Rugged, rustic, real. This region is all of these and more. With the Okanagan Valley’s relatively quick ascent as a must-visit destination wine region, the neighboring Similkameen Valley is an unvarnished pocket of small town charm and originality ready for eager wine enthusiasts to discover at their leisure – and here, leisure truly means slow.
Before setting out to explore the Similkameen Valley we need to acknowledge this is the traditional territory of the Nicola Similkameen and Syilx First Nations; land on the upper Similkameen River and its tributaries once belonged to the Nkaka’pamux and Scw’exmx peoples. Today the area is home to the Upper Similkameen and Lower Similkameen Indian Bands and it’s on their lands we travel.
The Similkameen Valley is approximately 200km / 125mi long and follows a namesake river. Unofficial translation of Similkameen is ‘treacherous waters’, and should you witness the river in spring you’ll know why. By summer, water levels have mostly lowered to suit outdoor sport with rafting and tubing being two of the most popular pastimes on hot July days.
This is a valley and that means mountains. The Similkameen is bordered by the towering Cascades mountain range, and locally part of it is known as K Mountain (when you see it you’ll know why). Like many mountain areas in British Columbia, this is an old gold mining region. One of the first of these enterprises dates to the 1880s in the small community of Hedley at the Nickel Plate Mine. Following the gold rush bust came orchards and ranches, with vineyards entering the landscape in the last few decades.
The Similkameen is the organic farming capital of Canada and has historically been farmed by those seeking a more earth-centric life, attracting adventure seekers and people wanting an off-the-grid way of living. It’s semi-arid and desert-like, receiving an average of 13 inches of precipitation annually. Cold winters, hot summers, and ever-present winds contribute to the unique terroir of what was once a giant riverbed. The gravelly soils, acres of stone, and pockets of silty loam are all thanks to eons-old glacial rock formations. Thank you, glaciers.
Like the unexpected? The Similkameen is the place for you. Kind people make small lots with big flavors, keeping things a little wine-geeky. Many of the producers recommended are open seasonally, so do check on business hours and tasting availability before you go.
Say hi to people, ask questions, and slow down. Happy exploring.
The Similkameen Valley is in the southern part of British Columbia and accessible by Highway 3 from Vancouver, and it’s an easy drive from major airport hubs like Seattle, Spokane, or Kelowna. Travel times from larger urban centers can vary depending on weather; you’re crossing through mountains and weather can change quickly, so use resources like DriveBC.com for traffic news and weather updates.
- From Seattle: 155mi
- From Spokane: 160mi
- From Vancouver: 180mi
- From Kelowna: 100mi
Similkameen Valley Wineries and Wines To Try
Chardonnay at Liber Farm & Winery (unoaked or the reserve series) Seven Stones Winery, Little Farm Winery
- Riesling at Orofino Vineyards, Little Farm Winery
- Cabernet Franc at Vanessa Vineyard, Orofino Vineyards, Seven Stones Winery, Liber Farm & Winery (Let Me Be Franc),
- Syrah at Orofino Vineyards, Corcelettes Estate Winery (Micro Lot Series), Clos du Soleil (Middle Bench series), Vanessa Vineyard
- Gamay Noir at Robin Ridge, Orofino Vineyards
- Viognier at Vanessa Vineyard, Hugging Tree
- Semillon at Clos du Soleil (as a soloist or accompanied by Sauvignon Blanc in a meritage), Liber Farm & Winery (also in the classic blend)
- Fruit wines at Rustic Roots Winery & Cidery, Forbidden Fruit Winery
- Cider at Twisted Hills Craft Cider, Rustic Roots Winery & Cidery (Snow Cider, made with apples from a century-old apple tree)
Where to Eat
- Benja Thai Restaurant in Keremeos for ridiculously good pad thai and a hyper-local wine list
- Barn Door Bistro at Harker’s Organics in Cawston (seasonally) for a thoroughly organic experience
- Tea and biscuits at the Old Grist Mill Tea Room and take a stroll through the gardens
- Anything from any fruit stand, from locally made samosa to freshly baked pies and hot buttered corn (in season)
Where to Stay
- Camp at the Old Grist Mill, home to a working 1877 waterwheel-powered flour mill where you can buy flour ground on site and show the kids what life was like way back when
- Book a winery B&B or Guesthouse like Orofino Vineyard Suites for modern vineyard luxury in a relaxed setting, almond trees (truth), and a strawbale winery with ah-maze-ing wines (get a magnum of Rosé while you can) or Farmer’s Dotter Studio Guest Homes for an off-the-beaten-path stay powered partly by solar panels, and see their enormous wood-fired oven where bread magic happens
- Pick a teeny tiny local motel, and book ahead as space is limited plus many operate seasonally (WiFi may be optional but colorful character guaranteed)
- Go online to find a rustic cabin – the no running water, bring your own bedsheets, and there’s likely pit toilets kind of rustic
- Go high alpine at Cathedral Lakes Lodge for those seeking outdoor adventure, complete with a base camp muster point and private logging road for a one-hour journey by 4×4 to even get to the lodge (yeah, that)