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Vernon’s Ellison Park a local gem

Okanagan Nature Nut explores the beauty of popular campground, trails, lakeshore
The SS Okanagan Pilot house cabin with Jack Taylor seated in the shade on lower right, circa 1938. (Vernon Museum and Archives photo No. 655)

Roseanne Van Ee

Okanagan Nature Nut

Aren’t we lucky to have Ellison Provincial Park only 16 kilometres south of Vernon.

Nestled on the northeastern shore of Okanagan Lake, Ellison Park includes 220 hectares (480 acres) of Ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir forested benchlands above scenic rocky cliffs and sheltered pink granite sandy coves for 5,000 feet of shoreline.

Here’s a shady respite for summer campers and visitors in our dry, sunny Okanagan climate.

Ellison’s natural attractions provide many year-round recreational and spectacular photo opportunities. The scenic hiking and mountain bike trails are last to be covered with snow in winter.

READ MORE: Ellison Park wildfire held less than 2 hours after discovered

In May 1962 the B.C. government paid an astonishing $85,000 to the Price Ellison (1852–1932) family for the property. In 2020 an adjacent property of half the size was available for $16.5 million.

Ellison Park has a rich cultural history. There’s evidence of Okanagan First Nation’s kekuli pits. When I was the park naturalist there in the 1990s, a renowned anthropologist found arrowhead shards on the beach.

Locals once called that whole lakeshore area Otter Bay. It was easiest to access by rowboat for fishing, picnicking and camping. The dirt road was extremely rough until it was improved and paved around 1960. The Boy Scouts regularly camped here since the 1920s.

Jack Taylor was a bachelor who taxied people around Vernon in his car before most others had any. Then in the 1930s he remarkably drove his car down to the end of that rough road. He acquired the pilot house of the SS Okanagan Sternwheeler and somehow hauled it up onto a cove. He lived there until about 1960.

The Scouts enjoyed spying on ‘Captain’ Taylor. His cabin is gone, and the remaining concrete foundations above the cove are now covered by shrubs.

Stuart Fleming (Vernon’s past MP and mayor) brought an old projector and film showing Scouts in the 1940s building driftwood and log rafts which they chopped with axes, sawed and tied together. Then they ran nude without life jackets onto the rafts to race by pushing or paddling with handmade poles. Up at the camp they pounded in tent pegs with heavy mallets.

Stuart said, “accidents happened so they had to be careful and learn first aid.” Has Scouting ever changed!

Now, there are 71 wheelchair accessible campsites with picnic tables, fire pits, toilets, showers, water and wood, making this a very popular place for families to vacation. Reserved camping is from April–October. November– March the campground is gated, but the park is accessible for day use hiking. You can ramble around the hiking trails to see unique native plants and wildlife. Local recreation groups offer guided rock climbing and outdoor recreation day camps in the park.

Ellison’s Otter Bay is Western Canada’s first freshwater scuba-diving and snorkelling park. A number of objects have been sunk here to attract a variety of fish and other lake-dwelling creatures. There are walking trails between the headlands that separate the two beautiful swimming bays for swimming, canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding. There are changing facilities and a shower.

Recently, trails have been developed above Eastside Road below Predator Ridge and Sparkling Hills. The North Okanagan Cycling Society in partnership with BC Parks has added a network of scenic multi-use trails. The new parking lot has excellent trail signage.

The park also conserves habitat for wildlife including deer, Columbian ground squirrels, red squirrels, porcupines, snakes including the rare rubber boa, and many reptile, amphibian and bird species.

So head on out there to enjoy.

Roseanne Van Ee enthusiastically shares her knowledge of the outdoors to help readers experience and enjoy nature. Follow her on Facebook.

READ MORE: Okanagan’s Nature Nut: Change is taking place


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Jennifer Smith

About the Author: Jennifer Smith

Vernon has always been my home, and I've been working at The Morning Star since 2004.
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