Ellison Provincial Park — Everything You Need to Know

The Okanagan is full of lakes and beaches that are just begging to be explored. It’s one of the reasons we love living here so much! When we go to the beach, Jacob and I often try to find one that we can swim and hike at. Because, c’mon, we obviously need to do both! Ellison Provincial Park, which is nestled on the northern shores of Okanagan Lake just outside of Vernon, is the perfect harmony of hiking, swimming, and relaxing! Doesn’t hurt you can camp here, too.

Ellison is full of beautiful rocky shorelines, sparsely forested hiking trails, and stunningly turquoise water. It’s a beautiful park, but because its about an hour outside of Kelowna it’s often overlooked. It really should be given more love. I’m torn, though, because at the same time I want to keep it a secret!

Pros

  • Well-maintained sites
  • Potable water
  • Pit + flush toilets
  • Shower
  • Pets allowed + dog beach
  • Open year-round
  • Easy access to camp sites
  • 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
  • Somes sites border cottages
  • Hot in afternoon
Turquoise waters of Okanagan Lake at Ellison Provincial Park

Quick facts

Sites71 total
  • 61 reservable
  • 8 double
  • 10 first-come, first-served
Price
  • $32/night regular
  • $16/night senior (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, dog beach, and vehicle accessible camping.
Headlands along Okanagan Lake

Ellison Provincial Park

Even though Ellison Provincial Park is so close to home for us, it’s been years since we last visited. So one afternoon this past summer, we decided it was high time we pay it a visit! We spent the afternoon exploring the rocky shorelines, playing cards, reading, and of course, swimming. We don’t often actually spend time at the beach (although it’s one of the things the Okanagan is known for) because we’re usually in the mountains, so it was nice to enjoy a peaceful afternoon lounging around. Although, to be honest, I didn’t actually spend much time lounging because I’m pretty much incapable of sitting still. 

Ellison is only 20 minutes from downtown Vernon, yet it feels like you’ve been transported to an entirely different part of the world. The water is a multi-colour sheen of blue, green, and turquoise and is actually warm — for the Okanagan, at least. If you go in expecting tropic warmth, you’ll be disappointed. The beaches are located in small coves and have pink-ish white, pebbly sand. You’ll probably even see a sailboat floating lazily along the shorelines. 

Who knew such a place existed right here in the Okanagan? 

The 220 hectares park is nestled along the northern shores of Okanagan Lake. The forest, like much of the Okanagan, is sparse and consists mostly of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a deer or two hanging out amongst the trees! 

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

Things to do at Ellison

There are lots of things to do at Ellison Provincial Park. Kayaking, canoeing, SUP, cycling, fishing, hiking, and swimming are very popular, but 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). 

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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 will transport you straight to the tropics and you can easily paddle to all three beaches while exploring the rocky shoreline. The northern end of Okanagan Lake where Ellison is located tends to have less boat traffic than farther south, near Kelowna. You’ll likely still encounter some boats and their waves, but for the most part you can enjoy a quiet paddle on the lake.

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 a great network of bike-friendly, multi-use scenic trails at Ellison. Luckily, there are a variety of trails ranging in difficulty, so beginners can enjoy the trails just as much as more skilled riders. You can check out the trails on TrailForks.com.

E-bikes are allowed, as long as they comply with BC Park’s biking guidelines. Please remember that helmets are required in BC, so don’t leave it at home!

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

Beaches

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

The two main beaches, Otter Bay and South Bay, are accessed by walking down a fairly steep, gravel trail from the day-use parking lots. There are a few switchbacks to make the climb easier, as well as a 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 here. There’s also a pit toilet and water tap near the trail. The beach area is quite well shaded thanks to the many Douglas firs that line the bay. The large swimming area is marked by buoys, so you don’t need to worry about boats crashing your party.

South Bay

South Bay is the other main beach at Ellison Provincial Park. It’s bordered to the north by a tall, rocky headland and stretches south towards Sandy Beach, the third beach at Ellison. There are also picnic tables here, but unlike Otter Bay they’re separated from the beach by a low rock wall. Ponderosa pines provide shade and the swimming area is marked by buoys.

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.

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Forested shorelines

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.

During the summer, the campground fills pretty quickly and is almost always fully booked. If you want a guaranteed spot, you’ll need to book months in advance through Discover Camping. If you’re up for winging it, you’ll likely spend a few nights in overflow before being given one of the first-come, first-served sites. Even though Ellison is less well known than many Okanagan parks, don’t expect to just waltz in and knab a campsite.

Exploring the rocks along Okanagan Lake

Campsites

Like most provincial parks, Ellison’s campsites are extremely well-maintained. The sites are large, flat, and are always freshly raked thanks to the park attendants. Each site has a picnic table (which is bolted down) and a fire ring. 

The campground is nestled within 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. And although there’s not an abundance of trees, the Douglas firs and Ponderosa pine are large and mature, providing 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. 

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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 surprisingly 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 to, you don’t have too far to drive.

Playing cards at the beaches at Ellison

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!

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