A bit of K.V.R. history,
I’m starting this guide to Summerland’s Kettle Valley Railway with a bit of history first. Skip this if you want, but if you keep this in mind when you ride the train, I think you will appreciate the experience much more.
Its easy for us to forget how important the railways were to shaping our nations. If it weren’t for the railways, our nations would not resemble what they do today. Sure, we have highway networks, shipping lanes and international airports today, but those all would probably never exist without our railways networks. There may be a debate of what came first: the chicken or the egg, but with North and South America, the railways came first, at least before cars and planes. Without a way to get food from the plains states and provinces to the coasts, our countries would not have survived. A good majority of towns and cities in North America exist only because there once was a rail link.
The K.V.R was not part of the transcontinental, rather it was a branch line. It was essential for keeping the Okanagan’s produce and mining ores within Canada’s borders. The K.V.R. line meant those goods could get to Vancouver, and its port.
The Kettle Valley Railroad in Summerland is now just a tiny fraction of what it once was. Back in its heyday, it was of vital importance for the growth of the Okanagan valley, and for the West Coast. The Okanagan Valley is known for it’s fruit orchards and excellent wineries, but there’s a good chance none of them would exist anymore if it wasn’t for the KVR.
A full history is beyond this guide to Summerland’s Kettle Valley Railway. For more in depth history visit Wikipedia
Getting to Summerland
The following link is an affiliate link if you need a car to rent
If you are BC resident or you have driven here from out of province, this is the easiest way. If you are flying to BC, the most likely way you have arrived here is by way of Kelowna International airport. If you don’t hit any traffic, than Summerland is less then an hour. The unfortunate part is that there is only one bridge out of Kelowna and traffic snarls are a way of life so expect to take over an hour. Penticton is another option: it has a regional airport, so the route options are more limited. I don’t know what the price difference is flying to Kelowna vs. Penticton, but I know the distance from Pentiction to Summerland is much less than from Kelowna so you can weigh the options of car rentals, if you are flying in. Since the downsizing of Greyhound, there is no longer a bus option, so you either need to own a car or rent a car. There are some bus websites that are saying you can take a Greyhound, but that simply is not true anymore. Greyhound halted all operations in Canada except for Ontario. There’s even a site that somehow is giving recent reviews for Greyhound of routes that don’t exist, so please be wary.
Getting to KVR
The route to KVR from the highway is a little convoluted. Unless you are good at remembering directions, it is advisable to use a GPS or Google maps. From the highway it is approximately 6km and roughly 9 minutes.
Directions are beyond the scope of this guide to Summerland’s Kettle Valley Railway. Luckily KVR made them for you, you can visit their site for printable directions Here
Once you are there
If you didn’t buy tickets in advance, you can buy them on site; however, sometimes they frequently sell out, and their train robbery special trains sell out well in advance. In fact I have been to KVR twice and both times the robbery trains were sold out more than a week in advance. Also, even if you book in advance, the seats are first come first served, so if you want a good seat you should arrive early and line up early. Visit the website to book tickets in advance here
The station has many souvenirs, ranging from shirts, hats, and sweaters to key-chains and postcards. All of the items seem to have a reasonable mark up. I still use my key-chain. There are too many to list in this guide to Summerland’s Kettle Valley Railway.
On the train
You have a choice of open air cars or coach cars. While the coach cars are much fancier and the seats are more comfortable, the windows don’t open all the way. The open air cars are pretty rudimentary and the seats are wooden benches, but the fact they are open air makes for better pictures. If you don’t mind your pictures being made blurry by the extra glass, then the coach cars are the way to go. Better yet, ask your kids, or if you know your kids well enough to choose for them.
There is a presenter on board who lets you know some of the history as you go along. Personally I find that sort of thing fascinating. The announcer isn’t to obtrusive and it is easily to have a normal conversation with others on board.
The ride itself is an authentic steam train. If you are a train enthusiast, this is a good thing; in the case that you aren’t, it may be bad. If case you were dragged aboard unwillingly by your kids, you may be unimpressed. You are riding century old technology, so the train is slow, and even the coach seats aren’t the most comfortable, but the journey is still quite pleasant. The views from the train are beautiful and the sounds of the train are very satisfying. Again, if you are being cajoled or are bullied into going, remember that you are on a rolling monument to the past, it might help. Personally I think the K.V.R. is a very nice steam train ride, and a good way to spend an afternoon.
Click on one of the following pictures below to bring up a scrollable gallery.
Length of excursion: 7/10
As far as length goes, the ride is fairly long and satisfying. I’ve been on longer, “the Jacobite” for instance, which I talk about briefly here. There is 10Km of track, which may not sound like a lot but that’s not bad for a heritage line.
Scenery along the track 7/10
Summerland is a very pretty town, and the track passes by a lot of beautiful scenery, houses, farms and wineries. The train can go faster, but it goes by at a leisurely pace. I heard a couple on the train say that K.V.R is trying to stretch out the journey, but the ride isn’t about “getting it over with” IMHO, I think they are going at a perfect pace: not too slow or too fast.
Entertainment on board 7/10
The staff dress the part and there is an announcer giving history. I like the announcer; I think he adds value to the ride, but then I am a history buff. Overall I think the ride keeps you entertained throughout the journey.
Ride comfort 6/10
Not the most comfortable, but don’t blame the operators for this, you are riding in an authentic train car. You can only blame the past for this one, they didn’t exactly have the greatest technology. Also the first class passengers were given priority, but first class coaches were price over quantity. If you see the open air car as a cattle car with seats, that’s what the third class was thought of in those days. Ride them, take your pictures and think about how far we’ve come.
The engine (3716) 8/10
It’s a magnificent steam engine. Not only does it look cool, it sounds cool too, not just the horn but the bell as well. Halfway through the journey they switch the engine from the front to the back, which for me just adds to the overall experience.
Value for your money 8/10
For $25 CAD it’s a pretty good value. Keep in mind these old relics cost an insane amount of money to run and maintain. Plus the souvenir shop is reasonable.
Overall experience 7.5/10
Not the greatest steam ride I’ve been on, but it’s no slouch either. I have ridden the train twice if that’s any indication of my opinion.
I also made another Youtube Video!
All in all I think Kettle Valley Steam Railway is worthy of a visit. If you are from out of town there are other things in the area too, so you can do something after the train ride. “Summerland Sweets” is a great place to get icecream if you just want to watch the train go by. Or if you book the late train and want to photograph it before you ride it. As I said earlier the Okanagan is well known for its wineries and orchards. During the summer there are fruit stands dotted along the highway. Penticton is a stone’s throw away. Or you could walk or bike portions of the un-tracked K.V.R. trail . Giants head is a good hike, and is right in town, and not far from the K.V.R.
I really hope you enjoyed this weeks guide to Summerland’s Kettle Valley Railway. If yo udid, please hit the like button, leave a comment and subscribe. Follow me on twitter, instagram and facebook @theglobetrevor