Canada’s Desert Paradise (BC)
The sunbaked town of Osoyoos
With its lush vineyards and dry summer weather, the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, is famous for its RVing opportunities. At the southern tip of this great valley is Canada’s pocket desert and the small sun-baked and town of Osoyoos.
Nestled at the base of steep mountains and only minutes from the Canada-US border, Osoyoos is known for its remarkable geographic surroundings. Sagebrush, sparse forests and craggy hillsides coexist alongside sweeping vineyards and orchards. The warm, dry climate, that makes the Osoyoos desert setting possible (a northern extension of Mexico’s hot Sonoran Desert) mixes with the cool evening breezes of the Northwest to provide an ideal setting for summer vacations.
Thousands of years before the town of Osoyoos was established, First Nations peoples called this valley their home. They wrested their living from the earth and learned to adapt to the area’s arid climate. They drew healing from the desert’s special waters and found a home along the region’s many lakes.
Today Osoyoos, which is home to the warmest fresh water lake in Canada, is a regular summer destination for travellers from all over North America. Well-paved roads from four different routes intersect the town and well-marked intersections and good signage help newcomers find the town’s attractions and accommodation locations.
There are at least 700 sites in and around the town. Some RV parks have year-round facilities and many have summer amenities tailored to short-term family vacations.
Most RV parks accommodate large rigs, although there are a few that are uniquely suited to smaller units. Amenities vary from waterslide attractions and swimming pools to private beaches. The town has an overflow lot for boats at the east end of town.
Even though there are a lot of sites, RVers will want to book their site with as much advance notice as possible, as summer is a busy time for most parks. Due to the demand, Nk’Mip RV Park, which is owned and managed by the Osoyoos Indian Band, has opened an overflow lot for drop-ins when the park is full. It’s strictly dry camping (meaning no electricity and water) but you do have access to washrooms, swimming pool and laundry facilities, and can use a generator in that section of the park The band also manages the Sẁiẁs Provincial Park, which has conventional camping sites and also takes reservations.
One of Osoyoos’ biggest draws is its size. You won’t find big-box stores in the Okanagan’s desert getaway. Instead, gift shops, galleries and coffee shops dot the main thoroughfare, with free parking on Main Street. Two grocery stores are located at the east and west end of the town and pharmacies are conveniently located at the town’s centre. Liquor stores are located at the east end of town centre and adjacent to pubs.
Okanagan artists are well-featured around town, with local displays catering to local artists. The town has two galleries, both located on Main Street with exhibits that change frequently.
It also has several unusual cultural attractions. The Nk’mip Desert and Cultural Centre, at the Nk’mip Resort, offers a fascinating glimpse into Osoyoos’ First Nations history through exhibits, trails and awe-inspiring vistas. Spotted Lake, 10 minutes west on Highway 3, is a place of spiritual importance to the Osoyoos Indian Band and worth a view. Local history is also showcased at the Osoyoos & District Museum. The Osoyoos Desert Centre features exhibits about the local efforts to preserve the pocket desert ecology.
Golfers will enjoy the arid climate and scenic courses, which are located overlooking Osoyoos’ lakeside vistas. Choices include an 18-hole at Nk’mip and a 9-hole set in the hillside above the west end of the lake.
Still, many will tell you the best time to visit Osoyoos is during the Cherry Festival, on the Canada Day long weekend. The July 1st fireworks display at 10 pm at Gyro Beach is one of the biggest in Canada, second only to Ottawa’s. The festival also kicks off the cherry harvest with a parade and local events.
From left: Osoyoos is wine country and and offers numerous wine festivals, tastings and events, the fountain at Gyro Park, which overlooks Canada’s
Laken. warmest freshwater lake and the Osoyoos Indian Band’s sacred Spotted
It’s easy to find a restaurant, which are scattered throughout town and range from bistros to ethnic cuisine. Main Street is dotted with the majority of eateries. Favourite stops include JoJo’s Coffee, A New Leaf Tea House and Smitty’s - all on Main Street. JoJo’s is also a hub for live music during summer weekends.
The Golden Chopsticks, also downtown, and Nk’mip Resort’s are popular choices for dinner. Greek and Italian dinner spots include Diamond Steakhouse that features shellfish and Campo Marina, a boisterous pasta restaurant that’s always packed.
Artisan breads and pastries are a hit at the small Lake Village Bakery, which is often sold out by afternoon. The bakery is open Wed-Sat and will prepare bulk orders for the road with advance notice. Most Osoyoos’ restaurants offer gluten, dairy and nut-free choices and try to cater to food sensitivities.
A stay in Osoyoos wouldn’t be complete without a tour of some of the region’s wineries and fruit stands. Most are located north and west of the town on Highway 97 and Highway 3, but there are also a number of interesting wineries and fruit stands in town.