Perched high above Okanagan Lake, the Little Tunnel is one of the best hiking and biking destinations in the Penticton area.
The Little Tunnel is part of the Kettle Valley Rail Trail and so is not only incredibly scenic to visit, but historically interesting too.
If you know where to look, the Little Tunnel is actually visible from downtown Penticton!
We visit the Little Tunnel at least twice every year and often bring friends and family here. The views are just spectacular and the hike to the Little Tunnel is pretty easy.
In this post, I’ll share everything you need to know about hiking and biking to the Little Tunnel in Naramata.
Here’s what to expect:
- What is the Little Tunnel?
- Visiting the Little Tunnel
- Hiking and biking tips
Last updated July 2023. There may be affiliate links in this post. If you make a purchase, we may receive a small percentage of the sale.
What is the Little Tunnel?
Blasted through pure rock, the Little Tunnel was created as part of the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR). It is located 5km northeast of Naramata and 18km north of Penticton.
Construction of the KVR began in 1915, with the line eventually travelling almost 500km between the communities of Midway and Hope. The railway was primarily built to serve mining interests in BC’s southern interior region, but also helped to solidfy Canadian sovereignty in the area.
Not only used for transporting ore, fruit and other goods from the Okanagan and Kootenays, the KVR carried passengers too.
Penticton was considered one of the most important stations along the route, but other stops in the area included Chute Lake, Arawana (on the Naramata Bench) and Prairie Valley (Summerland).
Taking twenty years to complete, the Kettle Valley Railway was actually not in service very long. Portions of the railway began to be discontinued from the early 1960s. The section near Penticton was in service until the 1980s.
Following the route’s abandonment, the KVR became a multi-use recreational trail, open to walkers, cyclists and horseriders. Some sections are open to motorised vehicles as well. As a former rail line, the gradient of the KVR never exceeds 2% and so it is almost completely flat for its entire length. The Little Tunnel is accessible via the KVR Trail.
Visiting the Little Tunnel
The Little Tunnel sits 600m above Okanagan Lake, offering spectacular panoramas of the water below, as well as vineyards, mountain peaks and surrounding communities.
The views are outstanding on both sides of the tunnel, but my favourite vantages are found just to the north.
Walking through the tunnel, it is interesting to imagine the days when steam trains powered through the rockface. Patches of soot can still be spotted on the rugged ceiling.
The tunnel becomes very dark right in the middle, but the light beaming from the end indicates the way out (no flashlight needed!)
The trail immediately around and through the tunnel is paved, so it is easy to explore. There are two picnic benches on the north side of the Little Tunnel, making it a great place for a picnic. About 200m further north along the trail is an outhouse and trash bin.
Being such a beautiful destination, you may imagine that it is difficult to visit the Little Tunnel. Fortunately, accessing the Little Tunnel is actually pretty straightforward. The Little Tunnel is located on the multi-use Kettle Valley Rail Trail.
Where to park to visit the Little Tunnel
The Little Tunnel has two main parking areas, with the Smethurst Road parking lot being the most used.
Smethurst Road parking lot
The main Little Tunnel parking lot is located on Smethurst Road in Naramata (Google Map directions). Most people walk or cycle 4.4km (one way) to the Little Tunnel from this parking lot.
To access this parking area, continue on Naramata Road past the village of Naramata, towards Chute Lake. Take the next right turn onto Smethurst Road. There is a blue ‘KVR Trans Canada Trail’ sign on the right hand side before the junction.
Smethurst Road is paved but relatively narrow. Follow the winding road as it passes Nichol Vineyard and climbs up towards Daydreamer Wines. There is a very tight corner here – watch for oncoming traffic. The large paved parking lot is just a little further up the road on the right.
There is trail signage in the parking area, as well as an outhouse. The parking lot can get pretty busy on weekends.
To reach the Little Tunnel, you’ll need to hike or bike the trail from the north side of the parking area. More details below.
Chute Lake Road parking lot
There is lesser used KVR Trail parking lot on Chute Lake Road, further along the Naramata Bench (Google Map directions). The distance from the Chute Lake Road parking lot to the Little Tunnel is also 4.4km one-way.
Motorised vehicles are allowed on the KVR Trail between this parking lot and the Little Tunnel. For this reason, the Chute Lake access is popular with visitors with mobility issues.
To reach the Chute Lake Road access, continue on Naramata Road past the village of Naramata, towards Chute Lake. Turn right on Chute Lake Road after 7km. The road narrows and starts to significantly climb, with some tight corners.
The Chute Lake Road parking lot and access point is located on the right after 3.7km. The final 550m of road is unpaved (gravel). The parking lot is dirt and has trail signage only (no washrooms).
Hiking to the Little Tunnel
Truth be told, the hike to the Little Tunnel from the Smethurst Road trailhead is more of a long, flat walk. The wide gravel pathway is well used by walkers and cyclists.
The return distance is 8.8km, which takes around 2.5 to 3 hours to walk at a moderate walking pace with a short stop at the Little Tunnel itself.
The path is surrounded by fragrant ponderosa pines as it leaves the parking lot. Rock walls come and go. The first views appear 600m in (about 10 minutes). From here on, the path continues along the side of the hill, sometimes lined by trees and rock. There are intermittent views all the way along.
There is an outhouse at the 2km mark – look for the green building above the trail on the right.
At the 3.8km point, there is a trail junction for Rock Oven Regional Park. From here, you can hike up to reach another section of the KVR (2km), passing next to a number of rock ovens. These were used by railway workers to make bread while building the KVR.
The Little Tunnel itself can be spotted from the trail at 4km. You’re almost there! Enjoy the views at the Little Tunnel before returning the way you came. The journey back can feel long, but there are plenty of benches situated along the path for resting.
Cycling to the Little Tunnel
The Little Tunnel is definitely one of the top biking destinations in the Penticton area. I’d guess that 80% of all trail users are actually cyclists – we usually see only a few hikers compared to the many, many cyclists.
The Smethurst parking lot is a great trailhead for young families or anyone just wanting a short bike ride.
The journey takes around 20 minutes each way, so estimate around an hour with a stop at the Little Tunnel. Read the hiking details above for the description of the trail.
Another popular option is to bike all the way from Penticton to the Little Tunnel via the KVR Trail. The 18km ride is uphill (2% maximum gradient), with the advantage of the return journey being completely downhill!
Allow 4 hours for the 36km return trip with a stop at the Little Tunnel. E-bikes are very popular on this route. On the way back, consider stopping at a winery or two – there are several located just off the KVR Trail (such as D’Angelo Estate Winery, Hillside Winery and Origin Wines).
An ideal place to park in Penticton is by the KVR trailhead on Vancouver Place (Google Map directions).
Parking space is limited, however, so consider parking closer to downtown and then biking up Vancouver Avenue instead. Free parking is available on Lakeshore Drive (Google Map directions) and at Marina Way Park (Google Map directions).
Driving to the Little Tunnel
It is possible to drive almost all the way to the Little Tunnel via the KVR Trail. The section to the north of the Little Tunnel allows motorised vehicles. The access point is on Chute Lake Road (as previously described).
This is a great option for anyone with limited mobility but it should be noted that driving on the KVR Trail is not like driving on a regular road. This section of the KVR Trail is unpaved and narrow. The level of maintenance varies from season to season.
There is a very steep drop-off to the eastern side so extreme caution is required. Drivers should be prepared to drive slowly and expect to see cyclists, walkers, ATV users and even horseriders.
The distance from the Chute Lake access to the Little Tunnel is 4.1km. The road is paved here and widens to become a parking lot with an outhouse and trash bin. Motorised vehicles are not allowed on the KVR Trail after this point (there is a barrier).
The Little Tunnel sits 300m south of the parking area, accessible via a paved section of the KVR Trail. There are gorgeous sweeping views of Okanagan Lake before reaching the Little Tunnel itself. The paved section continues through the tunnel.
Hiking and biking tips
- The KVR Trail does not have much shade. It can get very hot on sunny days. Plan to head out early (pre 11am) or late (post 5pm) on the trail during July and August
- Bring plenty of water. For the above reason, it is so important to bring water with you. I’d also recommend sunscreen and a sun hat
- There is a steep drop-off on the eastern side of the trail. Stay away from the edge and keep children and dogs close
- The Little Tunnel is located at 900m elevation. For this reason, it can be noticebly cooler here in spring and autumn than Naramata and Penticton
- The Little Tunnel and the KVR Trail are open all year round. Snow is possible from November to March. I’d suggest microspikes for grip
- Dogs are allowed on leash. Rattlesnakes live around the KVR Trail – dogs are bitten more often than humans so keep them close. Please pick up after your dog
- Bring bear spray (recommended, especially if alone). While the KVR Trail is very well used, black bears and cougars live in this area
- Tell someone where you are going. There is phone signal around the Little Tunnel but it’s always a good idea to tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back
- Don’t have your own bike? There are several bike rental options in Penticton. Pedego, for example, rents e-bikes for 4 or 6 hour self guided trips
- If you’re looking for quicker hike nearby, consider the Naramata Creek Falls Trail