Go alone or race your friends. Any excuse to get out on the lake is a good one!
Okanagan Rail Trail
Once home to the Kelowna Pacific Railway, which was used to transport produce from the Okanagan Valley to the rest of Canada, Okanagan Rail Trail is now an easy, flat, and super scenic trail that travels along the edge of Kalamalca Lake. Once the entire trail is complete, it will connect Coldstream with Kelowna, providing you with a gorgeous 52-kilometre multi-use pathway.
The pathway is very wide and mostly flat, consisting of gravel as its base. It’s great for walking, biking, or jogging, and can be used by almost anyone. You can start the trail near Kal Beach and along the way, you’ll pass by some educational signs, Kekuli Bay Provincial Park, a private campground, and Campbell – Brown Ecological Reserve.
If you’d like to bike the trail and don’t have your own, you can rent one from Kalavida Surf Shop, which is right next to the beginning of the trail, as well as the Rail Trail Cafe for those looking for a bite to eat. We rented e-bikes during our visit, which makes it extra easy to traverse the entire trail.
Historic O’Keefe Ranch
If you’re interested in the history of Vernon and the Okanagan Valley, a great place to visit is O’Keefe Ranch, a living history museum that showcases more than a dozen historic buildings, many of which feature staff in period costumes. There’s an original log cabin, the owner’s residence mansion, a schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, a church, and a cowboy bunkhouse.
Originally established in 1867 during the Cariboo Gold Rush (and the same year Canada became a country), O’Keefe Ranch was one of the earliest cattle empires in the Okanagan and was also the site of the Okanagan Post Office in 1872.
The O’Keefes lived and worked on the ranch for almost a hundred years, before transforming it into a heritage site in the 1960s, which is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area. It’s also donation-based and non-profit, which means your money is going to a great place. The ranch opens in May and closes in September.
Located close to downtown Vernon but high enough to offer stunning views of the valley, Davison Orchards is a great place to visit for the whole family. Whether you’re looking for a light lunch, a place for the kids to play, or a place to buy some local products like jams and apple juice, Davison Orchards is a great place to visit.
During our visit, we had lunch at the Farmhouse Cafe, walked around the farm, fed the goats, and ended up buying a few jugs of apple juice, the best apple juice we’ve ever had. We also bought some homemade jams to bring home.
On a warm sunny day, this place is just a pleasant way to widdle away the day. You can jump on the Johnny Popper Train and take a tour of the farm to learn everything there is to know about growing and picking apples, grab a handful of food pellets to feed the goats, enjoy the little playground, or shopping for a variety of tasty food or homemade goods.
Whether you’re looking for a variety of honey products or want to see bees producing honey, Planet Bee is a great place to visit. Family-operated since its founding in 1975, it’s a “sweet” place to visit.
Located right next to Davison Orchards, we’re happy we popped in for a visit. First, they have an awesome interactive learning area where you can actually see the bees producing honey. You can see the worker bees moving around the honeycombs, and if you have good eyes, you might be able to spot the queen bee. There’s a whole interactive exhibit to learn all about the bees and how they produce this amazing sugar.
After learning about bees and honey, it’s time to taste it and buy some. Planet Bee offers all sorts of honey products including the honey itself, candles, soap, mead, and more. They also offer a tasting area where you can sample all the different kinds of honey they offer. What makes Planet Bee such a wonderful place for honey is that they make all sorts of different flavours, such as Blackberry, Dandelion, Maple, Cinnamon, Lemon Ginger, and more. We sampled almost all of them before buying three jars of the flavours we liked best.
The Grey Canal Trail
If you’re looking for some hiking options that are basically within the town of Vernon, look no further than the Grey Canal Trail. In the early 1900s, the Grey Canal was BC’s longest irrigation channel extending 50 km from Lavington to Okanagan Lake. Today, you can find remnants of the canal and its elaborate system of ditches while hiking the trail and admiring the many stunning views.
There are a variety of hiking trails within the Grey Canal Trail, such as Turtle Mountain, Bella Vista/Okanagan Hills, Swan Lake East, Silver Star Foothills, East Vernon, Boss Creek Trails, and Coldstream Valley Estates.
We didn’t have time to do a multi-hour hike, but wanting to see a good view, we made our way to Turtle Mountain, which is literally a 5-minute drive or less from downtown Vernon. From the parking area, it’s a 5-10 minute climb to the viewpoint, which in all honesty, is one of the best views we’ve ever seen of Vernon and Okanagan Lake. It’s truly stunning and we highly recommend it.
To learn more, grab one of the hiking maps from the City of Vernon or download it here.
Middleton Mountain Circle Trail
Another great nearby hiking area is the Middleton Mountain Circle Trail, which offers magnificent views of lakes and rolling grassland. There are four different hiking loops in the summit area, all being mostly flat once you have ascended to the plateau itself. However, because of the ascent, this trail is rated as difficult. It starts at the Kal Beach parking lot and continues to the summit, passing through Middleton Mountain Park, Farnsworth Nature Reserve, McKergow Meadow Natural Area, and eventually leads back to the parking lot. The hike offers stunning views of the lake, as well as Vernon and the farmlands all around it.
However, like many of the hikes near the town itself, there’s not a lot of shade on the trail. If you’re hiking during the hot summer months, you’ll want to wear a hat and use sunscreen.
While driving around Vernon, one thing we noticed is the number of golf courses in the area. It’s obviously a popular thing to do here. In fact, we stayed at Predator Ridge Resort, which is one of the premier golf courses in the Okanagan. Although we didn’t drive any balls, our vacation overlooked part of the golf course, and it’s really one of the most scenic golf courses we’ve ever seen.
There are actually two golf courses at Predator Ridge Resort, totalling 36 holes. For those who just can’t get enough, they offer unlimited golfing, where you can play on either course and get unlimited access all day long for roughly $160. They also have an award-winning practice facility with high-quality instructors, making it a great option for those looking to learn.
Other nearby golf courses include the Vernon Golf & Country Club, The Rise, Hillview, Spallumcheen, Royal York, and Coldstream.
Learn the History of Vernon through Murals
Do you love murals as much as we do? Murals are such a great way to see art and to really brighten up a city. In Vernon, however, it’s also a great way to learn about the city!
Painted by local artists and displayed throughout the downtown core, there are 28 murals that capture historical highlights, scenic attractions, cultural achievements, and important events. You can learn how Vernon got its name, the history of Okanagan Lake’s “Ogopogo monster”, the Vernon fire brigade, the women of the Great Depression, and much more.
To see the murals, you can easily do your own self-guided tour by downloading the map or if visiting in the summer, you can also arrange a guided tour by calling the Downtown Vernon Association.
Allan Brooks Nature Centre and Grasslands Trail
If you’re interested in learning about the natural world of the North Okanagan, you won’t want to miss the Allan Brooks Nature Centre. Allan Brooks was an outstanding naturalist, illustrator, and educator, and it is here where you can learn about the place we are on the verge of losing: grasslands and the wildlife that calls it home.
While inside, you can get interactive, such as touching feathers, handling bones, and admiring a live hive of working bees, which is accessed by bees from outside through a tiny tunnel. Then there’s the outdoor area and gardens, such as the impressive Grasslands Trail, which offers a wheelchair-accessible walk with interpretation signs and bluebird houses attached to fence posts. You may spot a sunbathing rodent or one of the many warblers whizzing above the pond.
When the summer heat arrives, you can either jump in the lake to cool down or ride the waterslides at Splashdown Vernon. Located in North Vernon, this popular waterpark features 10 waterslides, including River Riot, which recreates the experience of being on cascading rapids.
As you’ve probably guessed, this is a family waterpark and a really good place to bring the kids. Supervised young children can start on the basic Kiddie Slides before potentially graduating to two intermediate slides. Once the confidence is in full swing, there’s Zoom Flumes, Ramp Slide, and Double Trouble. These slides are steeper and faster and just more fun.
If you’re looking for some heat, there’s also a hot tub that allows you to keep an eye on the landing pools at the base of the slides. If you’d rather not get wet, there are cabanas as well. If you do plan to visit during the busy months, we’d recommend buying your pass in advance as it can get quite busy.
Swan Lake Nature Reserve
If you do one of the scenic hikes for a birds-eye view of Vernon, you’ll notice three lakes. One is the massive Okanagan Lake, another is the very big Kalamalca Lake, and the other is Swan Lake, which is the smallest lake of the three. This is another great lake for a paddle but is also a great place to spot birds and wildlife, thanks in part to it being a nature reserve.
You don’t have to be on the lake, however, as there’s also a short, easy, and gravelled 1.9-kilometre loop trail that gets you close to the lake and the wetlands to spot some beautiful birds. Depending on when you visit, you’ll likely see birds migrating, breeding, or nesting. Spring and fall are the best times to observe migrations of trumpeter swans and white pelicans whereas year-round, the nature preserve is a hunting ground for birds of prey and a good spot to see great blue herons feeding on fish, frogs, snakes, and insects.
For the best view, you’ll want to bring some binoculars. However, there’s a new deluxe wooden observation tower as well, which has a mounted scope to help you spot the birds.
Okanagan Science Centre
Located in one of the most beautiful historic buildings in Vernon, not to mention the oldest brick schoolhouse still standing in British Columbia, the Okanagan Science Centre continues its legacy of education to this day.
Kids and adults alike can enjoy a hands-on experience at many of the exhibits, such as exploring a simulated galaxy of life on Mars, living with dinosaurs, robotics, and more. You can even meet some cute little critters, such as a bearded dragon, a leopard gecko, hermit crabs, marine salamanders, and a tarantula named Rosie.
One of the star attractions is the Gyro Chair, which gives you the opportunity to experience space training while being strapped into the chair while being spun 360 degrees. Another popular feature is the planetarium show. Either way, the Okanagan Science Centre is a fun, learning experience, but we recommend you check in advance in terms of timing and what you’d like to experience.
If you’re looking for a simple hike next to a creek and through a beautiful forest while admiring a thundering waterfall, look no further than BX Falls. The waterfall, which is very powerful in the spring, is only 350 metres from the car park, but you can also continue on the trail for more than three kilometres, enjoying the creek and the cool forest of Douglas fir, spruce, larch, and oak ferns.
The trail is easy and straightforward, although there’s a steep 100-step staircase down to the waterfall and to the hiking trail, so keep that in mind if that presents any issues. The water you’ll see travels from Silver Star Mountain, down through Vernon and ends up in Swan Lake. Watch for remnants of a massive irrigation system associated with BX Ranch and Barnard’s Express, which was once the largest freight company in British Columbia.
Please keep in mind that like any wilderness area, there’s always a potential of running into wildlife, such as bears. It’s always a good idea to carry bear spray in the case of an encounter. During our walk, we saw people with their dogs but have been told that they are prohibited here to protect wildlife such as bears.
Camelot Haven Alpacas
You don’t have to travel all the way to Peru to see Alpacas. In Vernon, you just need to visit Camelot Haven Alpacas, an alpaca sanctuary that offers guided walks and alpaca-wool products such as socks, sweaters, and cat toys. If you’re feeling really cheeky, you can even buy your own alpaca!
The most popular thing to do here is to book a one-hour guided walk, which will teach you all about Alpacas, which come all the way from the Andes in South America. Open by appointment only, Camelot Haven Alpacas needs one day of notice to arrange group and private tours.
If you happen to be in Vernon on a Friday night, you may want to consider visiting the Polson Park Night Market, which takes place from 4 pm to 8 pm. This is a great chance to meet local vendors, buy some goods, enjoy some live music, and even fill your belly with a variety of food trucks.
However, even if you’re not interested in the night market, Polson Park is a beautiful park to explore. Located in downtown Vernon, you’ll find a variety of plants, trees, and flowers. In fact, there’s a lovely Japanese gazebo and a Chinese Pagoda as well.
It’s not just trees and flowers either. There’s also a skateboard park, tennis courts, a place to play football and soccer, a lawn bowling area, ponds, and a waterpark for the kids.
Vernon Farmers’ Market
With the fertile Okanagan Valley and the variety of farms in the area, why buy food from a grocery store when you can buy it fresh from the Vernon Farmers’ Market? Every Monday and Thursday during the summer, from 8 am to 1 pm, you can meet up with farmers selling their produce, artisans selling their crafts, and cooks working their concessions at the Vernon Farmers’ Market. It’s the longest-running Farmers’ Market in the area and has everything from fruits, veggies, and baked goods, to hand-crafted goods and flowers.
Ellison Provincial Park
Located along the shores of Okanagan Lake, Ellison Provincial Park is a local gem. It’s only a 20-minute drive from Vernon and features a beautiful swimming area that sits in a sheltered cover, mountain views, picnic tables, and fire pits. It’s typically much less crowded compared to other beaches around Vernon and yet it’s such a great place for relaxing on the beach, paddle-boarding, and so much more. There’s even a campground for those wanting to spend the night. Mornings are best for avoiding other humans.
If you happen to be visiting Vernon in the winter, SilverStar Mountain is the star attraction thanks to its awesome skiing and snowboarding runs. However, it’s also a great place to explore in the summer. Whether you just want the views or would like to do some amazing hikes, SilverStar offers a popular wheelchair-accessible gondola that can take you to the top of the mountain, giving you easy access to a variety of hiking trails or viewing areas.
Also cool to note is that dogs that are calm and on a leash can accompany their owners on the gondola ride and proceeds from pet season passes are donated to the BC-SPCA. Children under 12 ride for free.
For those who don’t know, the Okanagan region is one of the most famous wine regions in Canada and there are more than 100 wineries to explore. However, there aren’t any wineries around Vernon as they’re mostly located down in Kelowna and further south. However, it’s not a far drive for those who want to experience it and there are even tours from Vernon if you’d rather enjoy the wine and not worry about driving back.
Most of the wine tours are going to take you south of Vernon to visit Lake Country, West Kelowna, or East Kelowna. There are more than a half dozen tour companies offering this experience, so for more information, visit Tourism Vernon.
Read More: Check out our guide to the BEST restaurants in Kelowna!
Okanagan Spirit Distillery Tour
If wine isn’t your thing but spirits are, you’re in luck because Vernon is home to the Okanagan Spirit Distillery, which offers tours and tastings. In fact, if you’re into whisky, you’ll definitely want to join in on their Craft Whisky Experience, which includes whisky tastings, finger foods, and a whisky-infused education. This tour costs around $40 CAD and it’s recommended to book in advance. If whisky isn’t your thing, they also offer a basic tasting tour for $15. You’ll learn how the spirits are made before sampling four of them.
Marten Brewery Co.
If anything surprised us about Vernon, it’s the fact that there’s only one brewery! British Columbia is home to a lot of craft breweries, but in Vernon, it’s only Marten Brewery that provides such a service. Thankfully, that’s okay, because they make some delicious beer, as well as some great-tasting food to go along with it.
As far as we know, they don’t do brewery tours but they certainly offer flights of bearing, allowing you to try 4-5 different beers that come on a really cool beer rack. During our visit, we tried their Swinging Tail Blueberry Vanilla Ale, The Bonnie Blonde Ale, Rattlesnake Sour, Grapefruit Radler, and their Hello Okanagan Peach Wheat Beer. We loved them all but our favourites were the Blueberry Vanilla Ale and the Sour. However, we also especially loved one of their cocktails, which was prepared using kombucha!
Throw in a delicious food menu (we recommend the Ahi Tuna to start), daily specials, and live music on Fridays, and you’ve got a great place to sip back on some craft beer.
Drink Some Ciders
We’re starting to sound like alcoholics, but we’ve already covered wine, beer, and spirits, so now it’s time to cover cider! After all, the Okanagan Valley is known for producing excellent apples, so it should come as no surprise that they make one heckuva cider as well.
There are a few cideries around the area but the one we hear about the most is BX Press Ciders. Located just outside the city near SilverStar Mountain, BX Press Ciders is situated right on their orchard farm with tastings offered by donation, which are then donated to charity!
The apple ciders are made from the apples grown on-site, including the pressing, fermenting, and bottling! However, they make ciders from other fruits as well, including cherry, haskap, and rhubarb.
If that’s not enough, there is another popular cidery just 30-minutes north of Vernon called Farmstrong Cider Company. This fun, community-minded cidery produces all-natural and additive-free ciders from the neighbouring orchards and showcases live music every Thursday. They also host quite a few events such as the Harvest Festival and the Annual Pickle Festival.
Sparkling Hill Resort & Spa
If you’ve completed this entire list of things to do in Vernon, you might be in need of some spa time. Well, located next to Predator Ridge Golf Resort, Sparkling Hill Resort & Spa offers luxury accommodations and a luxury spa experience. In fact, it’s the largest luxury spa in Canada!
The resort literally sparkles, thanks in part to its 3.5 million Swarovski crystals integrated into the resort’s architecture and design. It’s outfitted with the best amenities, including an infinity pool, the KurSpa, a Serenity room, and more. If you choose to go for a spa day, KurSpa offers more than 100 services, including massage, facials, mud baths, and manicures.
In addition to the spa and accommodation, this place also offers some of the best views of Okanagan Lake.
Looking For More Things To Do?
While Vernon can keep you busy for many days, if not weeks and months, there are lots more things to do in British Columbia. For more on what to do in BC or nearby provinces, check out these travel guides below: