The wind was gusting as we slid the canoe into the water at the Cedar Creek Boat launch, and the bow smacked down on the choppy surface as we crested over waves. Under the hot sun and cloudless blue sky with the wind working against us, my partner Chloe and I paddled along the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake towards Okanagan Mountain Park.


Okanagan Mountain Park: A Backcountry Paradise close to Urban Kelowna

Okanagan Mountain Park Paddle

Okanagan Mountain Park was established in 1973, and before that, the land had a long history of use by the syilx Okanagan peoples, early settlers, and even Canadian military operations during World War Two. While the park encompasses 10,000 hectares of rugged wilderness, our adventure was limited to some of the 33km of undeveloped shoreline and three of the six marine-accessible backcountry campsites along the lake.

Before reaching the undeveloped shoreline of Okanagan Mountain Park, we paddled alongside Lakeshore Road and admired the architecture of the stunning lakefront homes along the shoreline. But when the road ended, and the natural parklands began, we were more than happy to leave the urban landscape behind. With the absence of docks, we could paddle right up close to shore and admire the turquoise colours of the water in the shallows.

In 2003, much of the mountainside in Okanagan Mountain Park burned in a devastating wildfire, but in the past 20 years, the landscape has come alive, which was apparent by the abundance of green on the rolling hills and the wildlife we spotted as we paddled our way along the shore. The slow pace of paddling lends well to admiring the landscape and spotting wildlife. Within a couple of hours, we spotted a pair of bighorn sheep eating grass in a patch of shade. They paused to check us out, and then each moved to opposite sides of a little pine tree and began scratching their horns on the tree.


Day 1: From Cedar Creek Boat Launch to Reluctant Dragon Cove

Okanagan Mountain Park Paddle Camping

The first campground we arrived at was Halfway Point, and we stopped there to stretch our legs and check out the site. Rocky beaches stretched out from each edge of the point with clear water, and beyond the beach, there were rugged cliffs topped with grasslands and ponderosa pine trees. Our plan was to paddle out to the farthest campground we would stay at on the first day and check out each campsite we passed along the way to help us choose which one we would backtrack to on the second night of our trip. We planned our trip this way for two reasons. First, as paddling isn’t something we do often, we figured that our arms would be the strongest on the first day and most capable of covering a farther distance. Second, the following day of our trip had a weather forecast for strong winds in the afternoon, so we planned to make our second day a shorter paddle in the morning so that we could get to camp before the winds picked up.

Shortly after departing Halfway Point, we passed by Halfway Bay, and rather than stopping, we just cruised close to shore to get an idea of what the site was like and carried on our way. We could see Rattlesnake Island in the distance and were keen on stopping to explore the island before reaching our destination for the night, Reluctant Dragon Cove. The water was as smooth as glass as we passed through the narrow channel between Rattlesnake Island and the shoreline on the opposite side. We curved around the island's south end into a little sheltered beach. Within ten minutes of setting our feet on the island, a southern wind picked up, and we decided to rush back to the canoe. There were about five hundred metres of rough water to travel between us and Reluctant Dragon Cove. The canoe rocked from side to side as we navigated through the waves coming from the south and the secondary waves bouncing off the nearby cliffside to the east. It was the most exciting little stretch of our day, but we were both happy to slide the canoe up onto the beach at Reluctant Dragon Cove.

Shortly after arriving at the campsite and setting up our tent, the lake calmed down, and the grassy hillsides were coated with a warm golden evening light. Aside from one motorboat that stopped for its passengers to use the pit toilets, we had the site to ourselves. We went for a swim in the lake, enjoyed a Backpackers Pantry Pad Thai, swung in our hammock, and watched the sun go down behind Peachland.


Day 2: Reluctant Dragon Cove to Halfway Bay

Okanagan Mountain Park Paddle Camping

The following morning, we woke up at 6:00 and quickly got ready. We paddled out into the lake a little way to get better cell service and check the weather forecast for up-to-date information on the winds. The weather forecast called for winds to pick up around 1:00 pm, culminating in gusts up to forty kilometres an hour by 3:00 pm. The previous day, we had paid attention to our pace to know how many kilometres per hour we were travelling on average and based on that, we decided it was safe for us to explore further south past Squally Point to get a peek at the massive cliffs and the stretch of lake that reaches down toward Penticton before the windstorm came in. We set a firm turnaround time for ourselves, and within that, we were able to paddle along the bottom of the cliffs and explore some rugged rocky bays that made me feel like I was on the West Coast. After turning around, we found that we were doing well for time, so we made another stop at Rattlesnake Island to explore it properly. The island has a unique history that involves a failed amusement park that briefly opened and closed in 1972. Today, the remnants of a mini golf course remain among the sagebrush and balsamroot that cover the island.

After exploring Rattlesnake Island, we paddled back to Halfway Bay, and about 45 minutes after we landed on the shore, the winds kicked in, and we were glad we were not on the water any longer. Perched on a point on the edge of the bay, we had a view of Peachland to the west, Rattlesnake Island to the south, and could walk just over the hump of the hill behind us to catch views of Mount Boucherie to the north. The winds howled as we rested in our hammock and napped to the sound of waves crashing against the rocks. The waters calmed as the sun began to go down, and we enjoyed the last moments of light before climbing into our tent.


Day 3: Halfway Bay to Cedar Creek Boat Launch

Okanagan Mountain Park Paddle

The following morning, we took it slow, hung out around the camp, and Chloe went out in the canoe for a little solo paddle on the clear, glassy waters. We planned a ride to pick us back up at the Cedar Creek Boat Launch at 3:30 pm and figured we had some time to spare. Based on our previous days and the lack of wind forecasted, we guessed that we had about three hours of paddling to do and set out at 10:30 am to give ourselves some extra time to stop along the way.

Not long after setting out on our way back to Kelowna, we spotted a pair of coyotes running along the shoreline. We paddled side by side with the pair of coyotes for several kilometres as they clambered up and down cliffs and through bushes. Suddenly, we came around a corner to find one of the two coyotes being chased by a deer, and the other coyote was nowhere to be seen. Seeing the predator being pursued by its prey seemed like an odd sight, but we assumed that maybe the deer was protecting a baby hiding nearby. At one point, the deer had the coyote cornered at the base of a cliff before trotting off, only to return and chase the coyote into a bush. The deer eventually left, and the coyote stood still, panting, assumingly tired after the ambush. Although tempted to continue watching to find out if the coyote would be reunited with its friend or if the deer would return, we decided to continue our journey with the lack of closure in the coyote’s story.

Paddle at Okanagan Mountain Park

Soon, Downtown Kelowna came back into sight, the houses returned to our right, and we eventually found ourselves pulling into the boat launch, which we had set out from two days prior. As someone who grew up in Kelowna and has been out boating on the lake before, I was pleasantly surprised by the way that travelling by canoe and camping changed the experience of being on the lake. Although I could see Peachland and West Kelowna in the distance while hanging out at camp, it felt like a true backcountry experience.

On the note of travelling in the backcountry, there are some safety precautions that should be considered when embarking on this trip or one like it. Although we were close to town, if something had happened, we would have required help from Search and Rescue, and certain situations, like the windstorm we experienced, could have made a rescue difficult.

Here is a list of essential items that you should bring with you on a trip like this one: dry bags, a satellite communication device, (a first aid kit (and knowledge of how to use it), a pair of warm clothes (even if it is hot out), rain gear, life jackets, an extra paddle, a tow rope, a bailing bucket, an extra meal, bear spray, and a certified bear-safe food storage system.

Furthermore, when travelling into backcountry areas, it is essential to be stewards of these places as they often don’t have staff regularly visiting them to clean up after visitors. An excellent place to start to learn more about being a good steward of the land is the Leave No Trace Principles. For more information on the park, camping, and backcountry fees, visit


Header images and images within this article are taken by writer and photographer, Mathew Wanbon at Okanagan Mountain Park.