Located at the base of Okanagan Lake, Penticton is a fantastic destination in the heart of British Columbia’s wine country. Approximately a 5 hour drive from Vancouver and 8 hours from Calgary, it makes for a great long weekend adventure. While the city has plenty to offer, there are a number of ways to have fun that will make both you and your wallet happy. Don’t miss these free things to do in Penticton during your visit!
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A Brief History of Penticton
As we are all aware, what is now Canada has been home to the Indigenous of these lands since time immemorial. These lands are known to be the territory of the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla, Nłeʔkepmx Tmíxʷ, Syilx, and Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation according to Native-Land.ca which is the main resource I use to source this information.
However, even the name Penticton has Indigenous roots. Sourced from the Nsyilxcən (pronounced kah-in-choot) word snpintktn, it translates to “the always place” in English or more commonly, “a place to stay forever”. For at least 7000 years (though chances are much longer), the Syilx called this area home and were the ones conducive to the survival of European fur traders throughout the Okanagan in the early 1800s.
In the last decade of the 1800s, Irish immigrant Thomas Ellis, the first European to settle in this area, had acquired much of this land. He sold off a portion of the property to developers who established a quaint townsite at the base of Okanagan Lake and thus Penticton was established. The town was modest and didn’t see much growth until the Kettle Valley Railway arrived, allowing for faster transport of goods between Penticton and the Kootenays. Another boom occurred with the end of the Second World War with veterans returning to Canada as industrialization began and Penticton was incorporated as a city in 1948.
Nowadays, tourism is a huge driver as the area is known for its impeccable wines and brilliant views. You can read more about the city’s history here.
10+ Free Things to Do in Penticton
As I said, tourism has played a large part in Penticton’s growth over the past few decades as a destination for outdoor enthusiasts and wine connoisseurs. While travel can be expensive at times, it doesn’t have to break the bank! There is plenty of fun to be had with these top free things to do in Penticton.
Enjoy the Views from Munson Mountain
Chances are you spotted the Penticton sign within moments of arriving in town. Consisting of silica and concrete, these large letters are located along the side of Munson Mountain! What remains of an extinct volcano that was once active 55 million years ago is now a fantastic spot for impeccable views of the area. Make your way to the top of this historic site for one of the best things to do in Penticton!
Head to Tupper Avenue/Middle Bench Road and you’ll see the access road that heads to the parking lot on your left. It’s a short 5 minute drive from downtown! Upon arriving, follow the paved pathway towards the concrete shelter and you’ll immediately enjoy brilliant views of the city and the southern part of Okanagan Lake. To your right, you will see a gravel trail you can continue along that will take you above the Penticton sign. From here you will be treated to panoramic vistas of Okanagan Lake and even catch a glimpse of Skaha Lake! Just be careful as the are loose rocks in some spots so watch your step.
FUN FACT: The view from the summit of Munson Mountain was featured on the back of the Canadian $100 bill from 1954-1973!
Visit the Penticton Ikeda Japanese Garden
Situated on the southern shore of Okanagan Lake, there is no shortage of beautiful spots along the waterfront. Hwoever, the Penticton Ikeda Japanese Garden is probably the best spot of them all! Ikeda, located in the Nakagawa District of Tokachi in Hokkaido, Japan, has been Penticton’s sister city since 1977. In 1993, delegates from the Japanese city visited Penticton and the Mayor at the time gave the city blueprints for the gorgeous garden you see today. Since 2003, this idyllic spot has been a favourite for many!
The best time to visit is in late April into early May when the garden’s flora is in full bloom. Slowly meander along the idyllic pathways as you soak up the tranquillity of the space. You will find koi fish in the ponds and it’s said that if you stomp three times, they will come to say hello! These are some of my favourite views of Penticton as you have the gorgeous gardens in the forefront with the stunning mountains in the background.
Pop By the Penticton Art Gallery
Right next door to the Japanese Garden, you’ll find the Penticton Art Gallery. What came from humble beginnings as an art club in the 1950s has blossomed into a pivotal part of the arts and culture scene of the Okanagan. Operating as a non-profit since 1972, the Penticton Art Gallery looks to engage the community with an open dialogue pertaining to ideas and issues as expressed through artistic practices, both historic and contemporary.
You’ll find over 2,500 pieces of art in their permanent collection with a focus on the region and its history. The Penticton Art Gallery seeks to continually reflect the development of the visual arts throughout the province of British Columbia with heavy representation from local artists. With 13-15 exhibitions each year, you will find more artwork crafted by female-identifying artists as well as Indigenous creators as they work to expand their representation within the collection.
For the second year now, the Penticton Art Gallery has hosted the Ignite the Arts Festival which occurs at the end of March. With live music, performance art, artist talks, art walks and more, it’s a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the local arts scene and connect with practicing artists.
Admire the Sculptures Along the Okanagan Lake Promenade
Speaking of art, continue your walk along the Okanagan Lake Promenade to find a number of sculptures scattered along the waterfront! The paved kilometre-long path along Penticton’s lakeshore is home to a number of beautiful works, some of which are permanent installations that represent the culture of the city.
Between Penticton’s iconic giant peach and the SS Sicamous, you will find a number of sculptures that change yearly. My personal favourites from the 2022 collection were Reflect and Connect by William Frymire as his practice focuses on the interconnectedness of personal shapes and experiences as he uses both recycled materials and natural stone tiles to create his work, and Pearl the Pandemic Salmon by Jean E Ouellon who works with repurposed horseshoes to bring his sculptures to life.
Soak Up the Sun on One of Penticton’s Beaches
Penticton is one of two cities in the entire world that sits on the shores of two lakes. Naturally, the beach becomes a popular destination as the temperatures warm up! With six beaches to choose from, there is a plethora of sandy fun to be had.
The busiest is easily Okanagan Beach as it sits right along the Penticton promenade where you’ll find restaurants, shops, and more amenities. This is also where you’ll likely find Kevin, a local celebrity – or should I say, cele-bird-y? This Canada Goose has a damaged wing that prevents him from flying elsewhere for the seasons and has called Penticton home for a few years now. He seems to still be enjoying life though but definitely appreciates when his fellow feathered friends return after a winter away.
One thing that many of us (especially us Ontario folk) won’t be used to is that you can legally enjoy a beverage or two at some of Penticton’s beaches and parks! Skaha Lake Park West, Marina Way Park, Okanagan Lake Park, Rotary Park and Okanagan Beach east of Power Street along the Okanagan and Skaha lakefronts are designated areas where you can do so from noon until 9:00 pm all year long. Just don’t be an idiot and do so responsibly!
Paddle Okanagan Lake
Enjoy Penticton from a different perspective – along the water! Launch from Marina Way Beach and enjoy your beautiful surroundings. Follow the shoreline and paddle by the Kiwanis Walking Pier towards the SS Sicamous and SS Naramata. You’ll be able to get up close and admire these vessels that were a pivotal part of the area’s history. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, head in the opposite direction and head toward Naramata for some brilliant views of wine country.
Depending on the direction the wind is blowing, Okanagan Lake can either be quite gusty or very calm and it can often change very quickly. Make sure to check the weather conditions before departing and be prepared with all necessary safety equipment!
Of course, paddling is only free if you have your own gear (or a friend that has some you can borrow as was my case). If you don’t have access to your own equipment, there are companies in Penticton that offer rentals.
Join the Parkrun
If you’re looking to get the blood flowing during your visit and connect with some locals, you may want to check out the Penticton Parkrun! Every Saturday at 8:00 am sharp, folks gather to run 5k along the lakeshore. Whether you walk, run, somersault or crawl is up to you. Everyone is welcome!
All you have to do is sign up for a Parkrun account as this is part of a global network of runs organized around the world. You’ll get a unique number where you can track your times as you participate. So lace up your running shoes and head for the big group of folks at Martin Street and Lakeshore Drive West every Saturday morning.
Check Out the Penticton Farmers Market
For over 30 years and counting, the Penticton Farmers’ Market has connected local agricultural producers and artisans to the public. From mid-April until October, stalls take over the 100 block of Main Street with a variety of eats, treats and goods from seeds to greens to distilled spirits to handmade crafts. Organized by a local non-profit society, the Penticton Farmers’ Market has grown into one of the most successful food micro-systems in the province, successfully bringing the “city to the farm”.
With approximately 45-5o annual members and 60 more casual vendors that join from time to time, you never know what you’ll find. What you’re guaranteed to see are local bakers, farmers, food vendors and crafters that all bake, grow or make their products. No re-sellers here! Plus it makes the perfect post-Parkrun stop to treat yourself for a job well done. Just sayin’.
Hunt for Street Art in Downtown Penticton
Fun fact: Penticton is one of the top destinations in British Columbia for street art! You’ll be blown away by the variety of style and talent in the murals scattered across the city. Main Street and Front Street are the two key spots to find some fantastic pieces. However, it’s worth meandering down some of the alleys and laneways because you never know what you’ll uncover.
Some of my favourites include the beautiful stretch of works behind The Book Shop on Main Street as well as the lyrical lady on the side of the building at 363 Main Street. Oh, and you can’t miss snapping a photo with the Welcome to Penticton Mural outside the Martin Street Liquor Merchants in partnership with Tin Whistle Brewing!
Hike the Kettle Valley Railway Trail
What was once the route of the Kettle Valley Railway has become one of the best and most popular multi-use trails in the Okanagan. Originally built in 1915, the Kettle Valley Railway connected Midway and Hope when train transportation was in its hay day. As the industry dissipated, portions began to be discontinued in the 1960s to eventually see the route abandoned by the 1980s. What was the rail industry’s loss was the outdoor adventurer’s gain as you can now experience this almost 650-kilometre-long trail by foot, bike or horseback!
Affectionately known to locals at the KVR, it’s easily accessible from the heart of Penticton. You’ll find accesses off of Pickering Street, Nanaimo Avenue, Westminster Avenue, Cambie Street and Vancouver Avenue where you can begin your adventure. The trail takes you along the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake where you’ll be treated to sprawling vistas of vineyards and mountains. It will also take you past points of interest such as prime grasslands habitat and the McCullough Trestle. If you find yourself a little parched, you can pop into Abandoned Rail Brewing to quench your thirst.
Of course, there are even more great spots to check out along the Kettle Valley Rail Trail that are easily accessible by bike. If you’d like to learn more, you may want to think about booking a guided tour during your stay!
RELATED: For more details about this incredible hiking route, check out my friend Gemma’s guide to the entire Kettle Valley Rail Trail.
Test Your Knowledge with Trivia
If you’re travelling with a crew of friends, visiting with a group in town or wanting to stretch those brain muscles, there are a number of trivia nights in Penticton at your disposal! There are a number of one-off nights throughout the year. However, you can easily find trivia on a weekly basis. Slackwater Brewing hosts trivia on Tuesdays, The Barley Mill on Thursdays and Highway 97 on Sundays. Check each of these venues websites or social media channels to see when the questions start rolling.
While trivia itself is free to play, chances are you’re going to enjoy a beer or a snack while you play so I’d recommend coming with a couple bucks in hand.
More Free Things to Do Near Penticton BC
If you’re looking for more adventures and have access to a car, here are some more free things to do close to Penticton during your visit.
Rock Climb at Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park – This is said to be one of the best places to climb in the country with over 1000 climbs found sprawled across three main canyons. It’s not recommended to go alone if you’re not an experienced climber so you may want to check out this guided tour from Penticton.
Drive the Naramata Bench – Hop in your car and enjoy the sweeping vistas of the Naramata Bench. Follow the aptly named Naramata Road as you drive by dozens of local wineries. A great spot to stop is the Sun Rock Lookout for impeccable views of Okanagan Lake and don’t be surprised if you enjoy a wine tasting or two as you explore.
Visit Hardy Falls – Right off Highway 97 in Peachland is where you’ll find Hardy Falls. This short 800-metre out-and-back trail has a gravel trail and minimal elevation gain, making it an easy pitstop if you fly into Kelowna as you head toward Penticton.
Gaze in Awe at the Spotted Lakes of Osoyoos – A fascinating spot just west of Osoyoos in the Eastern Similkameen Valley, kłlilx’w (Spotted Lake) is a small body of water rich in minerals. In the summer months, the majority of the water evaporates to leave mineral concentrations that create blue, green and yellow pools. This is a sacred healing site for the Sylix (Okanagan) People and has been for centuries so only admire from the pull-off and do not trespass.
Find Snow near Nickel Plate Lake – One of the coolest (pun intended) things about Penticton is that while the city itself doesn’t get a lot of snow, it’s easy to drive to find some… even in April and May. Head towards Apex Mountain Resort where you’ll find a number of great snowshoeing trails like the Snowflake Loop off of Hedley Nickel Plate Road.
Ready to Experience These Penticton Activities?
As you can see, there is plenty of fun to be had while keeping your budget happy as you explore the Okanagan. Late April into early May is when the weather really starts to warm up and you’ll have the best chance of enjoying ideal weather for your Penticton visit.
Which of these free things to do in Penticton would you knock off first? Is there another activity you recommend that I missed? Let me know in a comment below!