Surrounded by desert, vineyards, and mountains, Osoyoos is one of the gems of the Okanagan Valley. It is located between Penticton and Omak on Osoyoos Lake, which is known for its warm water, beaches and water sports facilities.
The town is 3.6 kilometres (2.2 mi) north of the United States border with Washington State and is adjacent to the Osoyoos Indian Reserve. The origin of the name Osoyoos is the word sẁiẁs (pronounced “soo-yoos”), which means “narrowing of the waters” in the local Okanagan language (Syilx’tsn).
Indigenous people have lived in the Osoyoos area for thousands of years. European fur traders arrived in the valley in 1811. Osoyoos was incorporated as a village in 1946 when the railway arrived and became a town in 1983.
Aside from tourism, agriculture makes up most of the local economy. The area produces cherries, apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums, pears, and grapes. In the summer, the town swells with the influx of visitors, who arrive to take advantage of the warm temperatures, water sports, and local wineries.
The vast majority of the land surrounding the town is protected by the Agricultural Land Reserve. The ALR prevents the land from being converted to uses other than agriculture.
During the summer, the southern Okanagan Valley is on average one of the hottest areas in Canada.
In the spring of 2020, the average sale price of a single-family home in the South Okanagan region was $643,600, the average condominium sold for $304,667, and the average townhouse sold brought in $372,068. In Osoyoos, single-family homes were selling on average at $452,500.
The town has a population of 5,085 (2016). Seniors (age 65 and over) comprise 43 per cent of the town population. Another 1,858 people live around the town within Electoral Area A of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, and 762 more in the Osoyoos 1 Indian Reserve. The town's popularity among retirees is reflected in the age of the average resident at 55.4 years compared to 40.8 years for the rest of the population of B.C. The average age of the Osoyoos senior population is second in Canada only to Qualicum Beach, BC (60.1 years).
The town is served by an elementary and a high school.
The lake is surrounded by kilometres of beaches (public and private), parks, and picnic grounds, such as Gyro Beach, Lions Centennial Park, Kinsmen Park, Legion Beach and Sẁiẁs Provincial Park. The lake has a boat launch and an expanded marina. There are three 18-hole golf courses in the area—Osoyoos Golf Club, Fairview Mountain Golf Club (Oliver), and the Nk’Mip Canyon Desert Golf Course (Oliver)—and one nine-hole course, Sonora Dunes (Osoyoos).
As Canada’s only desert, the region offers some unique places to visit, including the Irrigation Canal Walkway, the Osoyoos Desert Centre, Nk'Mip Desert & Heritage Centre, Osoyoos Lake Oxbows (perfect for bird watching), International Bicycling and Hiking Trail, Vaseaux Lake Wildlife Centre, White Lake Observatory, and Mt. Kobau. The latter features a breathtaking view of the Okanagan Valley.
The 15,000-square-foot Osoyoos Museum, which has been called “the best small town museum in B.C.,” traces the town’s history using a diverse and eclectic selection of artifacts, from antique cars, to settler history, to items from the World Wars and pop culture.
Over at the Osoyoos Art Gallery, local artists show their work. From October to March, the Osoyoos Arts Council sponsors theatre and music performances.
Rattlesnake Canyon Amusement Park features an 18-hole mini golf course, bumper boats, go-karts, a rock climbing wall, and a 1500-square-foot arcade with over 30 games, a gem-panning activity, tattoo parlour, bungee tree, Tilt-a-Whirl and Tornado rides.
The Desert Model Railroad Museum is a world-class miniature world. Forty computer controlled trains travel on 2 km of tracks weaving through mountains and towns. Try to find all 16000 + hand-painted little people and animals in scale 1:87 (HO), which are placed in humorous and funny situations and scenes.
Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre and Osoyoos Desert Centre have hands-on exhibits and trails exploring the local desert ecosystem.
After running a successful restaurant for more than 30 years in Trois Rivieres, Que., Perrutel and his wife Johane Dupont set up shop in Osoyoos. Their Convivia Bistro serves Italian and French cuisine. Diamond Steak & Seafood House offers the most extensive wine selection in the Okanagan with over 300 different wines. Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek and Sonora Room at Burrowing Owl are both winery restaurants. The Owl Pub is a good place to hang loose and chat with the locals.
Step into Elvis Fine Jewelry & Music Room for a unique shopping selection that includes jewelry, coins, records, and music accessories. On and near the town’s Main Street, clothing stores rule, including Cheeks Wear and California Day for beach and water needs, and 85th Street Boutique, a ladies’ clothing and accessories store located in a historic home. For more exotic items, visit Wander Cafe, Clothing and Gifts. From May through September, Osoyoos Market vendors sell a variety of artisan crafts, local fruits and vegetables and wine/cider/beer/spirits.
The warmest freshwater lake in Canada, Osoyoos Lake is one reason tourists flock to this destination in the summer. Wineries are another; local pourers include La Stella, Nk’ Mip Cellars, Adega on 45th, Moon Curser, and Young & Wyse wineries. And there are also lots of fruit stands and orchards to visit.