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Beautiful B.C.
Okanagan Lake area beckons U.S. travelers
Sometimes Northwest residents forget  1just how close they are to Canada. British Columbia has amazing scenery and attractions and there are several parts of the province that are worth spending some vacation time.

One of those is Okanagan Lake, a true playground for residents from throughout British Columbia. It ranks as one of the most beautiful vacation spots in the entire Pacific Northwest.

Okanagan Lake is in the central part of the province, near the border with Washington. If you were to start your vacation drive in Wenatchee, Washington, it's just a four-hour trip north from there.

In many ways, Okanagan Lake compares with Lake Chelan -- it's a long , wide lake with gorgeous views and is a tourist mecca for B.C. residents. But instead of just one city at the end of the lake like Lake Chelan, Okanagan Lake has three vibrant cities -- one on each end and another in the middle. And it has another lake close by, Shuswap, that is known throughout North America for its incredible houseboating.

So there's a lot to see and do -- and remember, the exchange rate is something around $1.29 Canadian dollars for every $1 U.S. That can make for a bargain vacation if you're coming from the U.S.

Penticton

Okanagan Lake is 83 miles long -- about 30 miles longer than Lake Chelan -- and it has three impressive larger cities with excellent tourist accommodations. The first of those cities, coming from the south, is Penticton, which is located right at the southern end of Okanagan Lake.

Penticton has a population of about 33,000 and is at the center of the burgeoning Okanagan wine industry. It's been around for a long time as a summer resort with its beaches and marinas, but in recent years the wine industry has begun to transform Penticton by attracting new sophisticated restaurants and modern accommodations.

The city has lots of galleries and museums, adding to its appeal as a destination for urban residents. And of course there are the usual water activities such as swimming, boating, wind-surfing and kiteboarding. The mountains are nearby so there are lots of trails and opportunities for mountain biking as well.

Kelowna

Kelowna is about half way up Okanagan Lake. The city's restaurants and wineries beckon visitors from Vancouver B.C. as well as other parts of the Northwest. Kelowna is the largest city in the region with about 127,000 residents, and has an excellent tourism infrastructure that offers lots of choices for lodging and a host of activities.

Kelowna is almost as if you took Chelan and its beautiful lakefront location and made it a much larger city, but still not so large that it feels like a big city. There are beaches and marinas right in Kelowna, as well as nearby, so the lake and its summer recreation are always a huge draw when the weather is good.

And when the weather turns colder, Kelowna is home to Big White Ski Resort, which has on-mountain accommodations and a ski village, and is just a short drive from the city.

Vernon

At the north end of Okanagan Lake is Vernon, a city of about 39,000 people living in a gorgeous setting, surrounded by rolling grasslands with rocky outcrops and stands of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir.

There are three lakes in the area, including Okanagan Lake. And it's all about the outdoors in Vernon B.C. Not only is this city right on Okanagan Lake, but it has lots of hiking and biking trails nearby, as well as provincial parks for camping. The mountain views are spectacular.

Fresh vegetables and fruit are every place you look with farmers markets offering the freshest in local produce. There are also 20 beaches where, in summer, sun-lovers soak up the sun. There are also boutique wineries, a craft cidery, a craft brewery and an award-winning distillery.

Shuswap Lake

Shuswap Lake is about 90 minutes north of Okanagan Lake and this lake is renowned as one of the best houseboating lakes in North America. It's ideal for houseboating because it has so many arms of the lake, as well as nooks where you can beach your houseboat and often be completely by yourself. And boaters find the shoreline is fun to explore.

Most houseboats rent by the week and there are several companies in the Shuswap area that rent them out. Spring and fall dates are the easiest and cheapest to get as the boats get rented quickly for the high-season summer months.

There is much more to Shuswap Lake than just houseboating. For starters, there are lots of rolling trails for hiking. Birdwatchers find lots of sightings in the area. Vacationers also love to bike and horseback ride in the area while, of course, there are endless water activities.

For more information on Okanagan Lake, please visit www.okanagan.com.
PHOTOS: Beach at Kelowna, British Columbia
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