Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park

20 kilometres, Highway 97, Kelowna to north entrance;
27 kilometres, Highway 97, Penticton to south parking lot
Travel Time:
Approximately 30 minutes from highway
Season: South entrance may be closed in winter
Backroads Mapbook: Thompson Okanagan BC
Communities: Kelowna, Peachland, and Penticton

Fire Changed Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park

The Okanagan Mountain Park Fire began with a lightning strike around 1:55 a.m. on August 16, 2003, at a point about 200 metres above lake level, just north of Wild Horse Canyon in Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park. The fire was on the east side of Okanagan Lake in an area of the park that is inaccessible by road.

By the time the shifting firestorm had burned itself out in early September, it had destroyed over 230 homes and had scorched 25,912 hectares of mountainside from the lakeshore to well above the former KVR right-of-way. It cost over $33 million to fight the fire. The total cost of the resulting damage will never be known.

One park supervisor likened the devastation to that of an atom bomb explosion, with vegetation and topsoil completely wiped out by the fire. In some areas the trails are still visible, while in others it is difficult to determine the actual path that had been worn down by hundreds of travellers. Many of the landmarks and facilities are gone, never to be replaced. Others have been rebuilt in the original or new locations. This is a continuing process that will take years to complete.

Bird Numbers Increasing

Central Okanagan Naturalists, South Okanagan Naturalists and others held a bird count in Okanagan Mountain Park on May 28 and 29, 2011, as part of an ongoing survey of the results of the fire. According to their report, 39 participants on 14 routes counted 104 species in total.

“Birds that do particularly well in post-fire habitats are doing fantastically. House wren numbers have been increasing yearly and were at 172 this year, compared to an average of 2.6 per year before the 2003 fires. Black-backed woodpeckers only showed up after the 2003 fires, and were still around (six counted including a nest). Both species of bluebirds were pretty much absent before the fires, but this year we counted 13 western and 19 mountain bluebirds. Spotted towhee and orange-crowned warbler numbers have tripled, warbling vireos and dusky flycatchers have doubled, and song sparrows have increased tenfold. All that, and no breeding bird species has disappeared from the park-meaning overall species diversity has increased.”

Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park

Okanagan Mountain Park

Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park offers a diverse spectrum of outdoor pur-suits. Because of its large landmass and wide elevation range 1,200 metres between lakeshore and mountain summit-the park contains a wide variety of ecosystems. A semi-desert wilderness on the lakeshore headlands blends into lush, green forest in the subalpine plateau.

Secluded coves and sandy beaches highlight the park’s Okanagan Lake shore-line, with six marine camping areas for overnight boat camping. Inland are the spectacular Wildhorse Canyon and Goode’s Creek Canyon, cutting deeply north and south through the mass of Okanagan Mountain. More than 24 kilometres of connecting trails suitable for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding lead through the canyons and into four spring-fed mountain lakes located along forested upper mountain ridges. You might see mule deer, elk, and black bear, and even an occasional mountain goat and cougar. Ospreys build massive aeries in the tall trees near Norman, Baker, and Divide lakes.

Established in 1973, after years of lobbying by the Okanagan Similkameen Parks Society, the park encompasses 10,462 hectares of wilderness on Okanagan Mountain and the spectacularly rugged Okanagan Lake foreshore.

Fascinating Cultural Diversity

Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park has a fascinating cultural history as well. Aboriginal pictographs can occasionally be found on canyon walls and outcrops. Early missionaries, fur traders, cattlemen, and miners travelled a series of now overgrown Okanagan Mountain trails more than a century and a half ago. Scattered old homesteads are evidence of the various attempts to settle this rugged landscape. Horse-logging was common up until the 1930s, and cattle are still grazing on the eastern boundary of the park. Despite all the human activity, the park remains a relatively undisturbed wilderness area.

credit: Okanagan Trips & Trails, by Judie Steeves and Murphy Shewchuk

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