Osoyoos: 16 ways to have fun in Canadian desert

Osoyoos is located on the southernmost border of British Columbia. It is considered Canada’s only desert. It’s hot and sunny in the summer. And instead of sand dunes and huge cacti, the valley is covered with picturesque green vineyards and gray sage bushes…

People come to Osoyoos to bask by the pool, swim in Canada’s warmest lake, and chill out with a glass of wine. In this article I’m going to tell you what we’ve discovered in this amazing place.

Nk’Mip Native Desert Center

Nk’Mip Desert & Heritage Center is the main tourist spot of Osoyoos. Here you can walk through the desert, listen to the legends of the Indigenous Peoples and meet a real rattlesnake face-to-face…

Nk'Mip Desert & Heritage Centre, Osoyoos

The museum consists of a fenced-off section of desert and a modern Nk’Mip Center building. There’s a beautiful gift store inside with artwork, a performance hall, a terrarium, and historical artifacts.

Nk'Mip Desert & Heritage Centre

There are guided walks in the mornings. Those are quite popular, so come early (we were already in the parking lot at 9:00 a.m.)!

Our guide was a girl from the local tribe. She told us about Indigenous life, schools, art and legends. On the trail, she showed the most common and important plants and herbs and taught us how to use them. Don’t be surprised that everything around is green and blooming. Technically, the region is shrub-steppe rather than a typical desert. The heat is still impossible. Be sure to bring a hat and sunscreen.

Nk'Mip Desert & Heritage Centre
Nk'Mip Desert & Heritage Centre, Osoyoos
Nk'Mip Desert & Heritage Centre, Osoyoos

Center employees recreated the original houses and underground shelters of the Indians. The guide’s story about life of the Indigenous Peoples was very colorful and interesting. For those exploring the place on their own there are information signs everywhere.

Nk'Mip Desert & Heritage Centre, Osoyoos
Nk'Mip Desert & Heritage Centre

The guide finished her tour by the earth lodges. In half an hour, the Snake Show was to begin in the museum building. We’ve had a chance to walk around the desert on our own for a while. A little further along the trail (only 1.5 km) we discovered petroglyphs and an observation deck. The signs warning about rattlesnakes were everywhere. But we were lucky and didn’t meet them that day.

Nk'Mip Desert & Heritage Centre
Nk'Mip Desert & Heritage Centre
Nk'Mip Desert & Heritage Centre

Instead of snakes we’ve had a chance to admire a couple of ospreys, which had made a nest right at the entrance of the Center.

Nk'Mip Desert & Heritage Centre

“Snake Show” was presented by the same guides and 2 snakes from the terrarium. They told us about the most common species of snakes in the region, how to distinguish them from each other and to react safely. Overall, the presentation was quite simple, but still useful for personal development.

Nk'Mip Desert & Heritage Centre

We left the Nk’Mip Center shortly after noon. We originally planned to spend no more than an hour, but with the tour and the show an hour turned into three.

Traditional restaurant

Near the Nk’Mip Cultural Center, we stopped by an unusual restaurant called The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry. Its name and cuisine are based on the legend of the Okanagan Nation’s Syilx Nation of four chiefs. They lived in the world before the world we know and sacrificed themselves to feed new people. Their names were Bear, Salmon, Bitterroot and Saskatoon Berry Bush.

You can’t get in this place in the evening without a reservation. We could get there only on a second attempt, for lunch. The prices are high, but the view from the porch is gorgeous. The food is delicious, I especially liked the fish and jam meal called simply “The Fish”.

The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry, Osoyoos
The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry, Osoyoos
The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry
The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry, Osoyoos

Desert Centre

Desert Centre is another island of the Osoyoos Desert. Unlike Nk’Mip, it is more focused on nature and wildlife. In fact, Desert Centre consists of a mile and a half of wooden paths and lookouts in the bushy steppe. There are also guided tours several times a day. We arrived just before closing time, so we just walked around without a guide. They provide an excellent brochure with lots of information and interesting facts.

Desert Centre Osoyoos

At the entrance of the Desert Centre there is a collection of insects and animals of Osoyoos. The skins and stuffed body of a rattlesnake were the most impressive.


Desert Centre Osoyoos

Desert Centre Osoyoos

Desert Centre Osoyoos
Desert Centre Osoyoos
Desert Centre Osoyoos
Desert Centre Osoyoos

There’s a total of 10 lookout platforms on the trail with information signs and benches. It took us 40 minutes to get around the whole place. The views are astonishing! Be sure to stop by, you won’t regret it.

Desert Centre Osoyoos

Mount Kobau

If you have some time, climb Mount Kobau. The gravel path there is not the smoothest, but it leads straight to the top (1873m). Fifty years ago, there were plans to build the National Observatory with the second largest telescope in the world on top of this mountain, but the project was cancelled due to high costs.

Mount Kobau

Kobau Mountain separates the snowy, rainy North Cascade from the warm, sunny Okanagan Valley. The views from here are stunning! Native people call the mountain “Txasqin” – a good peak – and for a good reason.

Mount Kobau Osoyoos

It’s a little over a kilometer walk from the parking lot to the observation deck and back. The altitude gain is minimal. There is a toilet. The temperature here is a few degrees lower, so bring some warm clothes with you.

Download the trail map here.

Mount Kobau

Knee-high fragrant alpine grasses were blooming all along the trail. At the very peak, someone had thoughtfully set up a bench. If it wasn’t for the rain and chilling wind, we would have stayed there for a long time.

Mount Kobau
Mount Kobau Osoyoos
Mount Kobau
Mount Kobau Osoyoos

Wineries

Many people come to Osoyoos for the warm weather and the vineyards. The Okanagan Valley is Canada’s second largest wine-producing region. No one knows exactly how many wineries there are. The industry is actively developing, and new ones appear every year. According to the latest data, there were about 186 of them.

We carefully selected the wineries according to the publications of sommeliers and recommendations of local wine lovers. If you’d like to share the addresses of your favorites in the comments section, I’d be immensely grateful!

La Stella Winery

An exquisite winery in a beautiful building. The tasting tour takes 45 minutes and costs $10 CAD/person. Book your tasting in advance here or by phone.

La Stella Winery Osoyoos

They give you four kinds of wine to try. They tell a little bit about each one and pour it into a beautiful glass on the terrace. At La Stella we bought a bottle of sweet Moscato (about $25 CAD)

La Stella Winery Osoyoos
La Stella Winery Osoyoos

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery

Personally, I liked Burrowing Owl better, even though it was crowded there. The winery, hotel, and restaurant are located just off the highway, on a hill with a beautiful panorama.

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Osoyoos

The tasting takes place in the store. The atmosphere here is more casual: they give you a tasting of six wines from the assortment, they don’t change the glasses and the session lasts 15 minutes. You also need to sign up in advance.

Burrowing Owl specializes in red wines. We liked their signature Merlot and took a bottle with us (about $35 CAD). Other visitors were actively dragging him away in crates.

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Osoyoos
Burrowing Owl Estate Winery
Burrowing Owl Estate Winery Osoyoos
Burrowing Owl Estate Winery

Rust Wine Co.

Finally, Rust Wine Co. turned out to be the trendiest, hipster winery. With music, a modern building, a cool terrace and lavender beds.

There is no organized tasting as such. All guests were poured a free welcome glass. After that you can try everything you can get your eye on. We came here by the closing time (by the way, you do not need to sign up in advance), so we didn’t particularly pounce on the tasting, but mostly looked at what other people were doing. Other people were just drinking wine by the bottle on the terrace.

We didn’t buy anything at Rust Wine Co, but we liked everything. This winery has a Google rating of 4.9 too. Well deserved.

Rust Wine Co.
Rust Wine Co.
Rust Wine Co.
Rust Wine Co Osoyoos

All three places turned out great. Each winery had something delicious and special. I can surely recommend it (being a wine amateur).

If you’re driving, don’t forget to ask for an empty cup before tasting and pour the leftovers in there. There are many tours and buses that take tasters to Osoyoous. Some tourists take bicycles from home or rent them here.

Osoyoos Center

The center of Osoyoos looks like an ordinary Canadian village. Neat old houses, stores with all sorts of things, flowerbeds, burger restaurants. All full of calmness and mellow…

The local population is about 5 thousand people. The main economic sectors here are agriculture and tourism.

Osoyoos
Osoyoos

Osoyoos is located on the lakeshore, where you can swim and paddle a boat. When the weather is good, visitors can rent kayaks, paddleboards, wakesurfs. Fishing enthusiasts will especially enjoy the local lake. There are 43 species of fish!

Osoyoos
Osoyoos

There’s a museum and gallery in the center of the city. There are some unusual art objects on the streets, like this minivan covered with rivets and declarations of love to Canada.

Osoyoos

The coffee at Junction 3 Coffee House is delicious.

Osoyoos

Amusement Park (Rattlesnake Canyon)

There’s also an amusement park for children with rides, vending machines, miniature golf, rock climbing, kart racing, and bungee-jumping. It’s designed in the best western style. It just makes me want to put on a cowboy hat and go pan for some gold!

In the center of the park a replica of a real Dutch windmill stands proudly. Inside they serve 48 kinds of ice cream!

Rattlesnake Canyon
Rattlesnake Canyon
Osoyoos Rattlesnake Canyon

Admission to the park is free, and every ride is paid for separately. There were a lot of people, especially the adults, who were not at all embarrassed to ride and have fun.

Rattlesnake Canyon is open every day from 10 am to 11 pm.

The tastiest pizza in Osoyoos

After a month in Italy, it’s hard to surprise me with pizza. However, Osoyoos made a real good job. Pizza 97A – right in a private home with a family across from the cash register watching TV shows. The pizza is amazing! On a thin, crispy dough, with the well chosen toppings and sauces that don’t mess with each other’s flavors.

Pizza 97A

The price for two “small” pizzas (actually medium, we couldn’t even finish them) is about $40 CAD. It’s well worth it – highly recommended!

Pizza 97A
Pizza 97A

Anarchist Mountain Lookout

The lookout is located on Highway 3. There are observation decks on both sides of the highway; personally, I liked the view towards Rock Creek better. The valley, town, vineyards and lake are all spread out before your eyes. It’s incredibly beautiful!

We also almost got blown out of there by the wind, but that was nothing.

Osoyoos Anarchist Mountain Lookout
Anarchist Mountain Lookout
Osoyoos Anarchist Mountain Lookout
Osoyoos Anarchist Mountain Lookout
Osoyoos Anarchist Mountain Lookout

The Hobbit’s House

“Lord of the Rings” is one of my favorite movies and fantasy worlds. Not to an extent of knowing all the books by heart and speaking Elvish, but surely enough not to miss the real hobbit lodge in Canada. Particularly since it’s only a 30-minute drive from Osoyoos.

Osoyoos Hobbit Hotel

You can’t find the hotel on a Google map and it’s hidden in a real green backwoods – definitely feels like a Shire. You can rent the house and the whole glade with a barbecue!

Inside there’s an incredible amount of artefacts and symbols from the movie: runes on the walls, Bilbo’s pipe, the One Ring, forged chests… Stylish, realistic and very cool! I haven’t been to the original Hobbit House in New Zealand, but I’m sure the Canadian one is just as good, except a little smaller.

Osoyoos Hobbit Hotel
Osoyoos Hobbit Hotel

Funny detail: the mirror in the bathroom is designed for the height of the Hobbit!

Hobbit Hotel
Hobbit Hotel

The kitchen is fully functional, except for the artificial garlic hanging on the wall. There’s a refrigerator, coffee maker, cups/dishes, and hundreds of other little things. All in all, simply amazing!

Hobbit Hotel
Hobbit Hotel

This treasure is owned by a nice American couple who live on a ranch nearby. Since the house was fully booked on the days of our trip, they agreed to give us a tour for the blog in the afternoon while the residents weren’t there. You can book your trip to Middle-earth on Airbnb here.

Midway and burgers

Patrick, the owner of Hobbit House, advised us to go to Midway. There aren’t many attractions in that area, but the road runs through the green valley of the Kettler River. The terrain is really standing out in the Osoyoos landscape!

It was raining. So we passed by the ostrich farm, authentic barns, and scenic lookouts. The Midway museum was also closed.

Midway

We waited out the shower at a local restaurant, Keg & Kettle Grill. Probably this place was worth all the trip over there! The burgers, borsch, and salad were all incredibly good. Without a ton of mayonnaise and salt, it’s a simple and perfectly cooked meal. And not that pricey as well!

The restaurant building looks like a castle, there’s plenty of space inside and it’s very clean and cozy. There is a small patio.

Keg & Kettle Grill
Keg & Kettle Grill

Haynes Point Park

Haynes Point Park is a narrow, long strip of land going into the water. Many years ago, Indigenous peoples crossed the lake here. The traditional name of the park – sẁiẁs – means “shallow water”.

The park is managed by the Osoyoos Indigenous community and is considered an important archaeological and cultural site.

Haynes Point (Swiws) Provincial Park Osoyoos

There’s a campground at Haynes Point. There is a beautiful view of the lake and the city. There are birds chirping in the trees, although the strong winds blow here most of the time.

Haynes Point (Swiws) Provincial Park
Haynes Point (Swiws) Provincial Park

Racing at Area 27 Motorsports Park

Area 27 Motorsports Park is a real race track and probably the coolest offbeat place around Osoyoos!

The track was designed by Jacques Villeneuve, the only Canadian racing driver to win Formula 1. Today anyone can race here, lessons and cars rental are also available.

Area 27 Motorsports Park Osoyoos

Participants whiz past the huge free parking lot near the park, which also serves as a lookout. Before you plan your trip, I advise you to check the training schedule here.

Area 27 Motorsports Park
Area 27 Motorsports Park Osoyoos
Area 27 Motorsports Park Osoyoos

Sofia Mexican food

Everywhere you look in Osoyoos there are small family businesses. Which is great, because people actually put their heart and effort into their work.

Take Sofia Mexican Food, an unremarkable booth in the market parking lot. You can’t call it “fast food” being in sound mind. Such freshest burritos and quesadillas are more likely to be served by the chef in some restaurant. In Osoyoos, on the other hand, you can casually eat delicious authentic Mexican food, for reasonable money. So if you find yourself in the area, don’t miss it!

By the way, the market isn’t bad either. From July to September, cherries, peaches, nectarines, grapes, and apricots ripe in the Okanagan.

Sofia Mexican food
Sofia Mexican food Osoyoos

Spotted Lake

At first glance, it will be difficult to realize that you’re standing in front of a natural wonder. Wait for the sun and look closely at the surface of the water – it will be covered with spots. This is Spotted Lake, a lake with one of the highest concentrations of minerals in the world (magnesium sulfates, calcium, sodium, etc.)

Spotted Lake Osoyoos, Spotted Lake

When it’s hot, the water evaporates, the minerals crystallize and form circles of yellow, green or blue on the surface. If you get there right after the rain or during colder seasons, when the water level is high, there won’t be any spots.

Spotted Lake Osoyoos, Spotted Lake

You can see Spotted Lake only from a special distant platform near the track. The land, along with the natural wonder, belongs to the Indigenous peoples.

The Osoyoos tribes revere the place as sacred and have legends of how their ancestors’ wounds were instantly healed by the lake’s miraclous waters.

Spotted Lake Osoyoos, Spotted Lake

The official website states that you can contact the Okanagan Nation Alliance and leave a request to visit Spotted Lake. Let me be honest about the perspectives of this venture: none of my five calls and two emails were answered. Let me know in the comment section, if anyone had better luck.

Bead Trails Art Quest

While surfing the Internet just before the trip I accidentally stumbled upon a mention of an art-quest – Bead Trails. All over various corners and premises of the city you have to find and collect branded beads (like Pandora pendants). Notably, the quest covers all the major Okanagan cities. If you take it seriously, at the end of the trip you will end up with a weighty original souvenir bracelet.

The Bead Trails were invented by an artist from Summerland in support of artisans and local small businesses. Within a few years, her idea had spread throughout the region!

Beads can be found at wineries, museums, galleries, and shops. One piece costs about 7CAD and looks pretty cool. For a complete list of locations and maps, see this link.

Bead Trail Osoyoos
Bead Trail Osoyoos

Conclusion

We spent almost three days in Osoyoos and tried to make the most of it. The nature, the desert centers, the vineyards impressed us to the core! The place is perfect for vacations with kids and camping (by the way, RV parks are packed to the gills). We didn’t have any kids or tents with us, so one weekend was more than enough.

If you are going to drive from Vancouver, I suggest stopping by Manning Park (amazing hikes in July-September) and Keremeos town (century-old watermill, rodeo) as well.

Have a hot, sunny travel!


READ MORE:


Map

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top