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Tannins & Trails, Big Reds & Singletrack in the South Okanagan

Posted on Aug 24, 2016 by Mountain Biking BC

Words & Photos by Sam Egan

This was not our first visit to the illustrious wine country of British Columbia’s South Okanagan with bikes in tow, and we’d learned a few hard lessons last year that paid off in spades on the second attempt. If you read no further, heed only the warning of Puncture Vine and bring plenty of tubes along for the ride.

True, there are countless spectacular wineries littering the hillsides between Oliver and Osoyoos as far as the eye can see and the Kettle Valley Rail Trail is rumoured to run through the area, but linking up a solid tour from the saddle is tricky and local single track options to justify toting your bike along are sparse at best. But both can be done, and done well, if properly equipped.

Where you choose to stay is of paramount concern if you’re planning on commuting on two wheels. Osoyoos is larger and better equipped than sleepy Oliver so odds are you’ll find better room rates in the former, but you’ll be faced with a heavy hill climb on a busy highway leading back into the city after your day sipping Merlot in the countryside.

If you’re up for the extra cardio and looking to sleep under the stars, a short stint past downtown Osoyoos will land you at a great camping option with heaps of private, waterfront sites at sẁiẁs Provincial Park. Oliver is much closer to the action and on level ground with the nearby wineries, but lodging is limited.

Many of the wineries also offer accommodation options, at a premium of course, and we uncharacteristically opted for the best view in town at the Hester Creek Villa.

Don’t underestimate the heat and exposed nature of the South Okanagan. The wineries along the way were all happy to fill our water bottles, and even topped them up with ice at Burrowing Owl, but the only reprieve from the unrelenting sun you’ll find on a clear day is between the vines. Watch out for Puncture Vine any time you stray from the beaten path, it’s worth repeating, this stuff lays in wait everywhere you want to be and will trash tubes in seconds.

After a day of tasting as many vintages as our two-wheeled balance allowed on day one, we went to bed with the notion of tackling a local trail down the road the following morning.

It’s been a chilly summer in the mountains we call home and perhaps we hadn’t quite acclimatized to the fact that we were in arguably the hottest spot in Canada, but rolling out of bed at 8am it was quickly evident that we’d missed the boat and would have to start a whole lot earlier to get any riding in before the notorious desert heat set in for the day.

Take two, out of bed a couple hours earlier and we opted to drive to the trailhead for McIntyre Bluff to save some time, which has been generously provided by the folks at Covert Farms for easy access right from their vineyard.

You can’t miss the designated parking, from there you head through the farm to check in with the log book and collect your trail map, and wind through the gardens to the vineyards beyond.

We’d found the McIntyre Bluff trail on Trailforks as the closest single track in the nearby vicinity, with a big view promised as the reward, but after significant searching online access only seemed foggier.

Sometimes you just have to trust that the trailhead will present itself upon arrival, and Covert Farms have addressed this on their end with signage leading you through the eclectic property to a gate at the back. Across this threshold turn right as you cross into a rare bit of forest that skirts along the fence for a stint before reaching the White Lake Grasslands Protected Area boundary, where the trail widens to double track. There are additional trails in the Mahoney-White Lake area, accessible from a separate trailhead, if you’re looking for more mileage.

The ride up to Rattlesnake Lake is a moderate grade with mostly rocky double track, featuring big views of the surrounding bluffs and rolling vineyards below. Rattlesnake Lake itself isn’t much to behold and although we didn’t see any of eponymous creatures, the locale looked to be a perfect haven and we didn’t go searching.

Beyond this landmark the trail tightens to single track and weaves through a scrubby forest, before you clear the woods once again and begin your ascent amongst the sagebrush.

By 8:30am there wasn’t a tree or cloud in sight to hide from the already sweltering sun and we bailed out just shy of McIntyre Bluff proper, choosing instead to pin it back for breakfast at Hester Creek which we were already dangerously close to missing. 

The descent was a blast and the rolling trail provided plenty of tech and flow on the higher reaches that make it well worth the climb, and high speeds below the lake where the trail opens back into double track.

We were back at the car in no time with AC cranked and a well deserved breakfast in sight. The day proved to be a scorcher and we opted to leave the bikes behind to sample some of the areas cold beverages, for between vineyards rich orchards abound, and a number of cideries have answered the call to ferment that rich bounty. The tasting rooms for these venues are comparably humble in relation to the surrounding wineries and you’ll need to watch closely for our local favourite, Faustino Estate Cidery, a single room on the side of the highway packing a big punch. 

A dip in Osoyoos Lake at sẁiẁs Provincial Park took the mid-afternoon edge off and we headed back to Oliver for round two of spicy take-out curries from Best of India, to be later devoured alongside a mouth-watering bottle of Kismet Cabernet Sauvignon while watching the sunset from our villa patio on our final evening in wine country.