Top Ten Mountain Bike Meccas (Beyond Moab)
|Mountain Bikers on the KVR|
Adapted from Cycling the Kettle Valley Railway
Leaving Chute Lake, the downhill grade significantly increases as you descend into Penticton. The trail is generally in good shape for a multi-use trail, i.e., hikers, cyclists, motorized vehicles, horses, and cows! Some logging roads intersect the railbed at various points; if tempted to follow, be ready for a wicked descent. Don't be in too much of a hurry, or you will miss the impressive views of the Okanagan Valley. Once you've reached Penticton, you'll wonder why you went so fast.
The end of the trail awaits you in the attractive city of Penticton, nestled between Okanagan and Skaha Lakes. Penticton was named by the Indians, meaning: a place to stay forever, and that's just what you may want to do. All conveniences are found here, and it is a great spot for a refreshing dip on a hot day. Who could pass that up after having just cycled 215 km?
The section of the Kettle Valley Railway from Penticton to Osoyoos became known as the Osoyoos Subdivision. This subdivision encompasses 58 kilometers through the best of the Okanagan, including orchards and vineyards, sandy beaches and warm lakes, the bird and wildlife sanctuary of Vaseux Lake, and south of Oliver, Canada's only true desert. Much of this area is fairly well inhabited, and the railbed at times can be difficult to follow. Successful efforts are being made to preserve the right-of-way through this area, but for now a fair bit of detouring off the railway is required. This unfortunately necessitates you to leave the relatively flat grade of the railbed to tackle the heavier grades of the highway. However, this detouring is not a totally disappointing feature as you do not find too many fruit stands on the KVR!
You start your journey by leaving the Penticton Station and following the railbed west to the Jaycees Bike Path. The KVR grade past the bike path to kilometer 7.1 lies within the boundaries of the Penticton Indian Reserve. A detour is easily found by following the bike path to Skaha Lake, then taking the highway along the west side of the lake. The highway entails a wicked climb, especially in the Okanagan's summer heat, but you can then coast into Okanagan Falls for a dip in Skaha Lake, enjoy an ice cream at one of the many shops, or stay for a day or two in the town.
The railbed can be explored past Okanagan Falls and along the west side of Vaseux Lake, but your exploration ends short because of a missing trestle. To continue your journey to Osoyoos, you return to Okanagan Falls and follow Oliver Ranch Road. This road takes you up into some beautiful orchards and vineyards. The Oliver Ranch Road then reconnects to the highway at the northeast end of Vaseux Lake. This lake, being a bird and wildlife sanctuary, offers great opportunity for sightings. You may also spot a herd of California bighorn sheep that are frequently seen in the cliffs to the east of this lake.
After following the highway for a short distance, you connect to a cycling trail. The International Bicycling and Hiking Society of Oliver has developed a 17.4-kilometer-long hiking and cycling trail from Highway #93 to Osoyoos Lake. Passing through Oliver, you find the original Oliver Railway Station, which has been converted into the tourist information center. The full length of this trail is not actually atop the KVR grade but along the Okanagan River. It ends abruptly at the north end of Osoyoos Lake where you then reaccess the highway and follow it into Osoyoos.
Except for the highway, the grade along this route is relatively flat. The biggest challenge is cycling in the heat of the desert sun. The heat alone can sap your energy just as any challenging uphill climb can. As you look around, you notice the unirrigated land is dry and parched, and don't be surprised if you see a turtle or rattlesnake cross your path! But then the advantage to this desert climate is seen where the irrigation starts. From the roadside, you can see an abundance of fruit growing in the orchards. An interesting detour is to visit one of the many vineyards for some wine tasting. The vineyards of this area are known to produce award-winning wines. You also won't want to pass up the chance to stop for some cherry cider at one of the numerous fruit stands that are found throughout this valley, or stop and pick some fruit at a U-pick orchard.
Well, if you were previously uncertain, I'm sure you are now convinced that this subdivision through the Okanagan Valley is well worth exploring. Even though the 58 kilometers from Penticton to Osoyoos can be easily cycled in one day, you may want to take your time to enjoy all this valley has to offer, as many camping and lodging accommodations can be found all along this route. The warm and welcoming people of this valley, not to mention the opportunity of traveling through the beautiful orchards and vineyards, stopping at a fruit stand or winery, experiencing the desert land of sand and scrub, then completing the venture at Osoyoos Lake, give reason enough to cruise the distance. In fact, you may never want to leave.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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