Sustainable Okanagan: from alpaca farms to wild forest teas

With dry desert hills, lush lowlands, and sparkling warm lakes, it's easy to see why the Okanagan is one of Canada's best-loved destinations. It’s the kind of place that fosters awe and appreciation, a pride of place that urges you to stand up and help protect it. This September we teamed up with Thompson Okanagan to explore businesses and communities that are trying to do just that — from electric car rentals to wildcrafted teas, we visited a handful of environmentally and socially responsible destinations that are forging the way to a better future for all of us.

The next stop on our journey was Vernon. The principle city in the North Okanagan, Vernon is a bustling town filled with nice shops, great restaurants, and plenty of world-class recreational activities in the surrounding forests, lakes, and rolling hills.

Beautiful views from the hills above Vernon BC
The fragrant hills of Kalamalka Lake, Okanagan BC
On the pier at Coldwater BC

Tesla Power Trips

There are few better ways to reduce your footprint than by ditching fossil fuels, and perhaps no funner way to zip around the Okanagan than in a Tesla. With zero emissions, no need to ever fill up at a gas station, and faster acceleration than you'll ever reasonably need, Power Trips offers popular Tesla rentals throughout the Okanagan region. Whether you're visiting for a couple days, taking a weekend trip down to the coast or a quick daytrip through wine country, now you can do it in style with the world's quickest sedan (and a guilt-free conscience).

Ryan met us at our hotel with a Model S and after giving us a quick rundown on the car's features, abilities, and nearby charging facilities he handed the keys over. And we were off!

Zipping up Vernon's Predator Ridge in a Tesla from Okanagan Powertrips
Touring orchards in a Tesla from Okanagan Powertrips
Scenic drive through the Okanagan in a rented Tesla
Scenic drive up Predator Ridge above Vernon BC
Driving along the shore of Okanagan Lake in a Tesla

Davison Orchards

After picking up the car, our first stop was a visit to the Davison Orchards. A family-run farm since 1933, it feels like an entire little village with shops selling preserves and other wares, kid's play areas, friendly farm animals and reclaimed-wood barns, fruit and produce markets, and delicious sandwiches and baked goods from Aunty May's Deep Dish Cafe, where much of the food is grown right there on the farm in a sustainable and environmentally sensitive manner. Don't miss the fresh squeezed apple juice or their delicious seasonal hot apple cider!

Quick stop at the Davison Fruit Co Orchard and Market
Goat and donkey at Davison Orchards, Vernon BC
Donkey Xote at the Davison Orchards petting zoo, Vernon BC
Little goat pals at Davison's reclaimed barn in Vernon
Petting the goats at Davison Orchard
Funny looking chickens at the Davison Orchards Petting Zoo

BX Press Cidery

Speaking of cider, Vernon has its very own homegrown hard cidery with BX Press. Located in the middle of a third-generation apple orchard, there's a definite nod to heritage in everything from their name to the illustrations on their labels, but with over 30 orchard-grown apple varietals to choose from they've been experimenting and breaking some ground with innovative flavour profiles too. They have a cute little barn-style tasting room and they usually sell out of their small-batch ciders pretty quick, so don't delay.

Harvesting apples at the BX Press Cidery in Vernon
Fresh apples at the BX Press cider orchard, Vernon BC
Strolling the apple orchard at the BX Press Cidery
In the BX Press cider tasting room in Vernon BC

Wildcraft Forest

For a singular and restorative experience, head to Wildcraft Forest just outside the little town of nearby Lumby. Immerse yourself in the temperate woodlands of the Monashee Mountains by enjoying wild forest-flavoured teas made from thoughtfully harvested botanicals, reconnect with nature through guided Yasei Shinrin Yoku (the Japanese practice of forest bathing or "taking in the forest atmosphere"), or stick around a while and take one of their many classes to learn the basics of wild permaculture or how the local ecosystem works. A step further than being just sustainable, Wildcraft Forest aims to be regenerative by reseeding more botanicals than they harvest and helping maintain the biodiversity in the nearby forests.

The little Lumby homestead at Wildcraft Forest
The wooden tipi at Wildcraft Forest
Walking through the woods with Wildcraft Forest
The fragrant temperate forests in the Monashee foothills
Placing seeds in the windworn trees with Wildcraft Forest
Forest bathing (Yasei Shinrin Yoku) with Wildcraft Forest

Camelot Haven Alpaca Farm

Nestled among the picturesque rolling hills overlooking Swan Lake, the Camelot Haven Alpaca Farm feels like a little sanctuary just outside the city. Take a guided tour to see these fascinating animals up close, or simply stop in to their little shop to browse their beautiful natural sweaters, socks, blankets, and maybe pick up some hyperlocal quality yarns to knit something of your own. The owners have worked very hard to craft an intimate peaceful environment for the alpacas, so please be in touch with them before venturing over.

Alpacas on the lookout at the Camelot Haven Alpaca Farm
Happy animals at Vernon's Camelot Haven Alpaca Farm
Alpacas enjoying the view over Vernon's beautifully barren hills
Baby alpaca and a plushie at the Camelot Haven Alpaca Farm
Quality local yarns at Camelot Haven Alpaca Farm

Planet Bee

On the outskirts of town is Planet Bee, a little shop where you can learn about the life of honeybees, taste test 20 different unpasteurized honeys, and even sample some honey wine at their Honeymoon Meadery. Started by Ed Nowek as a simple honey farm, it has grown into a veritable tourist stop with an indoor bee observatory, daily presentations throughout the summer, and an assortment of unique honeys from as far away as Australia.

Picking up some honey at the Planet Bee Honey Farm in Vernon, BC
Honeybees returning to the hive at Planet Bee Honey Farm in Vernon, BC
Little honeybees at Planet Bee Honey Farm in Vernon BC

Rail Trail

Vernon is surrounded by a multitude of biking and hiking trails in the surrounding sage-filled hills, but you'd be hard-pressed to find an easier and more scenic one than the new Okanagan Rail Trail. Connecting the adjacent town of Coldstream to distant Kelowna, the trail utilizes 48km (30 miles) of discontinued rail line, offering beautiful waterfront and natural views for much of its length, and providing an opportunity to learn about the Syilx (Okanagan) people and their traditional territory. We toured just the closest few kilometres near Vernon along Kalamalka Lake, and it was immediately clear how stunning the trail was and how popular it's destined to become.

Watching rainbows bloom on Kalamalka Lake, Vernon BC
The scenic new Okanagan Rail Trail from Vernon to Kelowna
Biking the Okanagan Rail Trail along Kalamalka Lake
Strolling in the autumn colours along Kalamalka Lake, Vernon BC

As the trip drew to a close, we decided on one last visit to the hills above Kalamalka Lake. These are some of our favourite types of landscapes anywhere. Open rolling hills on the cusp of wilderness, aromatic pine forests, huge blue and many-hued lakes fringed with sage — these are the places that spark the imagination, that fuel a sense of adventure, that keep you coming back again and again and again. Excited to pass through here again soon.

Looking up the Coldwater Valley from across Kalamalka Lake
Enjoying the sunset from Kalamalka Provincial Park
In the tall golden grasses of Vernon BC

Thanks to Thompson Okanagan & Vernon for making this trip possible!

Thompson Okanagan
Tourism Vernon