Last updated February 2, 2020
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 where we can swim and hike. Because, c’mon, we obviously need to do both. Ellison Provincial Park is nestled on the northern shores of Okanagan Lake just outside of Vernon. It’s the perfect harmony of hiking, swimming, and relaxing! Plus, you can camp here!
Ellison is made up of beautiful rocky shorelines, sparsely forested hiking trails, and stunningly 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!
Ellison Provincial Park
Ellison Provincial Park is close to home for us, but it had 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 visit the beach, so it was nice to enjoy a peaceful afternoon lounging around.
Ellison is only 20 minutes from downtown Vernon, but you’ll feel 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. Don’t go in expecting tropical warmth, though! 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 provincial park is 220 hectares and 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!
↠ 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
|Dates||Dates change annually, please refer to the BC Parks website for the most up-to-date information.|
|Activities||Kayaking, canoeing, SUP, climbing, cycling, fishing, hiking, fishing programs, scuba diving/snorkeling, and swimming.|
|Facilities||Campfires, potable water, picnic areas, pit + flush toilets, playground, showers, a dog beach, and vehicle accessible camping.|
|Pros||Well-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
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!
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).
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!
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.
You can ride your e-bike as long as it complies with BC Park’s biking guidelines. Helmets are required in BC, so don’t leave it at home!
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!
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 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. Douglas firs that line the bay and they provide lots of shade. The large swimming area is marked by buoys, so you don’t need to worry about boats crashing your party.
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 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.
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. It’s almost always fully booked, so 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. Ellison is less well known than many Okanagan parks, but you can’t just waltz in and knab a campsite.
Ellison’s campsites are 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 and a fire ring.
The campground is nestled within a sparse forest. 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 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.
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.
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.
Whether you’re visiting for the day or spending an entire week camping at Ellison, there are a few things we recommend bringing along for a great time. And of course, these products are sustainable and/or eco-friendly.
- 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.
I can say without a doubt that S'well bottles are my absolute favourite. I've had the same bottle for over six years and have used it almost every single day. And it's still as great as the day I got it! I love that we can leave the bottles in our hot car while we're out hiking and come back to ice cold water. It's absolutely wonderful! Sadly, my original bottle isn't available anymore, but my newest bottle is. The Expressionist is beautiful and I get a ton of compliments on it. If this particular design isn't your style, though, S'well has plenty of other styles and they're always releasing new ones.
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.