Have you been thinking about moving to the Okanagan Valley? It’s an increasingly popular choice for people from across Canada looking for a change. With house pricing in Vancouver and Toronto through the roof, you might be looking for something more affordable. Or, you heard about our 4-seasons playground where you can golf and ski sometimes in the same day or enjoy great local wines surrounded by beautiful vineyards and mountains, or dine at a world-class restaurant with locally grown ingredients. Perhaps, you want to get away from the rainy Vancouver area or from the frigid winters of Edmonton or Saskatoon. There are so many excellent reasons to move to Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley! However, like any other location, there are always some less-than-perfect aspects. The following are four things people won’t tell you about the beautiful Okanagan Valley and the City of Kelowna. They won’t stop you from wanting to make the move, but knowing them will make sure you don’t have any surprise and might even help you choose the right neighbourhood.
1) Grey Skies in the Winter
The Okanagan Valley is, well, a valley and Kelowna sits at its bottom. One drawback to this is that Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley can get socked in during the Winter months between November and February; usually by March the air is warmer and the sun shines through. The grey skies don’t last long but it is a great time to visit those hot, sunny, tropical destinations. Overall, winter in Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley is pretty great! In the ten-plus years I’ve lived here, I’ve never experienced a harsh winter and usually snow cover doesn’t last around town for more than a few days or a couple weeks. Take this year for example: we had the earliest snowfall we’ve had since 2006 when we were blanketed with about 5-10cm on November 2nd. Three days later it was all but gone and we were enjoying balmy fall weather. A month later and there hasn’t been more than a little sprinkle for snow on the ground. One of my favourite things about winter in the Okanagan is how beautiful the surroundings are. The snow doesn’t melt away because of the higher elevation in the mountains and actually reflects a lot of light back into the valley.
2) Inefficient Public Transportation
BC Transit offers a public transportation bus service throughout the City of Kelowna and other Okanagan cities and communities. The Okanagan Valley is relatively spread out and unless you keep to the bare necessities provided in your neighbourhood, you are going to need to get around. If you have the option to drive a vehicle, the inefficiency of the bus routes will make it a less than attractive alternative. For example: suppose I want to travel from my home in Rutland (which is directly in front of a bus stop) to the H20 Adventure and Fitness Centre in the Lower Mission, it’s a 10km drive that will take me roughly 15-minutes to drive. To make the same journey by bus, I have to take one bus to the exchange terminal at Orchard Park Shopping Centre and then another bus to my destination, with a total travel time of roughly 1-hour. Similarly, the 20km drive to from my home to downtown West Kelowna will take me about 25-30 minutes, while the bus trip will take 1-hour and also requires two busses going through two exchange terminals. On the upside, Kelowna’s public transit is decent considering the size of the community and it’s low density. BC Transit is heavily subsidized so the fare prices are low at just $2.50 to travel within the City of Kelowna. Also, up to 4 children under the age of 12 can ride for free when travelling to the same destination with an adult. Popular commuting routes now run as frequently as every 15-minutes. There is a bus that will take you from downtown Kelowna to UBCO in as little as 25-minutes on weekdays. There is a bus that will take you to the City of Vernon in the North Okanagan for just $5 and a bus that will take you to the City of Penticton in the South Okanagan, or even to Osoyoos, for just $6.50.
3) Road Traffic in the Summer
The Okanagan Valley sees an influx of tourists visiting and pass-through travellers in the summer season. In addition, the growing population has lead to even more cars on the roads and a few problem areas, specifically in Kelowna and West Kelowna, that get congested, mostly in the summer. Lakeshore Road runs perpendicular to Okanagan Lake from Downtown Kelowna all the way to South end of the Upper Mission, providing access to numerous beaches, parks, hotels, and restaurants in addition to being a major thoroughfare for people living in the Lower and Upper Mission neighbourhoods. In my experience, when possible avoid Lakeshore Road. Traffic on Harvey Avenue (Highway 97) through the city centre also gets congested in the summer months so expect the 7km commute from Rutland to Downtown to take 20 minutes (instead of the usual 10 minutes). When driving in the Okanagan Valley in the summer just give yourself a little extra time and download a few new tunes before you get in the car. The Highway 97 stretch from Kelowna to downtown West Kelowna is still only four-lanes and also gets more congested in the summer. However, West Kelowna’s real issue is a high volume of arterial roads that bottleneck at Highway 97 during many people’s morning and afternoon commute. If possible try to stay away from Highway 97 and the W.R. Bennett Bridge crossing into Kelowna between the “rush hours” of 7-8am and 4-6pm, when the 13km commute from downtown West Kelowna to downtown Kelowna could take anywhere from 25-30 minutes (instead of the usual 15-20 minutes). Overall, it is nothing like the big cities. Plan ahead and you won’t have to stress at all. Over the past decade we’ve seen tens of millions of dollars invested in road infrastructure like the construction of a five-lane bridge crossing Okanagan Lake, various overpass intersections, lane expansions, and new traffic controls. The provincial Ministry of Transportation and the various communities are all working diligently to stay ahead of the population growth and keep traffic flowing.
4) Beautiful Weather Means Very Hot, Dry, Summers
I love the heat. However, after a week of temperatures in the high 30’s (degrees celsius) you’ll really appreciate having waterfront property or your own pool, and if you have neither you just might be desperately searching for a way to cool off. It’s quite common for daytime temps to be in the 30’s for 4-6 weeks straight in July and August, so make sure you stay hydrated and protected from the sun. There are a number of water parks in the City of Kelowna that are great for children to cool off while having fun. If the heat gets unbearable, there are several indoor pools and fitness centres or you could try a shopping trip to Orchard Park Shopping Centre where the A/C will be in full force. If you’re new to temperatures this high it may take some time for you to adjust, but you will. Many people find the temperatures quite enjoyable because the air is pretty dry here. For comparison: last June I was in Vietnam for a month where the temperatures were 30C and the humidity was 95% so I felt almost chilled returning to Kelowna where it was also 30C but the humidity was only 25%. While the dryness keeps you from feeling as hot as it could otherwise, it does have its downside too; dry grass and forests are prime fuel for wildfires. Last year was a particular bad year where a large part of the province was on fire and smoke persisted for several weeks at a time. It can happen every summer but out of the 11 years that I’ve lived in Kelowna, there have only been extended periods of smoke (more than a 3 days straight) in 4 of those years. Do your part; if you’re adventuring area parks and greenspace or camping in the backcountry be careful with flammables and obey fire bans.