British Columbia is one of the most beautiful places in all of Canada. We’re not just saying this because both of us grew up here, we did some thorough exploring before giving this title. After travelling around all of North America we have come to appreciate this part of the world even more than before. A road trip through BC offers some of the most scenic drives in the entire country.
An adventure lovers paradise, this province has everything from stunning coastlines, tall mountains, lush forests and a whole lot of wildlife. Where else can you scuba dive the depths of the ocean in the morning and go skiing in the afternoon? I mean, don’t actually do this because you are sure to get some altitude sickness… but, like, you COULD.
As BC natives and globe travellers, we’ve undoubtedly spent more time in this province than anywhere else and now consider ourselves experts. Below we have put together our favourite road trip through southern BC. This ultimate road trip guide is designed for people who are looking to get away for about a week.
All in all this road trip adds up to about 1,000 km of pure joy and the open road. We recommend allowing 5-10 days for this trip in order to be able to really soak in all the sights.
Road trip tips:
- Best time to ROAD TRIP: Summers are known to be road trip season – and for good reason. This specific route is much better in the summertime. With many lakes, fresh fruit stands, hot summer sun and the best access to wineries, the months of June – mid-September are the best for this kind of trip.
- The roads are MUCH safer at this time as you will be climbing some steep mountains. Make sure you have a reliable vehicle to take you on the trip. While you can plan a BC road trip in the winter months, it becomes a lot more dangerous with icy, snow-covered roads. Be aware that BC roads mandate winter tires on most highways between October 1st and April 30th.
- While the best road trip through BC is in the summer months, be sure to consider the many natural effects that happen in these months. May – June typically experiences a fair amount of flooding. Late July – September typically sees wild forest fires. Be sure to check out what’s going on before you leave as there may be some changes needed to your route. These restrictions often lead to fire bans as well.
Starting Point: Vancouver
As most people are coming from Kelowna, let’s start our trip there. If you are coming from out of the province, you will be likely flying into Vancouver’s main airport: YVR (Vancouver International Airport). There are many places you can rent a car or motorhome for this trip.
If you are not interested in renting a car (you really should, it will be MUCH cheaper) there are buses that will take you this route as well but these routes aren’t as affordable and flexible as other parts of the world.
Pro Tip: Skip the expensive and long cab ride from the airport to the city and instead jump on the Skytrain. The Canada Line will take you right from Richmond (the city YVR airport is in) and drop you right downtown for a fraction of the price.
This is a small town nestled in the mountains located about 100 kilometres east of Vancouver. After leaving the hustle and bustle of the lower mainland, Chilliwack will be a welcomed introduction to the huge farmlands and gorgeous mountain views you can expect from the rest of BC.
Chilliwack has one major draw to it: an amazing resort community called Cultus Lake. This area has so much to offer and is a great vacation spot for families. Here you will find BC’s best waterpark: Cultus Lake Waterslides. As the name suggests, there is also a beautiful and warm lake that is a must-visit. Provincial campgrounds and privately owned lakefront cabins, many of which offer AirBNB, are in the area.
Take the Vedder Road exit off of Highway 1 to get to the last rest stop before Hope (another half hour away). You can use this time to stretch your legs, grab some snacks and fill your gas tank. Chilliwack is often home to the cheapest gas in the lower mainland so we recommend taking advantage. For those who aren’t Canadian, you will need to take this time to grab a Tim Hortons coffee. You can’t do a Canadian road trip WITHOUT Timmy’s.
Pro Tip: When driving through the Hope area, be sure to stop at the Othello Tunnels. Some old railway trestles weaving into the rocky landscape have been repurposed into some stunning hiking trails.
Manning Park (PAID)
Distance From Vancouver: 218 km
Just following Hope the road forks allowing you to veer off Highway 1 and get onto Highway 3 which cuts east across the province. Taking this will get you to Manning Park – a small mountain community in BC that sits inside a protected provincial park.
You can find accommodations for the night at Manning Park. This is a popular area for cross country and downhill skiing in winter and a beautifully scenic stop in the summer. Here you will find a mixture of campgrounds, airBNBs, cabins and hotels to choose from. While you may be able to snag something last minute, we recommend booking these in advance as things fill up quickly. Tucked into the mountains, be sure to pack layers no matter when you visit as temperatures can stick quite cool year-round.
The best way to see this area is to get out of your car and explore on foot (or ski). Extensive hiking trails allow you to get deep into the wilderness to explore. Bring your bike along, or rent some cross-country skis, and make the most of this beautiful landscape.
When you’re ready to leave you will want to keep driving east on Highway 3. This road is long, windy and often single-laned but incredibly worth it as you will be immersed in some breathtaking beauty.
Note: If you are wanting a free night of camping try using this area as a place to get out and stretch your legs. Hike the trails and go play outside for a bit before continuing another 50 minutes for a FREE site in Princeton.
For those of you who are looking to cut some costs and still get a great camping spot on the river, try heading to Princeton for some free camping! This spot has half a dozen campsites all sitting right on the water. You will find fire pits, picnic tables and even outhouses in this area. You can even drive your vehicle practically right on the beach making this spot perfect!
Note: Free camping spots all work on a first come first serve basis so you can not make reservations. Don’t worry though as there are many PAID campsites in this area that are just as beautiful so if you can’t score a free site you will have no problem still finding a place to park your RV.
Be warned, the town of Princeton doesn’t offer a ton in terms of city needs – it has a couple of gas stations, a booster juice and a Save On Foods (grocery store) to gather supplies. The real draw here is the outback that you are submerged in, the free camping sites and the many amazing biking trails close by.
On your way out of town, be sure to keep an eye out when driving through the tiny town of Keremeos as you will be wanting to take a turn south to head towards Osoyoos rather than directly towards Penticton.
Pro Tip: If you are looking to make this trip a bit shorter, skip over Osoyoos and head straight to Penticton.
Osoyoos is a popular beach town located close to the USA-Canada border. From a wine drinker’s point of view, this town is a MUST SEE. Osoyoos weather is desert-like (read: hot and dry) making it GREAT for growing wine crops.
In Osoyoos and the slightly northern town of Oliver, you will find countless wineries where you can sip on your favourite wines for CHEAP. This area is a great place to gain some flexibility with your road trip as most of the wineries in the area don’t require appointments or reservations and welcome drop-ins. Just keep in mind most are only open from 10 am-2 pm.
Note: Osoyoos isn’t a very dog-friendly city. Most of the beaches don’t allow dogs, there aren’t any dog off-leash beaches and most local restaurants don’t allow your furry friend to join you on the patio. With that being said, there are many great hiking and biking trails in the area for you to bring your pups.
If you are visiting through the summer months be sure to hit up the MANY fruit stands in the area. Fresh, delicious fruits, veggies and honey are in abundance in the whole Okanagan region. For this reason, buy for the day and then keep driving to the many other fruit stands or U-picks along the way. There are also many campsites around this area if you don’t want to stay in Osoyoos hotels.
One of our favourite cities in the Okanagan, Penticton has that quaint picturesque small-town feel with all the big city conveniences you could need. You’ll find big parks, tons of greenery, off-leash dog beaches and two big beautiful lakes. There is WiFi just about everywhere in this town if you are like us and working nomadically. (Look for the one named Shaw Go rather than Shaw Open).
This town is most famous for its lazy tubing down rivers. While there are many places on this trip where you will have the opportunity to laze on a river, this is by far the most popular place to do so. Bring a floaty and jump into the Penticton canal and join the river floating fun. Penticton weather in the summertime makes for floating heaven. You can even rent tubes and get shuttle buses to return you upstream taking all the guesswork out of your experience. They really make it easy to have a great day.
This town is built in between two lakes. The north lake, Okanagan Lake, is a much more sophisticated area. With beachside bars and million-dollar houses, this is the site where you will find expensive 5-star Okanagan resort hotels. At the south end of the city, you will find Skaha Lake which offers a large park and a much more laid-back young beach vibe. You will find more bed & breakfast style accommodations here and places to rent paddleboards, windsurf boards and kayaks.
Get your camera ready and be prepared to make A LOT of stops on the road between here and Kelowna. Your whole ride will be driving alongside one big beautiful lake: Okanagan Lake. There are plenty of spots to pull over along this drive to take lots of photos or stop for a picnic along the water.
While this is mostly a drive-through town you will want to drive REAL slow. This area is absolutely stunning. There are many pull-offs here for you to get the best selfies. Tons of fruit stands give this small town a lazy beach bum vibe that you are sure to love.
Another small drive-through town, Peachland is located a few minutes outside of Kelowna, the next big city. Worth a stop, this small town is small and lazy making it a great spot to stop on your road trip. Rent some paddle boards and head to the beach or lace up your shoes to a secret waterfall, Hardy Falls. We really do love summertime on the water.
There are some great off roading trails in this area up Brenda Mines Road that can take you to some great lakes and free camping sites. Our favourite in the area is heading to Headwaters Lakes or. Silver lake campground. If you’d rather adventure on foot than by vehicle, head to Pincushion Mountain. This short 3.4km hike starts off with a bang as you climb steep slopes and staircases to tread up the mountain. Keep with it as the steep climb levels off pretty well along the way and delivers some world class views once you get to the top.
Kelowna, our hometown, has turned into a mini Vancouver with all the conveniences you get with a big city, and yet a Hawaii-like tropical feel. Kelowna has the best of every world and is the best summer destination in BC. This lakeside city offers the longest summers in Canada and so much to do.
The city is so full of life and has an unbeatable outdoorsy vibe. Kelowna’s population is growing as many people are moving away from Vancouver’s buzz and Alberta’s flatlands. Think lakeside living, delicious wineries and excellent boutiques… oh and a CHEAPER PRICE TAG.
Soak in Okanagan Lake while searching for the Ogopogo, hike the beautiful hills, indulge in some lakeside dining and take on a wine tour. We specifically loved Quails Gate Winery in West Kelowna. This place is quite upscale and you can taste it in the wines. We also loved Meadow Vista winery. This is a really small winery with honey-infused wines!
This is a great place to visit for bachelorette parties or for fun nights out. Packing your days with tours through the vineyards and your evenings with lakeside restaurants is easy in this area. For those who like some entertainment, Kelowna offers some great nightlife at local hotspots like King Taps, Craft Beer Market, Social 242 and even Gotham nightclub. I had my bachelorette party in the city and there was tons to do!
In between Kelowna and Vernon you will find yourself driving through a city called Lake Country. As the name suggests you’re in store for stunning water views every way you look. This town doesn’t offer much in terms of city life as you will find only a few restaurants that aren’t associated with a vineyard. It does, however, offer some amazing lake country wineries all with their own stunning views. If you are in this area you do not want to miss a trip to Gray Monk Winery. Sitting perched on a cliff-side this winery offers delicious wine and views you won’t want to miss.
When driving through Lake Country the highway takes you past Wood Lake and Kalamalka Lake. When the weather is clear, these lakes glisten with turquoise waters that will have you thinking you’re in paradise. If you have time on your trip, we recommend crossing the hill to the west side of Lake Country where you will find access to Okanagan Lake. Driving down Cars Landing Road will reward you with amazing views and many white sandy beaches.
Vernon keeps with the Okanagan trend of offering a ton of sunshine, lakes and laid back vibes. Kalamalka Lake is an absolute must-see when coming to this area. Point your car straight to Kalamalka beach and thank me later! While here, rent some paddle boards or go for a hike through the rocks to find some great cliff jumping. You don’t have to travel far for lunch as you will find some lakeside restaurants and convenience stores to give you fuel. If you have a dog along with you, instead head towards Okanagan Lake’s Kin Beach. They have a dog-friendly section of their beach that your pup will love. O’Keeffe Ranch is a great local farm that offers a ton of activities for the whole family.
For those that are looking to soak in some luxury, we recommend the beautiful hilltop spa of Sparkling Hill. This is a great luxury destination in the Okanagan where you will find steam rooms, saunas, and even an igloo room. If your itinerary allows, we recommend staying at least 2 nights here to be able to fully enjoy the experience and make the most of all the activities on site. They even have dog-friendly rooms!
Heading north from Vernon you will drive past the small town of Armstrong to get to the town of Enderby. While this may look like just another small town, it packs a punch with tons of things to do. The drive to Enderby will take you past the Log Farm which is a great place to stop, especially for those travelling with kids. This eclectic farm is filled with fun activities your whole family will love. On arrival, you will be greeted by some massive dinosaur statues and a whole array of fun figures. There is also a mini petting zoo on-site with animals that you can pet and feed. The most iconic animals are the goats that have a bridge they can walk over that you drive under as you enter the site. Inside you will find a farmer’s market-style store that sells all sorts of goodies (try the pie!!!).
This tiny town may not look like there is a lot to do, but looks can be deceiving. The town is home to a quaint outdoor flea market where locals sell homemade goods. If you like hiking be sure to check out the Enderby Cliffs. While this hike is longer in duration it offers a good amount of tree coverage and switchbacks help to make it not feel as steep. This is one of our favourite hikes in the Okanagan. Not only are the views from the top of the cliff unlike anything else in the area, the path on the way up makes you feel like you’re trekking through a tropical paradise.
One of the greatest draws to the area for locals is the Enderby river. While Penticton offers a city float, the Enderby river offers a more remote float as you weave leisurely through expansive farmlands on your way into town. If you have to pick just one spot to float down a river on this list, Enderby should definitely be the one! As soon as it turns dark, head to the must-visit Starlight Drive-In Theatre. This is also a great place to do some stargazing on a clear night.
If you like wide-open spaces and large lush farmlands this area will not disappoint. Located a short drive from Armstrong, another small town in the area.
From here you are faced with two options. You can drive north for another beautiful city: Salmon Arm or you can drive west and have a more rural experience in the hills of Falkland.
Option 1: Highway 1 Through Salmon Arm
If you are wanting to stick to the small cities and lake vibes then heading north towards Salmon Arm and driving Highway 1 is the way to go. Once reaching the small green town of Salmon Arm you will be greeted by yet another large lazy lake, the Shuswap Lake. There is a lot to do in this area for adventurers. Some of our favourites are white water rafting, zip-lining or renting some kayaks and paddleboards for a lazy day on the water. In fact, this is one of the more popular spots locals like to hang out.
Option 2: Highway 97 Through Falkland
If you’d rather wind your way through farmlands and have a more rustic nature-filled experience, taking Highway 97 through Falkland and Monte Lake is a great route. There are tons of places to camp in the area as you drive through a couple of small farm communities.
The town of Falkland is known in the area for the annual Falkland Stampede that draws in a fairly big crowd every spring. You will know you have reached the town when you can see their iconic Canada flag displayed up on the mountainside. Hiking up to this flag will lead to some rewarding views. Heading north up Falkland Chase Road will take you to some great outback areas where you can set up camp. On your way, you will pass Pillar Lake, a popular fishing lake.
Further north you will pass through Westwold where you will find the Westwold General Store – try their donuts and thank me later! A little ways further you will find an area called Monte Lake. This area draws a crowd of rock collectors who frequently dig near the lake for precious rocks and gems.
Another great place to float down the river, Kamloops is a town that is almost guaranteed to have sunny weather and a whole lot of wind. There are tons of hiking spots in this area including treks to Kenna Cartwright Park and Peterson Creek. Dog owners will enjoy a trip to Pioneer Park, a large off-leash dog park that even has an off-leash beach.
Note: If you have some time to spare, driving an hour and a half north to Clearwater will take you to Wells Gray Park. This is one of the best-kept secret places in BC’s interior which we consider a much see! There are so many impressive waterfalls in the area. With camping nearby, rafting and some great places to canoe on the lake, this is a must-see spot for those that can afford the time.
A sharp turn south along the Coquihalla highway will take you to the city of Merritt. This will be the last stop on your travels. While the town of Merritt isn’t packed with entertainment, the surrounding area offers some great backwoods camping.
When heading back to Vancouver, be sure to take advantage of Chilliwack’s cheaper gas on your drive-through – this often saves us about 10 cents a litre compared to prices in the city.
If the sudden and crippling burst of traffic hasn’t already shown you, you’re back in the city once again. Be sure to use this time to look over your vehicle as this was a long road trip.
Have you wanted to take a road trip across BC? Tell us your favourite areas in the comment section below.
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