With plenty of wide-open spaces and opportunities for outdoor adventure, Chute Lake Lodge in the south Okanagan makes for a safe and secluded getaway
Cycling along the Kettle Valley Rail Trail, I bump my e-bike setting to “Turbo” and take off like a jet down a runway. My teenage daughter easily keeps pace as we pedal north on the path that cuts through forests of spruce and pine, alongside rocky escarpments and alpine lakes. After several kilometres, we round a corner and are surprised to see the expansive blue of Okanagan Lake and our home city of Kelowna far below.
“I can’t believe we’re so close to home!” she says, amazed that, as the crow flies, this section of the trail is a mere 12 km or so from our house, yet it took a two-hour, 100-km drive down to Penticton, and up past Naramata, to reach our destination.
We’ve taken out the e-bikes from Chute Lake Lodge, our “vacationing in place” base for a couple of days, to explore a new-to-us section of the famous rail trail. These electric mountain bikes assist our pumping and make cycling nearly effortless.
The Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) was decommissioned in the 1980s and the portion between the Myra Canyon train trestles and Penticton has become the Okanagan’s premier cycling pathway. Chute Lake Lodge is nestled next to the KVR about halfway between Kelowna and Naramata. It makes a convenient stop for cyclists pedaling between the two, or for families like mine looking for a social distancing getaway.
Chute Lake Lodge was built over a century ago to accommodate workers from a new sawmill on the shore of adjacent Chute Lake. When the KVR opened in 1915, it served as water stop for steam engines. The main lodge was expanded in the 1980s when it began welcoming guests.
The lodge changed hands a couple years ago and the new owners began offering e-bike, SUP and kayak rentals, which is great since many families (mine included) aren’t kitted out with all the toys. There are also luxurious new touches such as comfy king beds and sumptuous duvets that give the rustic retreat a glamping feel. They also added yurts and adorable glamping tents as alternatives to the main lodge rooms and existing eight cabins.
The pandemic, ironically, has been good for business, with no vacancy every weekend this season, and limited availability mid-week.
“It’s part of the Covid response and people wanting to get back outside,” says Pat Field, one of the on-site managers.
It’s not that surprising when I think about it—keeping safe and healthy is easy here. For starters, we’re staying in our own cabin, and most of the lodge’s common areas—the dock, outdoor seating next to the main lodge, and kids’ play area with swings and a zipline—are outside. What’s more, all of our activities take place in the great outdoors.
We take to the water in a canoe and kayak our first afternoon to paddle through lily pads along the lakeshore looking for wildlife. We see ducks and geese, plus a great blue heron perched in a dead pine tree. We also hear the haunting call of a loon across the water. After dinner, we enjoy s’mores around a private campfire just outside our cabin (the lodge sells s’mores kits in case your forget to bring supplies).
The next day, while my daughter and I cycle the rail trail, my husband takes our son and dog on a hike up to a viewpoint over Chute Lake. That evening, we parents sneak down to Naramata for a date-night dinner at the new Naramata Inn. If Chute Lake feels like a wild west outpost, Naramata channels a Hawaiian or Mexican town from another era, the inn rising like a transformed Mission at the end of the main street. We dine on duck confit and delicate lingcod, then return to our cabin for a dreamless sleep.
Though we mostly stay inside our family bubble, when we do interact with other people—at the dock or inside the lodge or other restaurants—it’s always with a good amount of physical distancing and hand sanitizers at the ready everywhere. In fact, you could stay entirely in your family group and eat all your meals inside your cabin by bringing food and kitchenware from home (the lodge has removed the cabins’ plates, cups and utensils as a Covid precaution).
We round out our south Okanagan getaway with time in Penticton. A guide from Hoodoo Adventures leads us on a hike in Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park, where we watch rock climbers scale the park’s scenic gneiss outcrops, and look for rattlesnakes sunning themselves on the hillsides.
“Something we’ve focused on this summer has been adventure in your bubble group, so we do a lot of private hikes like this,” says Lyndie Hill, the company’s owner.
We trek uphill in the heat, our effort rewarded with views of rolling vineyards and the rectangle of Skaha Lake below. With so many wide-open spaces and opportunities for outdoor adventure in the Okanagan Valley, it makes family travel feel safe and possible—even in the middle of a pandemic.
Feel inspired to try a social distancing holiday? If you go:
Chute Lake Lodge
Stay and Do: The historic lodge is open daily until the end of October when it moves to weekends only. Staff can point you toward the best hikes along the KVR, or get you set up with e-bike or watercraft rentals. The lodge also serves dine-in or take-out breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Stay and Eat: The boutique Naramata Inn opened in the spring with 12 Mission-style rooms. The restaurant is headed by acclaimed chef, Ned Bell, and features local, seasonal produce, Oceanwise seafood and meat from trusted BC farms.
Do: Hike, bike, kayak or mountain climb with Hoodoo Adventures. The outdoor company leads “adventures in your bubble group” and can tailor activities to your family’s ages and abilities. They also rent out all the gear for DIY excursions.
Eat: There are so many fun and new family dining options (with both dine-in and take-out) in Penticton’s up-and-coming cultural district located close to Lakeshore Dr. west of downtown. Try Tratto Pizzeria for classic Napoletana pies, Wayne and Freda for breakfast sandwiches and smoothies, and Patio Burger for post-hike patties, fries and milkshakes.