A Wine Lover’s Kamloops Itinerary for Exploring British Columbia
The acres of ranch land stretching far and wide can almost convince you that the wild west spirit around Kamloops was never really tamed. Channeled, perhaps, but not entirely contained. This is where two branches of the mighty Thompson River meet, creating the ideal outdoor adventure-land with an endless horizon and slow mornings. As of more recent years, Kamloops is also home to some pretty magnificent wineries as proof that the spirit of exploration here is alive and well.
Living here long before those ranches and well before the gold rush arrived were the Secwépemc and Nlaka’pamux of the Salish peoples. Their history can be traced back in this region nearly 10,000 years. It’s said that the name Kamloops comes from the original Salish language when the First Nations named this place Tk’emlups, loosely translating to mean ‘confluence’ or ‘meeting of the waters’. This is where the Salish language can still be heard today. When we discover Kamloops and area, it’s on unceded First Nations territory we travel.
The first European settlers brought with them the fur trade in 1811 and established a Hudson’s Bay Company fort. These forts are scattered throughout Canada’s back country history, often becoming well-traveled trade routes and sometimes evolving into the foundation of a functioning town. Kamloops was incorporated as a city in 1893 with a booming population of 1,000. Today, the town has approximately 90,000 residents with more than 100,000 including the surrounding areas.
Along with the first whiff of gold rush fever in the 1850s came increased demand for transportation, and the Canadian Pacific Railway steamed into Kamloops by the late 1880s to connect it with the rest of the country. That introduced train-robbing legend Billy Miner to the area, where legend says he met the end of his not-so-lucrative career. It turns out Billy wasn’t very good at robbing trains and his last haul, the one he was nicked for, was paltry. Aside from train-robbing and gold-mining, the main industry then was ranching. Which brings us back to today and those wide open spaces.
Kamloops now is known for more dynamic agriculture and natural resources, like forestry (pulp) and mining (copper). And then there are the sporting tournaments: it’s also the Tournament Capital of Canada and plays host to more than 100 tournaments at world-class sports facilities. Who knew?
Climate & Growing
It’s arid here, but the region does see some snowfall in winter. The Coast Mountains keep the area in a bit of a rain shadow, which means hot summers have cooler nights and winters are cold but they’re milder than much of Canada. Viticulture on the edge is a challenge, and winter cold snaps aren’t uncommon so growers need to be creative. The conditions overall have some similarities to the Okanagan Valley with enough differences to push the boundaries in an already boundary-pushing part of the wine world.
Wineries in the Kamloops area have more hybrids planted than one might find elsewhere in the province. These vines grow with vigor and can be better equipped to withstand below-freezing temperatures. The most popular varieties in the region are a mix of vinifera and hybrids: Riesling, Marquette, Maréchal Foch, and Chardonnay. In total, there are more than 100 acres under vine with new additions each year.
Getting to Kamloops
Kamloops is north of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia and accessible by major highways. It’s a longer but adventurous drive or reasonable flight from major centers like Seattle, Spokane, Vancouver, and Calgary. Air Canada and WestJet service the Kamloops airport with connections through larger Canadian terminals, and the airport is equipped to deal with private charters. If you travel by road, check provincial resources like DriveBC.com for traffic updates.
- From Seattle: 465mi
- From Spokane: 529mi
- From Vancouver: 220mi
- From Calgary: 384mi
It’s a uniquely beautiful growing region, Kamloops wine country. Rushing rivers and towering hoodoos offer an arresting backdrop for the lush greenery of vineyards, almost surreal with colors and textures. Those who have staked their claim on making wine here are happy to show off their treasures – one glass at a time. Enjoy.
Kamloops Wineries To Visit
Kamloops wine pioneers Harper’s Trail Estate Winery for Riesling (the Pioneer Block or Silver Mane Block), Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, and Cabernet Franc.
Beautiful Chardonnays (there’s more than one but my favorite is the Woodward Collection) and Pinot Noirs (also multiples plus the Grand Reserve with a few years under its belt) at Privato Vineyard & Winery. Chances are good you’ll see proprietors John and Debbie Woodward nearby, so say hello because they’re really nice.
For a throw back to ranching and train-robbing days. Try cool hybrids like Frontenac Gris (truth) plus the usuals such as Riesling, Chardonnay, and Rosé. There’s fruit wine, too: Reka blueberry or Haskap. Because they can.
Recommended Restaurants in Kamloops
Outdoors (seasonally) at Monte Creek Ranch’s Terrace Restaurant, where you can enjoy the legend that is Billy Miner without fear of train robbing. Tip a glass or bottle of their Hands Up Red or Hands Up White (blends) and tuck in for some locally sourced fare.
For what is one of the region’s best kept secrets, thanks proprietors Andrea and David focusing on local everything. History Alert: it’s on the foundation of a former theatre. I might have explored a tiny crawl space to see part of the original orchestra pit. Ask a local about the rumors of some big names on stage. But please note that basement visits are not a thing – I just happened to be there on “research”.
Breakfast or brunch all day at Hello Toast where everyone can get in on the action because they’re vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free friendly.
Pub it up at the Noble Pig Brewhouse where the focus is on fun and fresh. Canadiana twists all over the menu (crispy pickles for the win), good local beer, and a patio in what used to be a pool. How very cool.
Hotels To Stay at in Kamloops
In a piece of living history at the Plaza Hotel where decadence and modernity meet in comfort. That original neon is pretty stellar, and the elevator is fabulous.
At a guest ranch to channel your inner cowpoke vibe on a couple of hundred acres of working ranch with all the creature comforts because most of us don’t actually work on ranches anymore and have zero calluses.
Up the hill (mountain) at Sun Peaks because WOWZERS it’s worth the extra drive to experience alpine meadows, plus the mountain puts on free (that’s right) summer concerts like a show with my British Columbia roots-rocker buddies The Matinée. They’ll get you dancing like nobody’s watching. (and someone please remind Matt to pack a belt this time)