September 2, 2016
By: David Clegg (firstname.lastname@example.org) Here's the thing. As a new (semi) resident in the Okanagan, who has ridden Myra Canyon trestles several times, I was anxious to ride from Myra to the Naramata bench, for a more comprehensive overview of the territory and for the challenge. But the information available on-line is mostly unhelpful or off-putting, with several postings suggesting that this section was poorly maintained, brutal and fit only for serious athletes. Also, there seems to be no single detailed scale map of the route as a whole. Nonetheless, after asking around and doing some basic math from several partial maps*, it seemed to me that it was worth the trying, particularly since we would be going downhill!
For readers from distant lands, the Okanagan is a gorgeous, fruit-growing, winery-riddled lake valley in British Columbia (Canada) and the trail I describe is part of the Kettle Valley Railroad rail trail (now part of the trans-Canada trail), which runs along and down a mountain ridge for about half the length of the main lake in the valley (Lake Okanagan).
Here's a summary and then a bit of detail to help others judge if they will be comfortable doing it.
Its terrific! Total time from the parking area at Myra Forest Service Rd (FSR) to our take-out parking area at Naramata and Todd Rds should be somewhere around 6hrs without stops, or 7 hours with time for photos, sandwich and other munching stops and a swim at Chute lake. Equipment is anything with tyres 1.6" or wider plus someone willing to collect you at the end.
Highlights are the Myra railroad trestles (of course), the lake views from above South Kelowna, Bellevue canyon trestle (the backdrop of trees with the creek below is spectacular), Chute lake and the views from around Little tunnel and from above Naramata bench (world class). Also, the off-ramp signed 'wine detour' to Hillside Winery, just before our 'official' endpoint in Naramata, was a bonus, since we were meeting our collection team at Hillside for a lunchtime refuel (no, Hillside did not sponsor our ride!).
So who did this, and when? We rode in late August 2016, starting at 7am and finishing at 2pm. I am a reasonably fit 68 yr old who does a fair amount of casual road cycling (and in years past some 100km tours) on a hybrid with 28x1.6 tyres and front suspension. I was accompanied by my very athletic 40yr old daughter Niki, on a Mountain bike with 27.5x2.1 tyres and also with front suspension. Neither of us has significant trail or mountain bike experience.
The trail itself is in generally good condition and almost completely flat, other than from Chute lake down to Naramata (a gentle, steady, descent). Specifically, both Myra Canyon and the Naramata section from Little Tunnel are beautifully groomed. Between the Little White FSR parking area and Bellevue Canyon there are some short stretches with shallow, smooth-bowl potholes that you may want/need to weave around, but nothing deeper than about 6" (and only 1 of those) and mostly 1-3". There are isolated shallow potholes on the rest of the trail. The only trick with potholes is to spot them in the often dappled sunlight through the trees, but even if you hit one, its most unlikely to end your ride. There are stretches of sandy surface between Bellevue Canyon and Chute lake and from Chute Lake down to the Little tunnel but these are fairly firm and restrict speed rather than being difficult to transit. I turned around between Chute Lake and Naramata to see how this surface behaved on the uphill and found it no problem on my relatively narrow tyres. There are also intermittent short stretches (mostly below Chute Lake) with a few protruding rocks (none more than 1") and loose stones which you will need to keep an eye out for. We cruised happily at between about 12 and 18kmph for much of the trip, with reductions to 7 - 10 to deal with potholey and sandy bits and the occasional mountain cottontail dashing across the road. The total distance is around 75 km but the maps are not precise and I didn't have an odometer on my bike.
I can imagine that in spring and after heavy rain, the potholes will make for a muddy experience and I don't know what it does to the sandy stretches but its difficult to believe it will become impassable - just slower.
The temperature was perfect. Cool at the start but I had a light long sleeved overshirt which I removed after an hour and rode in my short-sleeve cycling shirt. It didn't get uncomfortably hot in the saddle at any point (although when we stopped for a break in the last hour, at about 1.15pm, it would have been hot for walking or cycling uphill). I took 1.5L of energy drink and had some to spare at the end.
We took many short view/photo-breaks at Myra, Bellevue, above South Kelowna and Naramata (probably 25 minutes in total), and also a half hour break and quick swim at Chute lake, together with a snoop around Chute Lake Resort's rustic main building. We did a 5min off-trail walk to beautifully preserved Rock Oven No 4**(between Adra Tunnel and the last hairpin above Little Tunnel) - so the off-bike time was about an hour in total. The riding time split was about 3.25 hrs from Myra FSR parking lot to Chute lake and 2.45 hrs from there to the Naramata takeout. Overall, a long but relaxed and very enjoyable ride with lots of scenery, and interesting stuff all around!
Would I do it again? - absolutely! And so should you.
*The maps I used (of several I came across) were the detailed and to-scale 'Myra Bellevue Provincial Park trail network map, available at local booksellers, together with the tourist maps (not to scale) in the brochures issued by the Penticton and Naramata publicity associations (available at many local information centres). Points of interest I mention, such as Chute Lake, Adra Tunnel, Little Tunnel, parking areas and access roads, are indicated on one or more of these maps.
**the rock ovens were built out of stone, to bake bread for the railway building crews in the early 20th century. There are several in Rock Oven Park, on the stretch between Chute Lake and Little Tunnel and this one was well preserved and worth the visit.