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Okanagan

Ellison Provincial Park in Vernon

Everything you need to know about this beautiful, underrated provincial park near Vernon.

The Okanagan is full of lakes and beaches that are just begging to be explored. It’s one of the reasons I love living here so much! When I go to the beach, I try to pick one where I can swim and hike. Because, c’mon, I obviously need to do both. Ellison Provincial Park is nestled on the northern shores of Okanagan Lake just outside of Vernon and it’s the perfect harmony of hiking, swimming, and relaxing. Plus, you can camp here. Hello perfection.

Ellison is made up of rocky shorelines, sparsely forested hiking trails, and awesome turquoise water. It’s a beautiful park, but it’s often overlooked because it’s about an hour outside of Kelowna. It really should be given more love, but I’m torn because I also want to keep it a secret. Oh, the paradoxical world of writing about places, hey?

Turquoise waters of Okanagan Lake at Ellison Provincial Park

Ellison Provincial Park

Even though Ellison Provincial Park is basically in my backyard, it had been years since I visited. So one day, I knew enough was enough and off we went. We spent the afternoon exploring the rocky shorelines, playing cards, reading, and of course, swimming. It was nice to enjoy a peaceful afternoon lounging around.

You’ll be transported to a whole new world, a dazzling place I never knew when you visit Ellison. The water is a gorgeous sheen of blue, green, and turquoise. And for the cherry on top? The water is actually warm. Well, for the Okanagan at least. Don’t go in expecting tropical warmth because you’ll be in for a shock. The secluded beaches are nestled in small coves and covered in pink-ish white, pebbly sand. You’ll probably even see a fancy dancy sailboat floating lazily along the shorelines. Who knew such a place existed right here in the Okanagan? 

Ellison Provincial Park is 220 hectares and is nestled along the northern shores of Okanagan Lake. And like much of the Okanagan, the forest is sparse and made mostly of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a deer or two hanging out! 

Sailboat on the shores of Ellison Provincial Park
Tree on the rocky headlands at Ellison
A hiking trail along the rocky headlands at Ellison Provincial Park

Park Information

This trail is located on the unceded territory of the Syilx (Okanagan) Peoples.

Sites71 total
61 reservable
8 double
10 first-come, first-served
Price↠ Regular: $32/night
↠ Senior: $16/night (limited days)
Availability↠ Open year-round
↠ Walk-in only during the winter
DatesDates change annually, please refer to the BC Parks website for the most up-to-date information.
ActivitiesKayaking, canoeing, SUP, climbing, cycling, fishing, hiking, fishing programs, scuba diving/snorkeling, and swimming.
FacilitiesCampfires, potable water, picnic areas, pit + flush toilets, playground, showers, a dog beach, and vehicle accessible camping.
ProsWell-maintained sites, potable water, pit + flush toilets, shower, pets allowed + dog beach, open year-round, easy access to campsites, lots of outdoor activities, amphitheatre
Cons Fills quickly in the summer, beaches aren’t easily accessible, swimmer’s itch, no hookups, no sani-dump, semi-private sites, some sites border cottages, hot in the afternoon

Things to Do at Ellison Provincial Park

There’s no rest for the wicked here! If you want, you’ll be kept busy. There are ton of things to do at Ellison Provincial Park, including kayaking, canoeing, SUP, cycling, fishing, hiking, and swimming. The park also offers a youth Learn to Fish Program, scuba diving and snorkeling, and climbing. No matter how you like to spend your time outside, Ellison will keep you and your friends and family entertained!

Hiking

Ellison Provincial Park is a great place to enjoy some hiking! The headlands along the shoreline are tall and create rocky bluffs that are really fun to explore. You’ll feel like a kid again as you poke around the many different crevices along the lake.

There are over 6 km of hiking trails that criss cross the park. Some trails are quite accessible, while others lead you through some pretty steep, awkward sections. The trails that meander along the top of the headlands have amazing views of Okanagan Lake and look north towards Spallumcheen and south towards Fintry and Terrace Mountain (where Christie Falls is located). 

Lone tree along the headland hiking trails at Ellison Provincial Park
Rocky shorelines along northern Okanagan Lake
White sand beach at Ellison Provincial Park

Kayaking, Canoeing + SUP

Ellison is great for kayaking, canoeing, and SUP.  The beautiful turquoise waters remind me of the tropics and you can easily paddle to all three beaches while exploring the rocky shoreline. And luckily, this end of Okanagan Lake usually has way less boat traffic than farther south (aka, it’s far away from Kelowna). You’ll probably still encounter some boats and their waves, but you can enjoy a quiet paddle on the lake for the most part.

There aren’t any rentals at the park itself, but Vernon has plenty of rental options. Ed’s Kayak will even bring your kayak or paddleboard rental directly to Ellison for you!

Cycling

There’s also a great network of bike-friendly, multi-use scenic trails at Ellison. The trails are for all skills levels, so regardless of your biking status you can enjoy the awesome park. If you wanna check out the trails, visit TrailForks.com.

You can ride your e-bike at Ellison as long as it complies with BC Park’s biking guidelines. And remember that you have to wear a helmet in BC, so don’t leave it at home!

Picnic benches along the beach, surrounded by trees
Sandy beach at Ellison Provincial Park that's perfect for swimming
The hiking trails at Ellison follow the rocky headlands

Beaches at Ellision

The beaches at Ellison Provincial Park are wonderful! They’re tucked away in two secluded bays on Okanagan Lake and are usually waaay less crowded than the beaches in Vernon or Kelowna. One of the beaches is even pet friendly, so your furry friend can enjoy frolicking in the water!

You can access the two main beaches, Otter Bay and South Bay, by a fairly steep, gravel trail that starts at the day-use parking lots. There are a few switchbacks to make the climb easier, as well as some benches along the way.

Otter Bay

Otter Bay is one of the main beaches at Ellison. There are quite a few picnic tables with great views of the lake, as well as a volleyball net and two fire pits. There’s also a pit toilet and water tap near the trail. Douglas firs line the bay and they provide lots of shade. And you don’t have to worry about boats crashing your party because the swimming area is marked by buoys.

South Bay

The other main beach at Ellison is South Bay. It’s bordered to the north by tall, rocky headlands and stretches south towards the pet beach. There are also picnic tables here and a low rock wall separates them from the beach. Ponderosa pines shade the beach and buoys mark the swimming area.

Although there isn’t a bathroom on the beach, there are a few washrooms located between South Bay and Otter Bay. There is a fountain tap for water at the beach. 

Sandy Beach

Sandy Beach is the third and final beach at Ellison. It’s the smallest of the three beaches, but it’s pet-friendly! You can access it by a trail from the campground, which is located between sites 11 and 12. There’s a pit toilet about 50m from the beach.

Forested shorelines at Ellison Provincial Park

Ellison Campground

The Ellison Provincial Park campground is open year-round, but full facilities are only available from the beginning of April through mid-October (the main camping season). If you visit in the off-season, a locked gate on Okanagan Landing Road blocks vehicle access to the park. You can still walk in and camp, but it’s a steep, 300 m walk down to the campground. 

There are a total of 71 sites and 61 of them are reservable. The remainder are first-come, first-served. If you want to camp with a big group, there are 8 double sites.

The campground fills quickly during the summer and it’s almost always fully booked. If you want a guaranteed spot you need to book months in advance through Discover Camping. If you wing it, you’ll probably spend a few nights in overflow before getting a first-come, first-served site. Even though Ellison isn’t as well known as other Okanagan parks, you can’t just waltz in and nab a campsite.

Exploring the rocks along Okanagan Lake

Campsites

Ellison’s campsites are awesome and extremely well-maintained. The sites are large, flat, and thanks to the park attendants, always freshly raked. Each site is equipped with a picnic table, fire ring, and… a good time! 

The campground is nestled in a sparse forest, but even though there isn’t a thick forest for privacy, there’s lots of space between sites and plenty of undergrowth. I’ll take it. And although there’s not an abundance of trees, the Douglas firs and Ponderosa pine are large and mature which provide lots of shade. 

The sites can accommodate trailers and RVs up to 50’. Hopefully, you’re good at maneuvering your rig, though, because the sites are back-in only. You might have to watch out for low-hanging branches, too. There are no hook-ups.

About 85% of the campground is reservable. The reservable dates for the campsites change throughout the year, so be sure to check out Discover Camping or the government’s official website for up-to-date dates. 

The forest around Ellison campground is made of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir

Amenities

Although Ellison Provincial Park doesn’t have any hookups, it does provide some other amenities. 

There are six water taps throughout the park that provide cold drinking water ⁠— no need to bring in your own! There are nine toilets throughout the campground and eight of them are flush. There’s also a shower building in the campground that has electrical outlets and hot water. If you’re at Otter or South Bay beaches, there’s also an outside cold water shower that helps prevent swimmer’s itch. 

There’s a fairly large, irrigated lawn near the kid’s playground where you can play your own lawn games such as bocce ball or badminton. We’ve had some fun times running around here!

The campground is also only about 10 minutes from the nearest store, so if you absolutely need something you don’t have too far to drive.

Playing cards at the beaches at Ellison

Whether you’re visiting for the day or spending an entire week camping at Ellison Provincial Park, there are a few things I recommend bringing along for a great time.

  • Swimsuit: Ellison has three great beaches, so chances are you’ll want to go swimming. I love Londre Bodywear! Their suits are made of recycled plastic bottles and look amazing on everyone.
  • Beach towel: Beaches and beach towels are basically synonymous. Anaskela makes beautiful, lightweight towels from recycled plastic bottles.
  • Sunglasses: You’ll definitely need a pair of sunnies when you’re hanging out at Ellison. These sunglasses from Pela are biodegradable and look awesome. Win-win.
  • Camp chair: Whether you’re camping or day-tripping, a lightweight camp chair makes it easy to enjoy the outdoors at Ellison. Helinox uses high-quality fabrics and a process called “Green Anodising” that reduces the negative environmental impacts of their manufacturing process.
  • Reusable water bottle: Ellison has potable water so there’s really no reason to bring plastic water bottles (as if there’s ever actually a reason). S’well bottles will keep your water cold even if it’s been sitting in the hot sun for hours.

PS: This article contains affiliate links. I may earn a commission (at no cost to you) if you click them; I only recommend products that I think will help you. Read my full disclosure statement here.

Final Notes

Ellison Provincial Park is probably one of my favourite (easy to get to) parks in the Okanagan. I’m easily won over by turquoise water and hiking trails, so it’s no surprise I’m a fan of Ellison. It also holds warm memories from when I used to explore it as a kid and I can’t wait to visit with our future rug rats.

Enjoy!

2 Comments

  • Janelle
    April 19, 2020 at 12:01 pm

    Hi Sam, wondering if you could recommend a family friendly campground for tenting with a sand beach in the Okanagan? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Sam
      May 5, 2020 at 2:51 pm

      Hi Janelle! Most of the best family friendly campgrounds are provincial parks; some of my favourites are Ellison, Bear Creek, Herald, and Scotch Creek/Shuswap Lake (this was my favourite as a kid). There’s also Hidden Lake near Enderby, although there aren’t really any sandy beaches, but it’s great for kayaking (you’ll want to avoid here on long weekends though, it tends to turn into a party spot). Beaver Lake Resort and Postill Lake Lodge are also great.

      Reply

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