Nestled in the heart of British Columbia's Nicola Valley is a cow town called Merritt, a community of just under 7,500 people. Merritt's downtown is Western-style, reminiscent of the early 20th century. Visitors are often charmed by the down-home, generous hospitality of this community.
With more than 2,000 hours of sunshine a year, it's easy to plan a great getaway to Merritt. So pack up your camper and load up your horses - we're going riding.
Campsites and Trails
Forestry campsites in the Merritt area accommodate the horsemen and their steeds. One of my favorite rides is at the Lundbom Lake Grasslands forestry site, located only minutes from downtown Merritt. It's situated in rolling hills and is surrounded by small fishing lakes.
The campsites are well set up for horsemen. The corrals were built by Backcountry Horsemen of British Columbia. There are picnic tables and fire pits at every site, with beautiful lake views. There's a camp host there from May though September. The cost is $10 per night; maximum stay is 14 days.
The surrounding trails, built and maintained by local mountain-bike riders, range from easy to difficult. They're well-marked, and it's easy to find your way back to camp. (Note: Make sure your horse is used to cows, which run loose in the area.)
One of my favorite trails was the Déjà Vu Trail. You ride past a lake, then, a while later, you ride past another lake that looks just like the first one. It feels like déjà vu. Another good ride is the Coco-bonk Trail; just off the trail is a viewpoint overlooking Nicola Valley and Nicola Lake.
Minutes from Lundbom are the Kane Valley cross-country trails. This area offers many trails and loops. There are no corrals, but you can highline your horse or use a portable corral. Like Lundbom, there's a camp host who'll collect $10 per night.
Every year, a group of horsemen from all over British Columbia gather together to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving. Most are members of Backcountry Horsemen of B.C., but all are welcome. We have community potluck Thanksgiving Dinner that would make most five-star hotel buffets look wimpy. The menu includes a whole prime rib full rack, wild Pacific salmon, salads, and desserts. I make my famous double-creamed pumpkin cheesecake.
We meet in a large meadow in an area called Rainbow Trails, just outside of Merritt, off the Coldwater Rd. turnoff. The trails are named after an endurance ride held there every July called "Over the Rainbow," in which all the trails are marked with colored ribbon.
This is also a forestry site, but has only makeshift corrals; there are no camping fees. There are a couple outhouses and a creek nearby, but you'd have to haul in your own drinking water.
The trails are very well-marked and can range from easy to difficult. They go as high as 5,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level. Colored horseshoes or plastic ribbons indicate length of each trail. White and blue loops offer a few hours of riding. Orange loops offer all-day riding.
You can ride to alpine meadows where cattle graze, to Lilly Lake or through birch forests. Area wildlife includes deer, elk, black bear, and even herds of wild horses.
No trip to Merritt is complete without a visit to Nicola Ranch, founded in 1919. It was once the center of the area's ranching community; today it's still a working ranch, and offers accommodations and ranch experiences to visitors.
Merritt is also home to one of the largest working ranches in Canada, the Douglas Lake Ranch In 1872, John Douglas Sr. homesteaded his first 320 acres along its shore. The ranch is now more than 145,000 acres.