By Carol Stathers
Winters seem to be getting milder and this has provided more opportunity for winter hiking in the South Okanagan. As a 30 year resident of the Okanagan Valley, I have seen the number of winter cold spells reduced from three to two, and this year, possibly only one. That means less snow on the valley bottom, additional warmer days, and increased hiking potential.
On two recent days this winter, we decided to take a road trip and test this theory. We journeyed to the White-Mahoney Lakes Loop and McIntyre Bluff Trail just south of Okanagan Falls. Our source of information was Sweet Singletrack, The Ultimate South Okanagan Trail Guide, which is available on line or in paperback.
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The White Lake trail is 11 kilometres south from Penticton on Highway 97; turn right on White Lake Road and travel 8 kilometres, then turn left on Fairview/White Lake Road for another 2 kilometres and look for a small parking area with a kiosk just past the lake.
The trail is a spectacular moderate-rated 12 kilometre hike. It features only one steep downhill section if circling the loop counter clockwise. Hikers will encounter a variety of forest terrain, creek crossings, marshes, open grassland, rolling hills with rock outcroppings, and small scenic alkaline lakes (including White Lake!).
We walked the trail in about 3 hours, encountered virtually no snow/ice and stayed warm in the various sunny, sheltered stops along the way. A unique feature was the pristine frozen lakes, making me wish I had brought along my skates. The trail also has lots of potential for snowshoeing and cross country skiing if there is snow and of course, mountain biking in the warmer seasons. A word of caution though; this is a protected conservation area and one should stay on the trails.
In the same general area is one of the most well-known landmarks in the Okanagan. McIntyre Bluff dramatically rises 300 metres from the valley base just south of Vaseux Lake. For wanna-be hikers, it is clearly visible from Highway 97 and is accessed by turning right on Secrest Hill Road (drive only 1.5 kilometres) and park at Covert Farms Vineyard.
The 8 kilometre trail is gradual with just a few steep sections. The winery allows you to walk through its gigantic scenic vineyards and then access the uphill portion of the hike through a gate. The view is tremendous as you make your way up to Rattlesnake Lake (about 2.5 kilometres). We stopped for our lunch here and again wondered where all the snow was. Hiking poles were an asset when we encountered some steeper rises as we got closer to the bluff and its stupendous viewpoint! We could clearly see Oliver to the south and two lakes: Vaseux and Gallagher. But stay away from the edge!
Layered clothing is a real benefit during winter hiking. On our day, we encountered sunny and shady spots, some ice and frozen ground and cold winds at the bluff. At other times, it seemed like we could be hiking with just long sleeves and light gloves.
Expect the unexpected in winter; that includes coyote and bird watching, possibly some mountain bikers (because there is another flatter trail entrance to the north) and many people who like to combine hiking with agri-tourism. I’m sure Covert Farms would like all hikers to stop by its food shop in exchange for parking privileges.
So, winter seems to be changing. For hikers, it means an extended season in the South Okanagan and this greatly benefits retirees, campers, naturalists, and recreational explorers like us!
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Published: February 6, 2020
Carol loves being in the outdoors whether it is hiking, camping, kayaking or enjoying time at the lake. With a health background in nursing, she has written for many health-related journals and is also writing a historical non-fiction book about the Peach Valley area of Summerland where she lives. Along with writing, she and her family love camping. She grew up camping on Vancouver Island and has explored many parts of BC with her husband, three kids and their golden retriever. She and her newly-retired husband just upgraded to a newer trailer and are looking forward to more camping adventures throughout British Columbia.