The Okanagan Valley
The Okanagan Valley is in south-central British Columbia, spanning 200 km from the US border. It runs northward from the 49th parallel to above the 50th parallel; in places, the Valley is 20 km wide, although the valley is generally 10-12km wide is most locations. Lake Okanagan is the Valley’s dominating feature, and acts as an ‘air conditioner’ of sorts with respect to the area’s unique climate. Kelowna is the Okanagan Valley’s largest city: an ever-evolving, bustling, medium-sized city that we are proud to call home. Beautiful weather, four distinct seasons, an abundance of lakes and beaches, and iconic scenery are part of the reason why so many tourists venture to the Valley each year.
The Okanagan Valley was first inhabited by the Okanagan of the Interior Salish, who gave the valley its name, translated roughly as “place of water.” There are large reserves on the northwest arm of Okanagan Lake, southwest of the lake and north of Osoyoos, and others near Enderby and Kelowna.
The three largest population centres are Kelowna, Penticton and Vernon. Enderby and Armstrong lie in the dairy and vegetable-growing region of the northern valley, and Okanagan Falls, Oliver and Osoyoos lie in the dry fruit-growing area south of Penticton.
Our namesake body of water, Lake Okanagan, is the largest in a series of lakes in the Valley. The big lake feeds into into Skaha Lake, Vaseaux Lake, and Lake Osoyoos (along with a number of wetlands) before flowing into the Columbia River, eventually spilling out into the Pacific Ocean between Washington and Oregon.
Stretching from just north of Vernon all the way south to Penticton, the lake is 135 km (84 mi) long, and between 4 and 5 km (2.5 and 3.1 mi) wide; with an average depth of 76 m (249 ft), the lake’s maximum depth is 232 m (761 ft). So, it’s kind of a big deal around here. Dozens of beautiful, sandy beaches and fabulous parks line the shores of the lake, attracting visitors and locals alike. It’s natural beauty aside, the lake plays an incredibly valuable role in moderating the climate in the Valley, keeping winters relatively mild (although tending to be quite grey), and turning scorching days into cool, comfortable nights during summer. While the residents enjoy this ‘climate control’ effect, it has benefits for fruit & vegetable crops, particularly grapes!
The lake is home to several species of fish, primarily including rainbow trout and kokanee… but, the most notable aquatic resident is the Ogopogo. Think of the Loch Ness Monster lake serpent, but with a Canadian accent and a penchant for PDP (People Drinking Pinot).
The Okanagan Valley lies between the Columbia and Cascade mountain ranges in south-central British Columbia. Its landscape of low hills and oblong lakes was formed by glacial activity during the Pleistocene epoch, the final retreat of the ice between 11,000 and 9,000 years ago. The glaciers left large deposits of gravel, silt and sand on the bottom and sides of the valley. These sediments were eroded by water and wind, resulting in large alluvial fans (i.e., triangle-shaped deposits of sediment) and deltas such as those on which the cities of Vernon, Kelowna and Penticton partly stand. These sediments are rich in minerals, and is ideal for agriculture such as grape-growing.
The valley lies in a rain shadow created by the Coast and Cascade mountains, creating a hot, sunny, dry climate. Most of the valley receives about 2,000 hours of sunlight per year and 250–400 mm of precipitation. Generally, Kelowna is the transition zone between the drier south and the wetter north. The southern valley, which gets about 300 mm of precipitation, is desert-like, with cacti, rattlesnakes and mantids.
The Okanagan Valley receives hot summers and moderately “cold” winters, although by Canadian standards the winters are extremely mild. Areas near Osoyoos and Oliver claim to be Canada’s only desert, comprising the northernmost point of the Sonoran Desert. Daytime highs in summer typically range from 30°C to 35°C (86°F to 95°F), although it is not uncommon for highs in the south to surpass 40°C (104°F) in July and August.