Earth : North America : Canada : British Columbia : Thompson-Okanagan : Okanagan
The Okanagan (often referred to as the Okanagan Valley) is a region of British Columbia, in Canada. It borders the Shuswap region to the north, West Kootenays region to the east, Similkameen region to the west, and the American border to the south. The focus of this region is the 135km long Okanagan Lake which runs north-south from Vernon to Penticton. The region is bordered on both the east and west by mountains. The valley is known for its hot, dry summers and is a favourite vacation spot for sun seekers and outdoor enthusiasts. It is also famous for its fruit orchards and wineries.
As with most places in British Columbia (if not Canada) the Okanagan Valley's history is tied to the First Nations people who have made the area their home for thousands of years. Living a semi-nomadic life, the natives survived on wild game, berries, and the plentiful salmon runs. The first Europeans arrived in the area in 1811, and the first permanent settlement was a mission built by Father Charles Pandosy on the site of present day Kelowna. The early settlers subsisted on cattle ranching, and later, via the valley's hallmark fruit production industry. In the early 20th century many large paddlewheel steamships plied the waters of Okanagan Lake, shipping out fruit to other markets and returning goods and supplies to the many towns along the lake which were then still not connected by road or rail.
Today, the Okanagan Valley has a permanent population of 297,601. The area has almost always depended on tourism, a continually growing industry fueled by the region's agreeable climate, thriving wine and fruit production, and virtually limitless opportunities for all manors of outdoor activities including boating and watersports, hiking and mountainbiking, rock climbing, camping, and fishing. The majority of tourists flock to the valley from the metropolitan regions of Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton, all of which are within a days drive. The amount of international tourists is steadily on the rise, not coincidentally, in proportion to the increasingly international renown of the area's many wineries.
Geographically, the region runs predominantly north-south following the course of Okanagan Lake, and is framed by mid-level mountains on the east and west sides. Highway 97, which navigates the region, follows a different valley several kilometers to the east of Okanagan Lake north of Kelowna. While the big lake is the most renowned, there are several other notable lakes in the valley including Kalamalka, Wood, Skaha, Vaseaux, Tuc-El-Nuit, and Osoyoos Lake.
Weather is generally mild in the winter, with snow at the upper elevations and rain in the lower cities. In summer the region is quite hot and dry, and in fact this region contains Canada's only true hot desert in Osoyoos.
The predominant language in the Okanagan (as with the majority of British Columbia) is English. You may hear French accents from the many Quebecers who come to the region for seasonal work at the many wineries, orchards, and ski resorts. However, as the number one industry in the region is tourism, you may hear any world language spoken by the thousands of visitors that make their way here every year.
From the south
From the north
From the west
From the east
Greyhound has frequent coach service from almost all points in British Columbia and beyond into the cities and towns of the Okanagan. The relatively sparse population of this region makes any sort of rail infrastructure (as Europeans may be used to) unrealistic.
Public transportation in this area is underdeveloped. Kelowna, Vernon, and Penticton each have local transit systems (buses) that service each area, however, these services are generally geared towards getting residents to school, work, and shopping areas, rather than as a practical form of transportation for sightseeing. The easiest, and perhaps best, way to see all the sights is by automobile. Many destinations are outside of the cities and the only practical way to see them is to travel by car. The three main cities each have offices for most major vehicle rental agencies.
Greyhound  has coach service to all points on Highway 97, which runs north-south in the valley. Hitchhiking is also a generally safe and acceptable way to travel within the valley. The relative proximity of cities and towns in the region also makes touring via bicycle a viable option.
The Okanagan has a wealth of activities to offer, year round.
There are over 100 wineries in the valley, and it's worthwhile to do a wine tour and sample some of the wines and lovely vistas. The wines of the region are steadily gaining worldwide acclaim.
The Okanagan Valley is home to cougars, bears, and (more to the south) rattlesnakes (and even scorpions). There are very few reports of these animals attacking humans, but it is wise to always be vigilant and aware of the dangers when you are in non-urban areas.
As many folks come to the valley to spend their vacation in 'party mode' there is a tendency for some hooliganism and fisticuffs on the streets after the bars close. The RCMP have zero tolerance for this behaviour, so stay clear or you will find yourself put up in the drunk tank overnight.