On Canada’s West Coast, British Columbia boasts breathtaking views in nature and the ability to participate in exhilarating activities throughout the four seasons. For first-time visitors or those looking to spend time in different areas, deciding on the perfect location can be challenging. The Province offers up an abundance of notable locations to choose from — none necessarily better than the other. 

When looking to spend summer in British Columbia, Vancouver Island and the Okanagan Valley are popular amongst locals and tourists alike. Despite being quite different from one another, some may find it difficult to pick between the beautiful coastlines of the Island and the warm and dry climate of the Okanagan. We want to make your summer-trip planning a little easier. Continue reading to learn more about each area, its unique characteristics, and top activities.

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Things to do While Spending Summer on Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island is the largest island on the Pacific Coast of North America. Its unique characteristics include beautiful shorelines, beaches, and old-growth forests. Adventure-seekers will find activities like surfing, whale watching, hiking, and camping to be popular here. Vancouver Island is also home to Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, where visitors can experience cultural attractions, dining, nightlife, and shopping. 

Vancouver Island weather is some of the warmest and most temperate in the country. Winds from the Pacific Ocean can help to reduce sweltering summer temperatures. The mountains along the center of the Island also play a role in protecting this coastal region from harsh weather systems. Summer on Vancouver Island is best classified as being warm and dry.

Witness Vibrant Flora at Butchart Gardens 

The story of Butchart Gardens began in 1904 when husband and wife, Robert and Jennie Butchart moved to Vancouver Island to build a cement plant on a limestone deposit at Tod Inlet. Today, the space, located near Victoria, stands at 55-acres, includes 900 bedding plant varieties and 26 greenhouses. Butchart Gardens welcomes almost one million visitors annually. This should come as no surprise as the beauty of this National Historic Site is a must-see on any visit to Vancouver Island. In the spring, visitors can bear witness to the color of new blooms, and in the summer, enjoy an evening catching a firework performance. The garden makes changes to its floral displays each season, so return visits are recommended.

Explore Pacific Rim National Park & Relax at Long Beach 

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve measures 511 km2 and is comprised of three regions including, Long Beach, the Broken Group Islands, and the West Coast Trail. Although the park is best known for its ancient temperate rainforest and abundant marine life in surrounding waters, visitors can also enjoy its sandy beaches and the 75-kilometer West Coast Trail. Tofino and Ucluelet are popular destinations along the way, especially for those who enjoy surfing, whale watching, and other beach activities. For adventure-seekers, Long Beach is most often used for surfing and windsurfing, the Broken Group Islands for sea kayaking, and the West Coast Trail for hiking. All areas are also home to suitable camping grounds.

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Catch a Glimpse of Majestic Mammals on a Whale Tour 

One of the most popular things to do on Vancouver Island is going on a whale watching tour. There are few better places to catch a glimpse of so many different types of whales. Orcas, better known as Killer Whales, can be seen in the Island’s north and south seas between May and October. Pacific Gray Whales swim and jump along the west coast of the Island between March and April. This is just about the time that they migrate north for spring and summer. For visitors looking to catch a sight of a Humpback whale, they return from their winter getaways in Hawaii and Mexico just in time for Summer. Vancouver Island is home to an abundance of wildlife, and other marine animals that visitors could encounter include Minke whales, dolphins, seals, and porpoises.

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Top Okanagan Valley Activities During the Summer 

Outside of British Columbia’s lower mainland, the Okanagan Valley is the most densely populated region. Well known for its wineries and fruit orchards, the Okanagan is home to a sunny climate, beautiful landscapes, and a relaxed lifestyle. Therefore, it is no surprise that it is also a popular tourist destination. The main city in this region is Kelowna, located on the shore of Okanagan Lake. It is surrounded by towering pine forests and spacious provincial parks. 

Most of the Okanagan Valley lies within the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains to its southwest. Areas in the north receive more precipitation, while those in the south see less. Kelowna is the transition zone between the north and south of the valley. The Okanagan north of Kelowna has a humid continental climate with warm, sometimes hot summers. The Okanagan south of Kelowna has a semi-arid climate with hot, dry summers. Here, the average daytime temperature is about 15.0 °C (59.0 °F), making it the warmest in Canada. Generally, the Okanagan is described as having a mild and relatively dry climate.

Learn About Some of the Areas Unique Ecology at the Osoyoos Desert Centre

Located just 3KM north of Osoyoos, in the southernmost corner of the Okanagan Valley, is a 67-acre nature interpretive facility. The Osoyoos Desert Centre is a place where visitors can learn more about desert ecology, habitat restoration, and fragile and endangered ecosystems within the South Okanagan region. Often referred to as Canada’s only desert,’ this area is home to a semi-arid, antelope-brush ecosystem. It is also an area where one can see the highest concentrations of rare and at-risk species in the country. The Desert Centre is operated by a non-profit organization called the Osoyoos Desert Society. They strive to maintain the South Okanagan’s rich biodiversity for generations to come. Visitors are welcome to take a guided or self-guided tour here along a 1.5KM wooden boardwalk.

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Pick Fresh Fruit at one of the Many Area Orchards

One of the top things to do in the Okanagan Valley is to participate in a U‑Pick at one of the countless orchards in the region. The fruit-picking season usually gets underway at the end of June or early July. Cherries and strawberries are usually the first items ready for visitors to pick, followed by apricots, peaches, and more. The season ends in October with apples and even pumpkins being the last to be ready for picking. Orchards in the Okanagan, especially those around Kelowna, are very scenic. We recommend that you charge up your smartphone for some great photo opportunities. 

The Okanagan is home to many available activities. If you can’t find time to visit an orchard, then be sure to take advantage of the Farm to Flight program at Kelowna International Airport. First launched in 2016, this program offers various in-season fruits available for purchase in the Departures Lounge gift shop. The fruits are securely packaged to remain protected throughout your journey and will fit under aircraft seats or in overhead compartments. Farm to Flight is the best way for domestic travelers to bring the taste of the Okanagan home to family and friends.

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Participate in Activities on the Water at Okanagan Lake

A day out on the lake is one of the top Okanagan Valley activities. Okanagan Lake is a beautiful body of water that stretches 135-KM from the north in Vernon to the south in Penticton, with Kelowna being the halfway point. The lake is best known for its 30 beaches that are spread out across the region. If you prefer to get out onto the water, you can enjoy watersports and activities that include stand-up paddleboarding, wake boats, sailboats, pedalboats, charter boats, kayaks, and canoes. The lake is best explored during the summer months. For those interested in legends, mysteries, and exploration, the lake is said to be home to creatures, hidden coves, and even tombs.

Hike or Bike the Myra Canyon Trestles Trail

The Myra Canyon Trestles trail is a 12-km-long trail (one way) route located 24-KM from downtown Kelowna. It passes along a portion of what once was the Kettle Valley Railway, a historic route used by locomotives to transport silver ore from the mountains to the coast in British Columbia. Today, the trail is popular with walkers and cyclists who want to take in the stunning views and flat terrain that follows the old railway route along a steep-walled canyon. The highlight for many visitors is the 18-wooden trestle bridges that include lookout spots to take in the view. Though some can be avoided, many of the bridges must be crossed to continue along the trail.

Always follow Canada and local health authority COVID-19 guidelines for travelling or visiting attractions. Learn more about current restrictions and travelling within Canada.

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