Family-Friendly Adventure in the Okanagan

by Amie Gosselin

My youngest daughter tromps down the beach and plunks herself beside the water. Scoop by scoop she loads sand into a bucket then pats it down with her hand.

Shovel, pat, shovel, pat. There is a rhythm to it.

“Mommy, sand cake,” she says, beckoning me to join her. I’m comfortable on the beach, staring at the open expanse of water before me, but how can I possibly say no? Together we fill up the bucket and carefully turn it over. Our ‘sand cake’ is complete with a few shiny rocks and twigs.

My middle daughter walks along the beach stopping every few moments to pick up something that has caught her eye. She turns it around in her hand inspecting it, marveling at it. Plunk, it lands at the bottom of her beach bucket. After a while she spreads all she has collected before us: two bottle caps, a feather, an oddly shaped stick, several rocks that catch the sunlight and sparkle. All these, the treasures of childhood.

My oldest, meanwhile, is exploring Kalamalka Lake with a snorkel and mask.

“What do you see?” I call to her.

“A minnow!” she hollers back with excitement.

Earlier that day we roamed the ridge above Cougar Canyon near Coldstream. We meandered up the trail to a rocky outcrop above the canyon and looked across the valley. Kalamalka Lake stretched out before us hemmed by rolling hills colliding with the horizon.

A morning hike followed by an afternoon at the beach? Yes, please!

Choosing a life of adventure with children is not easy and certainly not without its risks and challenges.  But every time we pack ourselves up, either into our car or onto our bicycles, we never regret the decision to explore as a family.

Living in the Okanagan makes these adventures a little more accessible. This spectacular valley is nature’s playground and every trail and outdoor experience offers a breathtaking reward for your labour: textured hills, sparkling water, verdant fields and orchards.

Whether it’s lake and beach, walking trails and hikes, or biking and thrill rides, there’s something for everyone within a reasonable distance.

Getting outside is good for the brain 

Sometimes people ask us how we get out so often with our sanity intact during the tiring and tantrum-filled preschool years. To this I always respond, that we love it, that our whole family loves it. Plus, we live in Kelowna. We are within a stone’s throw of all the beauty and opportunity the Okanagan Valley holds.

But the passion for being outside goes further than pure pleasure-seeking. It’s good for our overall health. Science continues to support what we sense intuitively about getting outside.

In 2012, researchers from the University of Kansas and the University of Utah found that after just four days of immersion in nature and being completely unplugged from media and technology, half of the participants demonstrated increased creative thinking and problem-solving skills.

No matter how challenging it can be to shut off Netflix and get outdoors, we always feel better after time outside.

When we’re hiking together or exploring a new path or hidden gem, we are noticeably happier, feel less stressed and relate to each other more positively.

Here are a few things we’ve learned over the years that help us get outside with young children and keep stress to a minimum.

Keep it simple

While we do plan and execute bigger family holidays, that isn’t what a typical weekend looks like. Often, we fill a daypack full of snacks and water, a couple of extra diapers and wet wipes, and drive or bike a short distance.

More than anything else, a life of adventure is a state of mind. Take an attitude of exploration with you on the little side trips and who knows what you will find. Explore a new park, take a different side street, or check out a walking trail you’ve never been to before. The simpler the plan is, the more likely you’ll actually do it.

Start an adventure list

We have an Okanagan Adventure Bucket List tacked to the wall beside our family calendar. This is where we jot down all the walks, trails and experiences we want to do in the Okanagan. Whenever we hear of a new place to explore or a new adventure to be had, we jot it down. On weekends where we wonder what to do or where to go, we can look at that list for inspiration.

The more the merrier

Invite family or friends to join the adventure. When we make plans to meet others, the benefits are three-fold: we have a wonderful experience that we talk about later; we build and nurture community and relationships; and our kids are far more likely to be motivated when surrounded by peers.

Know your limits

Pick an activity that matches your family’s skill-level. We are decidedly in the primary and preschool stage and realize that clocking dozens of kilometres on a cycling trip is simply not in the cards for us right now. That doesn’t mean adventure is over. We plan accordingly, opting for shorter experiences and adding the bigger, grandeur adventures to our adventure bucket list.

Start your own Okanagan adventure bucket list with these resources:

Walking and Hiking

The tourism boards for each community throughout the Okanagan Valley have web pages dedicated to local hiking and walking trails, including a description and difficulty level.

Tourism Kelowna:

Tourism Vernon:

District of Summerland:


Two wheeled adventures 

The Okanagan is chock full of cycling opportunities, the Kettle Valley Railway is just a starting point. Many bike trails are family friendly, away from traffic, and a prime place for kids to explore on two wheels.

The Regional District of the Okanagan-Similkameen has a section on its website dedicated to the regional cycling network and includes trails and an interactive map.  Regional District of the Okanagan-Similkameen Cycling Network:

Amie Gosselin is a communications consultant and freelance writer at and loves adventuring far and wide with her family of five. She blogs about family travel at


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