Important Notice: As of May 2016 significant portions of the 5km Testalinden Trail loop are blocked by fallen trees. Please read below for more information.

Mount Kobau is located north-west of Osoyoos, BC. The access road is located off the Crowsnest highway (BC-3 W), approximately 12 km from Osoyoos. Coming from Osoyoos, take a right turn onto the Kobau Mountain Forest Service Road and drive up the approximately 20 km gravel road to the top of the mountain. On the slow drive up the mountain you can witness the devastation of the 2015 Testalinden Creek fire as well as cattle grazing among the hills. We also spotted several mushroom pickers scouting the burnt forest although mushroom picking is prohibited in provincial parks.

Mount Kobau is part of the South Okanagan Grassland Protected Area and a popular place for hiking because of the spectacular views of the surrounding valley. There are two short trails located at the top of the mountain: a 1 km trail to the summit and the 5 km Testalinden Trail loop.

At the top of Mount Kobau there is a parking area, picnic table, pit toilet, trail map and trail markers. When we arrived at the top of the mountain the area was covered in heavy clouds, obstructing the beautiful views. And while it was a nice day below in the valley, the top of Mount Kobau was surprisingly cold, drizzly with patches of snow along the trail (mid-May). We put on our fleece jackets, rain coats and trail bags and started our hike along the 5 km Testalinden trail loop.

Many websites describe the 5 km Testalinden trail as an easy, flat and enjoyable hike and so despite the clouds, rain and snow we were looking forward to a moderately easy adventure. We started the hike by following the hiking sign posts to the left of the parking area. The first two kilometers (2 km) of the trail meanders through sagebrush covered hills. We could imagine that the views would be beautiful on a clear day! We arrived at the Chopaka Lookout (elevation 1845 m) with relative ease.

After the Chopaka Lookout the trail begins to descend into a wooded area that skirts along several small bodies of water. Near the first small lake we encountered fallen trees obstructing the trail. We passed over them easily but further along there were more and more fallen trees. Eventually we encountered complete portions of the trail that were lost under fallen trees. The only indication of the trail continuing onward was the regular orange triangle trail markers nailed to the trees. We followed the markers as we climbed over and under the fallen trees. Occasionally we would rediscover the trail or find a side trail that would take us around a blocked area but eventually we lost the trail completely...

There is a deep sense of concern when you lose a trail with three young children. We talked of turning back, but we were well past the halfway mark and everyone was wet, dirty and tired. I started making mental calculations of time, weather and supplies and then out of the corner of my eye I caught glimpse of a sign. We moved towards the sign and spotted a clearing. After carefully clambering our way through the fallen trees we stumbled into the clearing. It was Testalinden Lake! We were near the end of the loop and after a short hike along a dirt road we were back at the parking area.

We were not sure if the destruction of the trail around the small lakes was a recent event but we found no warning of it anywhere (online or on-site). Regardless, until further notice portions of Testalinden Trail loop are quite dangerously covered by fallen trees. I would recommend that hikers, especially families with children, either explore the 1 km trail to the summit or hike Testalinden Trail up to the Chopaka Lookout and then return. If there is a desire to see Testalinden Lake simply follow the dirt road to the right of the parking area.

The Meadowlark Nature Festival is a five day event (May 19th to 23rd) that showcases the amazing diversity in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys. The festival offers a variety of tours and workshops so that people of all ages can learn more about conversation efforts, natural history and habitat in the area. Take a look at the 2016 Festival at a Glance! Most of the tours are sold out but there are still a few tickets available.

Every year we participate in one or two festival events, usually something that my children can take part in. This year, however, I chose something for myself, a nature photography workshop with professional freelance photographer Caillum Smith of Preserved Light Photography. Before the workshop I did a bit a preparation: checking out Caillum's website and then realizing I had left my camera the rain. Akk! My camera was fine, thankfully! It stands up well to the abuse I subject it to, not that I recommend leaving a camera in the rain. I have a LUMIX GX7 which is a digital single lens mirrorless camera. I love how compact and durable it is while still having great control and picture quality. The lens I most often have on my camera, and the one I used for the pictures in this post, is a LUMIX micro 4/3 lens.

During the workshop Caillum shared the basics of photography. I enjoyed having four leisurely hours to play with my camera and discover some new camera controls and skills. The lighting was a bit harsh at first but as the clouds rolled over it was much easier to capture images. I am always looking to improve my photography skills so this workshop was a great opportunity to continue that learning journey. Caillum offers several photography workshops on his website that have peeked my interest. I hope that I'll more opportunities to work on my photography skills soon!

Our learning community had the opportunity to take part in a ceremonial release of ten thousand Okanagan Sockeye salmon fry into the Okanagan River. The event took place along the banks of the river channel in Penticton, BC and when we arrived early I was surprised by the already long line of parked cars. This is a popular event! The fry release is organized by the Okanagan Nation Alliance  and this year involved over four hundred students from local schools! In an effort to teach children about the importance of conserving sockeye salmon, each child was given a fry to release into the river, some of which were raised in classrooms. The fry will swim to Skaha lake where they will live for the next year after which they are recaptured, tagged and released once again.

My children would have happily released fry all morning but there were long lines of children waiting their turn. Afterwards we drove to the nearby En'owkin Centre for various activities. There was also a salmon feast which we missed, but I heard that it was wonderful.
1. Naramata Creek Park  (Naramata)  easy
This 2.4 km hike, round trip, takes between 30 minutes to 1 hour to complete with children. It's an easy hike with interesting geological features and a gorgeous waterfall at the end. The hike is not stroller friendly and requires crossing the creek twice using logs. A great place to explore spring, summer and fall!

2. Peach Cliff (Okanagan Falls) challenging
This approximately 3.0 to 5.0 km hike, round trip (depending on which trail you take), is moderately difficult with a steep ascent near the top. It takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to complete. The various features and history make this a really interesting hike for children. The hike is not stroller and exposed to the sun especially near the peak. A great hike in the spring and fall. Be sure to treat yourself to Tickleberry's after this hike.

3. Giant's Head Mountain Park (Summerland) challenging
A steep 1.6 km climb up this remnant of volcanic dome offers a spectacular 360-degree panoramic view of the Okanagan Valley. The challenging 3.0 km hike, round trip, takes about two hours to complete with children. The hike is not stroller friendly and is very exposed to the sun. Try this hike in the spring and fall. On a hot summer day I would recommend driving to the top.

4. Skaha Bluffs Provincial Parks (Penticton) varied - easy to challenging
There are many trails throughout this area, some of which are quite technical. It is a beautiful area and with shady spots, such as Shady Valley (see map), making it a good place to hike in the spring, summer and fall. Be careful of loose rocks, rock climbers and steep cliffs!

5. Skaha Lake Pictographs (Penticton) moderate
Discover pictographs by taking an approximately 2.5 km hike, round trip, through bighorn sheep habitat. There is a steep ascent near the beginning of the hike but the trail become more moderately sloped afterwards. Not stroller friendly and partially exposed to the sun. It takes about 1 to 1.5 hours to complete this hike with children.

6. McIntyre Bluff (Oliver) extra challenging
A 10.5 km hike that begins at Covert Farms and ends with an amazing view of the South Okanagan Valley. This hike is exposed with steep ascents. It takes about 3 to 5 hours to complete the round trip with children, depending on ability and weather. Alternatively, hike to Rattlesnake Lake and back (less than halfway) for an easier hike with children.

7. Osoyoos Lake Oxbows (Osoyoos) easy
Learn about the importance of oxbows on an easy 4.0 km walk. This leisurely walk takes about an hour to complete with children but is completely exposed to the sun. Good for spring and fall.

8. Mahoney Lake (Okanagan Falls) easy
Take a leisurely walk around this unique saline (salty) lake, but be prepared for muddy shoes!

9. Osoyoos Desert Centre (Osoyoos) very easy
Enjoy an easy 1.5 km walk over a boardwalk while overlooking the beautiful and endangered ecosystem of the South Okanagan. Admission prices and hours of operation are located on their website.

10. Vaseux Lake Wildlife Centre (Vaseux Lake) very easy
Take a short very easy walk on a boardwalk to the two-storey, bird observation platform, a great place for bird viewing. The walk is stroller friendly and takes about 15 minutes to complete round trip.