Biking from Penticton to Kelowna
90 km / 7 hrs and not much time for anything else
On Day 2 of our Okanagan weekend I set my eyes on the section of Kettle Valley Railway from Penticton to Kelowna, a trail winding through the hillside wineries and up the Naramata bench. My final destination – Kelowna, 90km away where my husband was to pick me up late in the afternoon.
With a considerable distance to cover and not much time for anything else I rose early and left our camp on Skaha Lake at 7:30 am. The early Sunday morning had me cycling through Penticton and up into the wineries with no one else in sight. This section of the KVR is truly well-loved and maintained and a wide gravel path starts rising very gently up the side hill, passing right smack through rows of vines and opening better and better views of the Okanagan Lake below.
Soon you will pass by Lakeview Cemetary and it is worthwhile your visit (look for section D-17-3) as Andrew McCullough, the chief engineer who oversaw the construction of the Kettle Valley Railway rests here, peacefully, overlooking the rail that would not exist without him.
A little further the KVR passes just above the Hillside Winery, a great spot to stop and enjoy a little break at their pretty garden or a small tasty bite at their on-site restaurant. Another 12 km on you will arrive at Little Adra Tunnel, at this point perched already high above the lake. The tunnel is short so you won’t need a headlight and right after the tunnel is a great photo opportunity.
Most people will turn around here and head back to Penticton backtracking on the same trail. From this point on the trail gets a bit rougher, especially if you are on a road bike, but anything with beefier tires should have no issue. On this next section the cyclist traffic also thins out considerably and you are likely not to meet another soul until Chute Lake, some 25km away so make sure you have enough water, some snackbars and a tire repair kit.
Twelve kilometers “upstream” from the Little Adra Tunnel you come across the real thing – the main Adra tunnel. Unfortunately, this spiral tunnel is not accessible as it started to collapse along the outside curve and is not safe to visit. The effort is underway to build supports and open it to the public again. Until then, though, you have to bypass it on a short but steep-ish trail. Once you reconnect with KVR above the tunnel, it is worth to follow the KVR back to the tunnel opening – it’s really nearby – but it is pitch BLACK inside and without a headlamp you won’t be able to see your own toes.
Past Adra Tunnel you will start noticing signs pointing towards “rock ovens”. These were structures resembling a pizza oven built by piling rocks. These ovens were used during the KVR construction (which involved a lot of dynamite) to make bread and other baked goods for the labourers. For the next 10 km you will be passing through the Rock Ovens Regional Park. Look out for a sign pointing to a lonely ponderosa pine right by the side of the trail. It is a majestic tree worth your stop.
And finally – Chute Lake “resort”. Chute Lake used to be an important railroad stop between Midway and Penticton and the original lodge built of logs still stands here. Nowadays it is a bit of an odd place, though – you’ll find innumerable ATVs and offroad trucks roaming the forest roads around here with abandon. The section of KVR right after Chute Lake is now a vehicle-accessible forest service road (think high clearance 4×4) and was the most unpleasant section of the day. The road is full of potholes and there were large puddles of stagnant water filling any depressions in the roadway. And I mean small lakes rather than puddles where I had to wade for 40 m in muddy water which was 30-40 cm deep. Bring sandals for this part and keep them on for the next 10 km. You’ll thank me for that.
You’ve come a long way now, about 60 km and there are more pretty sights ahead. once you clear all the muddy waters, the views of Kelowna start opening up below you and it is a pleasure ride again. Here the KVR was blasted out of pure rock (therefore the stagnant water) and much dynamite was used to make headway.
Closer to Kelowna you start meeting more and more cyclists again, mostly mountain bikers enjoying trails in the western section of the Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park. Now you are really close to another jewel of this railroad – Myra Canyon.
Myra Canyon is a string of 18 wooden trestles, a marvel of engineering indeed, spanning a large creek canyon. Most of the trestles were destroyed in a devastating fire of 2003 but were since rebuilt to their former glory and man, am I ever thankful that The Myra Canyon Trestle Restoration Society volunteers did not give up after that fateful fire. See another post on Myra Canyon.
After 11 km of wonder through Myra Canyon I finished at the east entrance to the canyon and all that was left to do was to enjoy a 10 km downhill ride on Myra Forest Service Road back to Kelowna where my husband picked me up at 5 pm.
A huge feeling of accomplishment since I did a big day, did it solo and did not feel trashed at the end. On the contrary – I loved every single bit of it. Highly recommended!