Featured image courtesy of Doug Smith
As I hike along the surreal, barren ridge, sagebrush blows across the trail in front of me. The only green in sight is my shamrock jacket. I could be in a Western movie set in the Mexican desert—there are even prickly pear cacti here. But the reality is, I’m on a hiking trail in Kamloops, the second largest city in British Columbia’s interior.
Kamloops was historically established for its natural resources, first as a fur trading post, then part of the gold rush trail, and finally for its oil refineries and pulp mills. While its original founding was by the Shuswap First Nations people with Kamloops deriving its name from “where the rivers meet” in the Shuswap nation language.
Previously just considered an overnight rest stop while driving from Calgary to Vancouver, in 2002 the city re-branded itself as Canada’s Tournament Capital and invested into its sports facilities, making it a popular destination for sports events and competitions.
Since then, Kamloops has come into its own as a tourist destination. In recognition of all that the area has to offer, this summer Air Canada has started a direct flight from Toronto.
The reality is, there’s no shortage of ways to get out and play in the Kamloops area. Here are some of my favourite fall-time adventures.
There are many great hotels to choose from, but the Hotel 540 is at the top of my list. I like its location on Kamloops’ main street, within walking distance of great dining, shops and Riverside Park. What I like even more are the year-round rooftop pool and hot tub.
Thanks to Kamloops’ location in a rain shadow, hot summers here continue into warm, dry fall weather. On a sunny day, you can relax on a lounger or a shaded cabana at the Hotel 540. With the poolside food and beverage service, it’s like being on a tropical vacation at this urban oasis. Try the blueberry mojito or their signature Caesar, made with garlic chilli basil-infused vodka and garnished with a crispy bacon stuffed olive (does it get more Canadian than that?).Check availability >>
For history buffs, the Plaza Hotel is recommended. This renovated 1928 building has managed to hang on to its heritage feel both inside and out. A stay here comes with a full hot breakfast and a pass to the YMCA facilities, just around the corner.Check availability >>
Kamloops is ranch country. To get in touch with your inner cowboy/girl, visit Erin Valley Stables. Here, an experienced horse whisperer will lead you through the sagebrush trails and up to lookout points amidst the ponderosa pine groves. Horses are amazing creatures, and they quickly tune into our personalities. It’s super fun to see who in your group gets on the slowpoke or the feisty horse who wants to test his authority.
The 800-hectare Kenna Cartwright Nature Park, with 40 kilometres of trails, is the largest city park in B.C. Hike the Ponderosa Trail to the viewpoint overlooking Kamloops Lake and the Thompson Valley (recommended for the sunset), then continue on Mesa Trail which has you winding your way through dry gulches and up ridges with more impressive viewpoints until you reach the parking lot.
Another park to experience Kamloops unique landscape is the 15,000 hectare Lac du Bois Grasslands. Grasslands form less than 1% of BC’s land base, but provide habitat for 30-percent of the province’s species-at-risk, so the area is protected. Be sure to stay on the trails to avoid harming the fragile habitat, and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. If you’re lucky, you could see some bighorn sheep.
To learn about how sockeye salmon reproduce, head to Adams River in Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park, one of the largest salmon spawning runs in North America.
The sockeye spawning cycle has a dominant year every fourth year (after 2018, it will be in 2022), where millions of them turn bright red and make their way back from the ocean to the exact location of their birthplace to spawn. On in-between years, the numbers range from the hundreds to the thousands.
For prime views, check out the viewing platform, or hike the trail alongside the river and marvel over these tenacious creatures fighting their way upstream.
Get Your Thirst Quenched
What better time to sample a glass or two of the Chardonnay than fall harvest at the vineyards.
The local wine trail currently features four wineries. Kamloops’ wine industry is expected to grow, because, with global warming, winters aren’t as harsh as they used to be, meaning the vines can survive.
Monty Creek Ranch Winery is a working ranch with a unique tasting room—a combination of mission-style architecture and regional barn structure, complete with a bell tower. Grab a table at the Terrace Restaurant and order a glass of wine and the cheese and charcuterie plate—a lot of the ingredients come from their own ranch.
Next, stop for a tour and a tasting at Harper’s Trail, Kamloops’ first winery, named after Thaddeus Harper, a pioneer rancher. This vineyard sits among the rolling grass hills, where the deer and bighorn sheep roam.
If beer is more to your taste, Kamloops also has several local craft breweries. I dare you to mosey up to the long bar in the sunny 80-seat tasting room at Red Collar Brewing Co. and order a Wobbly Bob, one of brewmaster, David Beardsell’s fall brews, a strong English ale coming in at 10.6% alcohol. Beardsell says it’s the water that influences a good beer, and Kamloops water suits his brew style.
Get Something To Eat
All those outdoor adventures are sure to build a voracious appetite. My top pick for dinner is the Brownstone, located in the 1904 Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce building, where poet and writer, Robert Service used to work.
At Brownstone, they like to keep it local and house-made for their seasonally changing menu, by partnering with local meat and trout producers and organic veggie farmers—that is, what they don’t grow in their own courtyard garden. The atmosphere is a perfect fusion of fine dining and cozy neighbourhood eatery.
If you’re a brunch fan like I am, Hello Toast diner is a must-try. On the weekends, you will want to get there early or prepare to line up. The food is down-home, just-like-mom-makes comfort food. The perfectly prepared bacon and eggs, eggs benny, and grilled cheese sandwiches are some of my go-to orders.
Get Into the Fall Mood
Fall is harvest time, and there’s nothing that reminds us of that more than a visit to a farmer’s market. At Sunset Valley Farm, they jump with both feet into the fall mood with their giant pumpkin patch where they grow hundreds of little, big, and everything-in-between, bright orange and yellow pumpkins.
Have you ever experienced a corn maze? At Sunset you can also attempt to navigate your way through twists, turns and dead ends in eight acres of towering corn stalks.
Get Into the Train History
Learn all about the history of the steam train at the Kamloops Heritage Railway Museum, then climb aboard a historical, refurbished passenger train for an autumn excursion like the Ghost Train or Trick or Treat Train, where local actors bring the experience to life.
Get Into the Mountains
A 45-minute drive takes you out of the semi-arid desert landscape into the forested mountains at Sun Peaks, BC’s second largest ski resort.
This is a mountain biking and hiking mecca during the off-season. If you’re not energetic enough for a hike all the way up the mountain, that’s okay, take the chairlift. At the top, you can catch the panoramic view from 1828 metres before hiking down.
Really, there are so many activity options here that you could easily spend a whole weekend entertaining yourself: canoe, kayak, fly fish, stand-up paddleboard, and explore the resort on horseback. If you’re an adrenaline junkie like me, try the mountain cross cart course where you can reach speeds of 35 km/hr going down the 512-metre-long course.
If golfing is your sport, you will want to have a game here, so you can say that you’ve played at BC’s highest elevation golf course. At 1,333 metres, hole 16 is the highest tee box, where you get amazing wide-lens views of the resort below and Mt. Morrisey.
At this point, you’re probably thinking you need to take an extra day off to fit in more fun. The resort offers lots of accommodation options. The Sun Peaks Grand Hotel is a luxury mountain resort with an on-site grocery store, boutiques and dining options and heated outdoor pool with a view. By the end of 2018, the hotel will be even more spectacular, as it’s currently undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation.Check availability >>
If you’d rather do some of your own cooking, there’s the Coast Sundance Lodge, where you can get a room with a kitchenette. Don’t feel like cooking? No worries, there are two cafes and a bar and grill on-site. (Oh yeah, and for your winter ski trip, this is the place to stay with chairlifts just out the back door and the cozy rooms have a fireplace).Check availability >>