Okanagan Valley, Canada: Cycling Myra Canyon

There are many good reasons for a two-wheeled holiday in the Okanagan Valley, 400 kilometres inland from Vancouver. An arid summer climate, for a start, which produces that Canadian rarity: almost guaranteed sunshine. Plus, there is great scenery that combines mountain, lake and desert landscapes, flanked by orchards and lavender fields. And vineyards. It doesn't hurt to know a good bottle of wine awaits at day's end.

The best reason of all is the Myra Canyon section of the much longer Kettle Valley Rail Trail. The Kettle Valley railway was built in the early 20th century to serve the gold, silver and copper mines of British Columbia's interior. The remote and difficult terrain was an immense construction challenge, and landslides and snowfall constantly disrupted service. A highway eventually became the easier option with the railway abandoned in the 1970s.

Almost 600 kilometres of former railway corridors have since been opened up to recreation. For cyclists and hikers, these routes offer gentle gradients through an otherwise rugged landscape of turbulent rivers and plunging gorges. On the Myra Canyon section, splendid views over a horseshoe valley frame Okanagan Lake and the town of Kelowna below.

You can pedal Myra Canyon by renting a bike and riding yourself, or by joining a guided cycling tour. A good place to start is Myra Station, which is 24 kilometres from Kelowna on a road through pretty vineyards that eventually becomes gravel and winds up through pine forest. You'll eventually reach a large carpark with useful information boards at Myra Station.

From here it's an easy, almost flat ride of 19 kilometres return through two tunnels and across 18 trestles of the old railway. Not all the trestles are old, as many were destroyed in a 2003 bushfire. The old wooden sleepers that workers replaced were simply flung off the trestles to lie in abandoned heaps that literally added fuel to the fire. You can still see the scorching around tunnel entrances and flame-burnt trees, sculpture-like, on the hillside. However, the most spectacular trestle, which is 238 metres long and takes you 65 metres above a rocky canyon, is an original.

A guided cycle tour is a good way to go, since the railway has an interesting history, and knowledgeable guides point out features you might otherwise miss. You pass by the foundations of the early construction workers' East Camp, where the remains of a water tower remain. (Steam trains had to replenish water every 15 kilometres or so.) Railway workers and miners threw their rubbish off the mountain, and you can still find old HP sauce bottles and baked-bean cans.

There are the remains of several rock ovens used by railway construction workers for baking and roasting. My guide, Ed, related the tale of the unfortunate Stefan Johansen, who blew himself up when he stored dynamite too near his bread stove: "I guess he started the day with a bang!"

Guides will also point out elk droppings, though you're unlikely to actually see any elks. Chipmunks are plentiful and, if you're off your bike and sitting on a rock, will come over to investigate. Like the chipmunks, you can forage along the trail sides for summer raspberries, blueberries and thimbleberries, the latter native to North America.

If you're feeling fit, you can continue onwards from Myra Canyon to Penticton at the other end of Okanagan Lake. The 85 kilometres takes five or six hours, with the first half flat and the second half descending towards the lakeshore.

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Rail trail apart, the Okanagan Valley, especially around Penticton, has some of the world's best mountain-biking terrain, with hundreds of highly scenic trails to get you wheeling along.

TRIP NOTES

Brian Johnston travelled courtesy Destination British Columbia and Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association.

MORE

traveller.com.au/canada

hellobc.com

FLY

Air Canada flies direct to Vancouver from both Sydney and Melbourne. See aircanada.com

STAY

Delta Hotels Grand Okanagan Resort overlooks Okanagan Lake.. See marriott.com.au

CYCLE

A half-day guided tour of Myra Canyon will cost around $C110 including cycling equipment. See myracanyonrental.com and lakefrontsports.com

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