Nk'Mip: An Ode to the Okanagan Countryside
This is the word that springs to mind as I step onto the dusty trail before me. Winding into the arid Okanagan countryside, the path is flanked by hills covered in beige-green bushes of wild sage and tall dry grasses waving in the warm breeze. Scattered to the sides of the trail are tiny clusters of prickly pear cacti being explored by fiery red ants, and towering above them are lofty pine trees that have dug their strong roots into the sandy ground.
As I stop to take in my surroundings, the characteristics of the landscape jump out at me: two large lakes shimmer in the sunlight, fields of green orchards and vineyards line the plateaus above the water, and taupe hills stretch into mountains that rise high to frame the valley. All around there is a kind of silence, marked only by the shrill cries of hawks circling in the sky.
Here, in the town of Osoyoos, not far from the Canada-USA border, I think I've found a little oasis: Nk’Mip (pronounced inkameep).
Created over a decade ago by the Osoyoos Indian Band, the Nk’Mip complex (meaning “bottomland” due to the area’s geographic location at the southern end of the Osoyoos Indian Reserve) contains several points of interest.
For travelers, a visit will either consist of a single day exploring and learning about the history of the region at the Desert Cultural Centre or a few days spent relaxing by the water, sampling local British Columbia wines, and perhaps also a bit of pampering at the luxurious Nk’Mip Spirit Ridge Resort.
Visiting for the day
As with all the buildings at Nk’Mip, the thoughtfully-curated Desert Cultural Centre retains the beauty of the landscape with contemporary architecture and intricate wrought-iron sculptures.
While the actual museum is quite small in size (though worthwhile for its focus on the area’s history and preservation of the environment), you'll find that the real attraction is outside. Visitors can meander along two kilometers of well-marked walking trails which wind their way through sage brush and pine forests. Don't worry about your level of fitness, the trails are quite easy and you won't have any issues getting lost.
And, if you happen to arrive early enough, you’ll still have a decent chance of catching a glimpse of wildlife. Although generally shy, coyotes and deer frequent the area, while rattlesnakes can sometimes be found lounging among rocks and boulders (watch where you step!). While you’re less likely to see these creatures in the heat of the day, you’ll have better odds of catching tiny hummingbirds suck nectar from wildflowers and seeing various birds of prey in the sky above (for the bird lovers out there, refer to this handy guide book).
A note on the weather: the South Okanagan region has some of the hottest recorded summer temperatures in all of Canada (in July and August days can reach 35 C +). While it’s a dry heat and you might feel like it’s not that hot, don’t underestimate the power of the sun. Bring sunscreen, a hat, and water bottle if you plan on walking any of the outdoor trails.
The Desert Cultural Centre is open seven days a week from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. Entry for adults is $12.50, while seniors cost $11 and children are $8. Family tickets are also available for $36 which includes entry for two adults and two children.
Staying for a few days
If you have more than a couple of hours to spend here, then a stop at Nk’Mip Cellars is definitely in order. I would go so far as to say that it’s one of the most distinct wineries in the whole Okanagan region, and not just for their stellar wines. Nk’Mip is North America’s first Aboriginal owned winery, an indisputable legacy that has not only helped the Osoyoos Indian Band regain their prosperity but has also paved the way for several other Aboriginal-run vineyards.
Inside their lofty tasting room, which you’ll find adorned with beautiful Native artwork, you can sample five of their wines for $5. Should you choose to purchase a bottle after the tasting, the fee is waived.
If you’ve got the time, grab a seat on the outdoor restaurant patio and enjoy a delicious lunch of soup or fish or salad (the caesar is delectably unique) with a glass of wine (the Dreamcatcher 2013, a blend of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Ehrenfelser and Chardonnay is a personal favorite) and overlook the valley below - it's probably the most picturesque spot you'll eat at in Osoyoos.
Spending time at Nk'Mip is all about savoring the slow way of life and feeling more connected to nature. It's a peaceful existence here, and you should really spend your time unwinding, enjoying the simple things like a glass of Pinot Noir or gazing at the clear night skies.
But for those with restless feet, you can also play the Nk'Mip Desert Canyon Golf Course.
How to get to Nk'Mip
If you’re coming down Highway 97 from the north, the town of Osoyoos is the last community in the South Okanagan before you reach the Oroville border crossing into Washington State. Once you reach Osoyoos, take the left turn off from the highway into the city center (you’ll see the adobe-style Visitor Info building on your right at the intersection turn off).
After you’ve passed the main waterfront drag, you’ll see the signs and turn off to Nk’Mip on the left hand side. Follow this road and in a few minutes you’ll arrive at the main buildings and parking lot.
If you get lost or simply can't find Nk'Mip, don't fret. I think it's safe to say that Nk'Mip is Osoyoos' biggest attraction and most any local will be able to point you in the right direction.
If you’re flying in from out of town, the nearest commercial airport is in Penticton, about an hour’s drive north of Osoyoos.
Where to stay
Keep in mind a few things before booking your accommodation.
Unless you have a fairly large budget, staying at Nk’Mip Spirit Ridge Resort in the midst of the busy summer tourist season (typically June-August) is quite expensive. Prices average around $300/night during this time, with some weekend rates jumping up to $400/night. That being said, the resort does provide guests with quite luxurious rooms so it may be worth a few nights if you’re looking to treat yourself.
Of course, there are additional accommodation options such as the onsite RV Park and Campground which are conveniently located in a park right on the shores of Osoyoos Lake. Given the warm summer nights, don’t forget to pack the bug spray if you’re planning on spending your evenings BBQing at the lake.
There are a number of other options in the Osoyoos area, especially along the shores of Osoyoos Lake. You’ll find an assortment of decent hotels, some dingy and not so dingy motels, and cozy B&Bs that should be booked well in advance if you want to reserve dates in the summer.
Here are a few places you might want to look into:
Baergnaescht B&B – Located 10km east of Osoyoos, this well-priced adobe-style bed and breakfast is owned and operated by a Swiss/Canadian couple. With views of the South Okanagan valley and surrounding mountains, you’ll certainly find peace and solitude here at Baergnaescht.
The Del Ray B&B - Situated on a knoll in a Fuji apple orchard, surrounded by beautiful gardens, orchards, and vineyards, the Del Ray B&B overlooks Osoyoos Lake.
Watermark Beach Resort – While it’s pricier than some other options in the area, Watermark Beach Resort is a luxurious alternative to staying among the wine fields of Nk’Mip. Instead, here you’ll have beachfront access and a whole bunch of other amenities like a large saltwater pool and rooms with fully equipped kitchens as well as in-suite washer and dryers.
During the winter, several places shut down completely, so it’s best to inquire about availability beforehand. However, Spirit Ridge and the Nk’Mip RV Park are open year round, and if you ask me, the best time to go is in September or October when the days are still warm and sunny yet the prices have switched to off-season rates.