Activate Your Fall in Vernon
Heading north into Vernon, as the teal waters of Kalamalka Lake come into view on your right, you’ll notice a building to the west, perched high above the grasslands. The Allan Brooks Nature Centre is the place to learn all about the flora and fauna of the area, and to understand how Vernon has sustained generations of orchards, farming, and biodiversity.
At the Nature Centre you can walk along the Grassland Trail, visit Marmot City, learn about time at the Analemmatic Sundial, enjoy a picnic, and get hands-on at the Pond Learning Centre (specifically on Sept. 21 during their Pond Dipping event). There are also some great views of the entire region from just outside the front doors. From there, you can spot orchards on the north side of town, which just happened to be my next stop.
“We started out with apples. We decided to diversify our crop and grow not just the mainstream varieties that you would see in the supermarket. We introduced Royal Gala back then which was a fairly new variety and a Swiss apple called Arlet. We sort of became known as ‘The Apple People.’ We offer much more than McIntosh, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious”
Visit for lunch at the Farmhouse Cafe - pro tip: order the Applelanche! - shop in the store which has gorgeous seasonal displays, visit the farm animals (chickens, sheep, goats), and of course, shop farm-fresh produce. There are vegetables, peaches, pears, their own fresh-pressed apple juice (available May to October), caramel apples, apple pie, apple muffins, apple tarts, hot-spiced cider, almost anything apple you can think of.
How to pick an apple:
Locate the bottom of the apple, the “eye”
Slowly twist and turn so the eye faces the sky
The apple should easily fall from the branch when twisted
Once you have your apple, hold it in your palm so your fingers don’t bruise it
Gently place it in your Davison Orchards sack and you’re good to go!
Once apple season is done, it’s time for pumpkins. Join the Davison family for Pumpkin Fest on Oct. 4, 2019 and witness the Giant Pumpkin Weigh-In on Oct. 19.
Of course, it’s not harvest season on the farm without corn. Over at the Historic O’Keefe Ranch you can take the family through a series of mazes that will have you twisting, turning, and hopefully laughing, through stalks over eight feet tall.
For an extra thrill at Historic O’Keefe Ranch this season, they’re hosting the Field of Screams, for adults only. They take Grimm’s Fairy Tales and turn them into nightmares through three different fields. This bone-chilling haunted corn maze opens Oct. 4.
At O’Keefe, the heritage of the North Okanagan area is preserved to give you a glimpse of what life would have been like at the turn of the last century. Open from May until the end of September, the site is home to the original O’Keefe family mansion, built in 1867 when the ranch was founded.
They also have a General Store which was the location of the first post office in the Okanagan. The whole property is the site of the old BX carriage way (Vernon’s own Pony Express), and the ranch offers stagecoach rides to visitors to honour that heritage.
The BX, “BC Express” or “Barnard Express” was founded in 1862 when Francis Jones Barnard was awarded the government postal contract for nearly the entire interior of B.C., all the way up to the Cariboo. By 1864, Barnard’s wagons and stages covered nearly 180,000 kms with a 2,428-hectare horse ranch (which is now most of Vernon) being the home base for the whole operation.
The name of my next destination made a lot more sense after learning all of this. I made my way over to the BX Press Cidery, where I walked out among the McIntosh trees with one of the owners, Missy Dobernigg.
Missy gives tours for guests under the canopy and tells the story of the 16-hectare property, which is actually where Barnard kept and raised his horses. The land was transformed into orchards by the next owner, and then purchased in 1946 by Missy’s father in law. For three generations the family has been growing up to 453,592 kg of apples a year, from McIntosh and Honeycrisp to Ambrosia and almost 30 other varieties. Six years ago, Missy and her husband Dave opened the cidery.
Visiting in late September, you’ll catch them at the pressing stage of cider-making and be sure to try The Prospector, named after Barnard. Missy says it’s a true expression of the apples and is really food-friendly. In the summer they host long table dinners, orchard concerts, and brunches, along with a series of “sip and craft” events and serve wood-fired pizza.
From the Barnard Express to Allan Brooks (a painter and naturalist, who even inspired artist Robert Bateman) there’s a whole lot of history and appreciation for the splendour of nature in Vernon. As Tamra from Davison Orchards says: “We like to call it a zero-mile, farm to table experience” when you visit.
When You Go
Start planning your adventure in Vernon here
Uncover more about the Okanagan’s offers for adventure. Check out ZenSeekers #OkanaganExploring Expedition page to see how you can have an adventure like this.
Thanks to the Honda Canada for getting us around on this expedition in the Canadian-made CR-V. Honda has been building cars in Canada for the last 50 years! #HondaCanada50