Sampling local cuisine, winter adventure, and loaded Caesars, all within a short drive from Penticton.
By Emily Kemp
Get out and explore the winter wonderland that Penticton offers to beat the melancholy of a sometimes cold and gloomy winter. Snowshoeing allows you to experience Penticton’s forests, mountains and fresh air.
If you’ve never worn snowshoes before, the local Nickel Plate Nordic Centre is a great place to try them out! Their trail network boasts 16 kilometers of marked snowshoe trails and caters to a variety of age groups, fitness levels, and abilities.
Penticton has a higher number of sunny days in its year and this along with its wide-open feel and spectacular sunrises/sunsets makes it a easy choice for many to live here year round.
Taking on the adventure of snowshoeing for this blog, I was fortunate to get a bright Penticton sunny day. First stop, to get the fuel needed for the day’s activities, a healthy and hearty breakfast was required. There are tons of quality places to eat in Penticton, but I chose The Bench Market, a local favourite which has been around for 15 years.
Found in downtown Penticton just off Okanagan Lake, The Bench Market is a cozy spot featuring gourmet meals as well as on-the-go lunches, a bakery and snacks. If you are looking to dine in, big windows look out onto a patio that is fantastic for soaking up that South Okanagan sunshine. You can also order online or over the phone for takeaway or curbside pick-up.
The Bench Market prides itself on using locally made produce including its BC free run eggs. Their coffee is from local supplier in Summerland, Backyard Beans. The cafe also has a small grocery section where you can pick up artisan goods for home, gourmet gift baskets and a selection of books.
While treats tempted me from their glass displays, I opted for a brunch of avocado toast and added bacon. I tried their Peppermint Grinch with matcha, one of their seasonal concoctions, and it was tasty! If you’re trying to reduce your coffee intake, matcha (green tea powder) is a great substitute. Their pumpkin spice latte was also recommended and apparently it is more of a savory style than the typical sweet.
With growing excitement and plans to tackle snowshoeing next and with a belly satisfied, I grabbed a homemade granola bar from the bakery display for later and started the journey.
The drive to Nickel Plate Nordic Centre is a 45-minute sojourn through beautiful forested landscape. At one point I came across the free-roaming horses mentioned in Leigh’s post, who Visit Penticton hosted last year.
Arriving at Nickel Plate, pine smoke wafts in the air from a nearby fire pit. The Nordic Centre has a homey and communal feel to it with cross-country skiers gliding by, remarking on the conditions. Around the fire, people toast their hands and trade stories.
To get started, day passes and rentals are strongly recommended to be ordered online prior to arriving. Check out their Facebook page for current conditions and news. I got my snowshoes and map from the friendly attendant who answered my many questions about the best route for the day as a first timer.
There are some easy trails like Gold Dust trail. It’s 2.7 kilometers and comes with some incredible views. This is an excellent beginner’s trail. The trail crosses open meadow areas and passes through stands of lodge pole pine. This trail is relatively flat and should take about one and a half hours of easy snowshoeing to complete.
If you’re at an advanced level and want a full day mission to a viewpoint, Prospector’s Point is a 5.9 kilometre hike that will take about five hours. They also have a few trails that allow you to take your dog with you on your snowshoe adventure.
If you want to try out cross-country skiing, the Nordic Centre has 56 kilometers of groomed trails for both classic and skate skiing. At 6000 feet elevation, the area enjoys a long ski season. For beginners, their green runs are excellent as they are long enough for you to go for an hour or two and they have limited hills, meaning you can feel like a pro right from the start, swishing through the tracks without having to tackle steep descents.
Having spent the day out and about, I decided to cap it off with dinner at The Gunbarrel Saloon. Located at the nearby Apex Ski Resort, a ten-minute drive away, the restaurant’s log exterior glows with warmth, inviting guests to come stay a while. Inside it is comfortable, welcoming and unpretentious.
The Score Pub Group, with popular restaurants in Vancouver and Toronto, recently leased and renovated The Gunbarrel, which is legendary in the ski culture of Apex. The business is known for their massive Caesars and owner Jesse Ritchie said initially they were unsure whether to bring the tradition to The Gunbarrel, but they have proven to be a hit. Basically an appetizer and drink in one, there are three options of fried goodness; I choose the one with onion rings and mac and cheese balls and I wasn’t disappointed. For dinner I carb-loaded with the rigatoni bolognese, which was superb.
Locals living in the Apex area have taken it upon themselves to let everyone know how good the restaurant is with constant rave reviews online.
In a nod to Penticton and its craft beer scene, you can find every local brewery on tap at the restaurant: Neighbourhood, Highway 97, Slackwater, The Cannery, Tin Whistle, and Bad Tattoo. They also do breakfast, a perfect way to start a day of skiing. On weekends it is 9am to noon and weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon.
Because of COVID-19, the restaurant is mindful of staying organised and clean. “We’re focusing on doing it right,” owner Ritchie said. “People can come here knowing that they’re safe. Because it’s not what it would normally be like, we’re focusing more on the atmosphere and the food.” Lastly it’s the drive back to Penticton and I’m mindful to be extra careful and slow on the dark, windy mountain road. As the bright lights of Penticton beckon leaving the mountains behind, it’s comforting to know an escape into the winter wonderland is never far away.