Last updated April 6, 2020
I grew up in the North Okanagan-Shuswap and was lucky to spend many of my summer days on the shores of rivers and lakes. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but now that I’m “adulting”, I sometimes wish I could go back to enjoy those endless, carefree summer days. One of my old haunts was Mara Provincial Park near Salmon Arm and I have countless memories of soft sand, glistening smiles, and belly laughs. There’s nothing quite like spending a lazy day on the beach with friends.
Mara Provincial Park is a small 5.9-hectare day-use park on the eastern shores of the pristine Mara Lake near Sicamous. Like most of the Okanagan, water sports are very popular here and you’ll find lots of boaters, kayakers, swimmers, and even houseboats! The provincial park is a popular way to enjoy the beautiful lake and is culturally important to the local First Nations.
|Availability||↠ Serviced May 1 to September 27|
↠ Walk-in only during the winter
|Activities||Boating, kayaking, canoeing, SUP, fishing, swimming, casual sports, and picnicking.|
|Facilities||Potable water, picnic areas, pit + flush toilets, boat launch, and parking.|
Mara Provincial Park
One of my ultimate bucket list items is to visit every provincial park in BC. At first, I thought that was an attainable goal, but then I learned that there are over 600 of them. Ha! Since that’s an overwhelming amount, I had to break that into more manageable goals. So for now, my goal is to visit every provincial park in the Okanagan. Thanks for helping, Mara!
Mara Provincial Park is located in the North Okanagan-Shuswap and is about 30 minutes from Salmon Arm or an hour and a half from Kelowna. It’s just off Highway 97A, so it’s super easy to access and is a great place to enjoy a lazy day or even just a quick rest stop. The lake is stunning and the beaches are covered in beautiful white sand. Who wouldn’t want to spend time here?
Things to do at Mara Provincial Park
Even though Mara Provincial Park is small, it’s a haven for both relaxation and recreation. Like most of the Okanagan, the summer brings a flurry of activity to this otherwise quiet corner of BC. Whether you’re letting off some steam or burying your feet in the sand, this provincial park has something for you.
Recreation + watersports
Mara is perfect if you love outdoor recreation! The untouched, serene lake draws visitors from all over and promises days of unparalleled freedom. It’s very popular for all kinds of watersports, including boating, water-skiing, kayaking, canoeing, SUP, fishing, swimming, and even houseboating. My first tubing experience was at Mara Lake! There’s a paved boat launch and a large parking lot so you can easily bring your own boat; however, you can’t moor your boat overnight.
If you’re into kayaking, canoeing, or SUP, you can enjoy a quiet paddle on the Shuswap River before it spills into Mara Lake. Once you’re on the lake, I recommended sticking to the shore because the interior of the lake is usually full of speedboats.
You can also fish on Mara Lake. There’s an abundance of Rainbow trout, Kokanee, Lake trout, and Dolly Varden.
Beaches + swimming
Beautiful, unspoiled beaches stretch the entire length of Mara Provincial Park. The white sandy beaches are a great way to relax and channel your inner carefree-self. Or if you’re into building sandcastles, you can do that, too! One bummer, though, is that your pets aren’t allowed on the beach.
And of course, you can go swimming here! That’s what summer in the Okanagan is all about, isn’t it? But because the lake has so much boat traffic, it’s very important you stay within the designated swimming areas for everyone’s safety. There are no lifeguards on duty.
Picnicking is a wonderful way to enjoy Mara Provincial Park. There’s a large grassy area near the beach along with a few tables. Grab a few of your friends, some yummy snacks, and a deck of cards or soccer ball for a fun afternoon. There are also two potable water taps in the park, so just bring your reusable bottle and you’re set for the day.
Keep in mind that campfires are prohibited.
Even though Mara Provincial Park is small and only a day-use park, it has some great amenities.
There are two potable water taps throughout the park. One is near the grassy area and the other is at the boat launch. They’re functional for most of the year, except for the off-season when they’re shut off. There are six washrooms (pit and flush) at the park and some are wheelchair accessible. They’re usually well maintained and clean.
The park doesn’t offer any rentals or stores, but it’s only a few kilometers from the nearest store so you don’t have to go far if you need something.
History of Mara Provincial Park
Mara Provincial Park was established in 1938. The area was named after John Andrew Mara (1840-1920) who owned much of the ranch land between Enderby and Sicamous. He was also a well-known politician and merchant.
The community of Mara was settled in the late 1800s, with many settlers arriving after the completion of the railway in 1892. It’s primarily a farming community and today is home to about 300 people.
During WWI, there were two internment camps on Mara Lake and thousands of Ukrainians and Europeans were imprisoned. Later during the Great Depression, two relief camps were set up to provide employment and those men widened the road between Mara and Sicamous. One of these camps was located where the provincial park stands today.
Recommended gear for Mara Provincial Park
I’ll be the first to admit that some outdoor activities have a long list of daunting gear that quickly becomes overwhelming (I’m looking at you, backpacking). Luckily, Mara is one of those places where you don’t really need anything, but there is some gear that would make your visit even better!
- Swimsuit: Mara has a beautiful, pristine beach, so chances are you’ll want to go swimming. I looove Londre Bodywear! Their suits are made of recycled plastic bottles and look amazing on everyone (plus it’s owned by badass women in Vancouver).
- 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 Mara Lake. These sunglasses from Pela are biodegradable and look awesome. Win-win.
- Camp chair: A lightweight camp chair makes it easy to enjoy the outdoors at Mara, especially if you’re picnicking. Helinox uses high-quality fabrics and a process called “Green Anodising” that reduces the negative environmental impacts of their manufacturing process.
- Reusable water bottle: Mara 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.
Camping near Mara Provincial Park
Mara is beautiful and I wouldn’t be surprised if you wanted to spend some time checking out the area. Even though you can’t actually camp at Mara Provincial Park (it’s day-use only), you do have nearby options.
This family-run park has lots of green space, a pool, and lots of fun activities in the summer.
Family Tree Riverside
This campground is open year-round. You can enjoy lots of open space, a lazy river, and a pool.
This beautiful campground is located within the nearby Yard Creek Provincial Park. It has large sites and plenty of hiking trails.