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Canada's Desert Wine Country: Things to Do In Osoyoos, BC

By Edited Jul 24, 2016 1 0
Osoyoos is a small western Canadian town nestled at the southern end of British Columbia's Okanagan valley. Situated on the shore of Canada's warmest lake and surrounded by mountains, it is a five minute drive north of the United States border, an easy five hour drive from Seattle, Washington, and four and a half hours east of Vancouver, B.C.
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Osoyoos, BC V0H, Canada

Climate

Osoyoos sits in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains at an elevation of a mere 227 meters or 909 feet1.These two factors combined with its southerly location combine to create a warm desert environment. Osoyoos is actually located on the northern tip of the Sonoran desert, which extends north from Mexico through the United States and then gently nudges over the U.S. border into Canada.

Osoyoos has sunny, dry winters with January highs of 0.1 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) and an average annual snowfall of 5.4 cm (2.1 in). As an illustration of how dry the winters are, I have been there in January and had the remarkable experience of watching snowflakes fall to the ground and then evaporate away. The average high temperature in July is 29 degrees Celsius (84 degrees F) and there is an average of 2019 hours of annual sunshine2.

Looking out over Osoyoos Lake

Nature

The Osoyoos area is a true desert complete with rattlesnakes and miniature cacti. It also sits in a valley which is a migration corridor for many birds, animals and insects.  Unfortunately, this rich and unique desert habitat is being rapidly destroyed by development and population growth. Many of the plants, animals and birds in the area are threatened or endangered3, and the area's antelope brush is classified as one of the four most endangered ecosystems in Canada.

There are two locations where visitors can learn about this rapidly vanishing ecosystem. The Osoyoos Desert Centre offers guided and self-guided walks. The First Nations Osoyoos Band's Nk’mip Desert Cultural Centre guarantees a delightful interpretive center experience for the whole family, with cultural tours and opportunities to get close to desert animals such as rattlesnakes.

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A Western Filmed in Osoyoos and Its Surrounding Desert

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Osoyoos is regarded as one of the best bird watching4 areas in Canada. It is situated in the Okanagan Valley, which serves as a migration route for almost 300 species of birds.  In addition, it has a variety of bird habitats from dry desert to lake shore wetlands. The large number and variety of birds that can be seen here includes many rare and endangered species, including the great blue heron and the red-listed sage thresher3.

Quail

Osoyoos Lake also offers great fishing. Several species have been introduced to the lake, including rainbow trout, bass and whitefish. In addition, sockeye salmon inhabit the deeper waters of the lake.

Accommodation

Osoyoos offers a wide range of accommodation to suit every taste and budget. If you are looking for luxury, you can find it at the four and a half star Spirit Ridge Vineyard and Spa Resort, which is managed by the Osoyoos First Nations Band. Brand name hotels include the Best Western and the Holiday Inn, which offers rooms and suites with a lake view on both sides. There are many smaller hotels and motels, and bed and breakfast accommodation for those who prefer a more intimate atmosphere.   

Osoyoos is also well supplied with campgrounds. The Haynes Point provincial campsite is located on a spit which juts out into the lake. Here you can camp with water on both sides in a unique ecological habitat which supports many rare and endangered plant and animal species, including the tiger salamander and the tiny burrowing owl.

Burowing Owl

 An important plant which grows at Haynes Point is milkweed which is vital to the life cycle of the beautiful and endangered monarch butterfly5. In the spring this amazing insect migrates north from Mexico to breed, laying its eggs on the milkweed, which is the only food the monarch caterpillar will eat. Then in the fall the butterflies migrate south to winter in Mexico.

Monarch Butterfly

Haynes Point is a small but extremely popular campsite, so if you plan to stay there you need book well in advance through the B.C. Parks Reservation System.

Eating Out

There are many varied eating options including fine dining (often featuring locally sourced ingredients), wine bars, family restaurants and fast food.  Ethnic offerings include Indian, Chinese and Italian food.

Year Round Activities

The Okanagan Valley's warm climate, fertile soil and availability of lake water for irrigation have created ideal conditions for growing fruit. Consequently Spring is the time to enjoy the lovely cherry, apple and peach blossoms of the many Osoyoos fruit orchards. In the summer and fall you can buy fresh produce at local orchards and fruit stands.

Osoyoos Fruit Trees in April

In the summer, families come to play on the beaches and swim in the warm water lake.  Other lake activities include boating, kayaking, water skiing, wake boarding and windsurfing, as well as walking or biking along the lake shore.

Osoyoos Lake

Other town attractions include a small art gallery, a local museum, a model railway museum, crazy golf, and a Dutch windmill

The mild, sunny winters make Osoyoos a popular retirement community for B.C. residents, and also attracts “snowbirds” escaping the bitter winters of central Canada. The mild desert climate also means a long golfing season, which may extend from late February to November. Golfers are well-served with ten courses6 in Osoyoos and the surrounding area.

Wineries

The South Okanagan is also a prime grape growing region. The Osoyoos First Nations pioneered the cultivation7 of grapes in the area in 1968, and in 2002 they opened Nk'Mip Cellars which is proud to be North America's first aboriginal winery. The cellar hosts daily wine tasting and frequent special events.

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First Nations Economic Development in Osoyoos

An Overview of the Osoyoos Band's Business Enterprises

There are now vineyards and estate wineries throughout the South Okanagan. As of February, 2016 there were 39 Wineries8 in the Osoyoos area and the number seems to increase every year. Many offer tours of their vineyards or production facilities, and most open regularly for wine tastings.

Ripening grapes in an Osoyoos vineyard.

An interesting specialty wine produced in the Okanagan is ice wine. When late maturing grapes freeze on the vine this dramatically increases the sugar content of the fruit. The grapes are picked while  frozen and then used to make a sweet dessert wine which is reminiscent of sherry.

Other Attractions

South Okanagan night skies are magnificent. The air is clear and unpolluted, and there few city lights to obscure the starlight. Consequently, the world-class Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory is located in a natural dish between the hills, a short drive from Osoyoos, outside the nearby town of Okanagan Falls. The observatory is a fascinating place to visit, and is open daily for free self-guided tours.

Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory largest dish

Another interesting and rather odd sight visible from the highway just outside of Osoyoos is Spotted Lake9. This is a shallow lake which contains an unusually high concentration of minerals including calcium, sodium sulphate and magnesium sulphate. Because the lake is shallow, it is subject to evaporation in the summer. As the water evaporates, concentrated mineral crystals form colored spots on the surface of the water, and the size and colors of these spots change throughout the summer with changes in the levels of mineral concentration.

Osoyoos. Spotted Lake

So to enjoy Canadian sunshine and some distinctively different vacation experiences, consider Osoyoos in British Columbia’s South Okanagan.

 

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Bibliography

  1. "Facts and Figures." Osoyoos: Canada's Warmest Welcome. 6/02/2016 <Web >
  2. "Climate." Osoyoos: Canada's Warmest Welcome. 6/02/2016 <Web >
  3. "Wildlife of Osoyoos Lake and Area." Osoyoos Lake Water Quality Society. 6/02/2016 <Web >
  4. "Birdwatching." Osoyoos: Canada's Warmest Welcome. 7/02/2016 <Web >
  5. "The Ultimate Relay Race." National Aquarium. 29/10/2014. 7/02/2016 <Web >
  6. "South Okanagan Golf Courses." Okanagan Vacation Guide. 8/02/2016 <Web >
  7. "Osoyoos: Culture and History." Super, Natural British Columbia. 8/02/2016 <Web >
  8. "Our Wineries." Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country. 8/02/2016 <Web >
  9. "The Magic of Spotted Lake in Osoyoos." Super, Natural British Columbia. 8/02/2016 <Web >

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