The growing city of Merritt is located at the hub of the Coquihalla Highway system, in easy reach of Vancouver, Kamloops and the Okanagan. Merritt is the service centre for the ranch country of the Nicola Valley, and provides an excellent base for exploring the many outdoor recreational opportunities in the area.
Initially discovered by pioneers searching for a route between the Coast and the Interior, the valley was used as a brigade trail by the 1850s. What they discovered here was a vast expanse of grasslands where livestock could roam. The ensuing settlement originated at the meeting of the Nicola and Coldwater rivers, with ranchers, loggers, prospectors, merchants, and businessmen all making a living.
With the completion of the railway in 1885, the coal interest at The Forks was heightened. Originally called Forksdale and Diamond Vale, Merritt was renamed in 1906 in honour of railway promoter William Hamilton Merritt. Today, the Nicola Valley incorporates the communities of Merritt, Quilchena, Douglas Lake, Aspen Grove, Spences Bridge, and Logan Lake.
Travelling northbound from Hope, Highway 5 follows the Coquihalla River until near the summit of the Coquihalla Pass, then follows the Coldwater River to Merritt. The route is particularly scenic in the early fall, when rolling fields and forest foliage take on a golden glow. The surrounding Merritt Forest District supports stands of Engelmann spruce, lodgepole pine, and subalpine fir at higher elevations; Douglas fir and ponderosa pine are found on the lower benchlands. Extensive grasslands also occur at low-elevation areas, particularly toward Merritt.
The Coquihalla Highway was the only toll road in BC – a toll route to Merritt and Kamloops – until the toll was eliminated in September 2008 after recovery of the construction cost of the Hope-to-Merritt section. A variety of gravel roads lead off into the bush on both the Hope and the Merritt sides of the Coquihalla Pass. An alternate approach to Kamloops via Princeton and Merritt is Highway 5A, the route that predates the Coquihalla, which opened in 1986. Merritt is a hub, where three highways converge – 5, 5A, and 8.
Location: Merritt is located on the Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5) in the Nicola Valley, at the junction with Highway 8, 76 miles (121 km) northeast of Hope and 54 miles (87 km) southwest of Kamloops.
The historic Baillie Property, operated by the Nicola Valley Heritage Society, consists of a house, barn, store, storage garage, and heritage-style garden. Baillie House was built by Cosam Bigney in 1908 for his bride-to-be. Unfortunately she fell in love with another man and never set foot on the property. The importance of the Baillie property lies in the extent to which the heritage buildings have remained so unchanged since the early 1900s.
There is plenty of Nicola Valley history and heritage for the curious at the Nicola Valley Museum on Coldwater Avenue, just east of the Railyard Mall. Displays include a First Nations Gallery and exhibits on ranching, coal mining, rail travel, local pioneers, and the pioneer lifestyle, plus an extensive collection of Nicola Valley photographs and artifacts.
The Merritt Walk of Stars: displays handprints and signatures of country music’s biggest stars, from old-time best-loved singers like Johnny Cash to modern icons like Aaron Pritchett and Terri Clark. Downtown Merritt also features hand-painted, larger-than-life murals of the greatest country music artists to grace the stage at the Merritt Mountain Music Festival.
The former Baillie Store on the Baillie property now serves a new purpose as Merritt’s Tourism Centre, conveniently located across from the Merritt City Hall in the heart of the community. Drop in for a visit and learn more about the wonderful history of Merritt and the many things to see and do in Merritt and the Nicola Valley.
The Spius Creek Fish Hatchery offers a fascinating view into the raising of Chinook and Coho Salmon to replenish local waterways. The juveniles are released into the interior rivers of their origin, and migrate to the Thompson River, down the Fraser River, and into the Pacific Ocean. They remain in the ocean from two to five years (depending on the species) before returning to spawn in the rivers they were released into. All tours are self-guided, but a guided tour can be arranged for large groups. Located approximately 15 kilometres southwest of Merritt at 4369 Sunshine Valley Road West, off Highway 8 west to Spences Bridge. Open to the public seven days a week. Closed on December 25 and 26, and January 1st.
Cattle Ranches: The area boasts a dozen or so large and historical working cattle ranches, including Western Canada’s largest ranch, Douglas Lake Ranch, and the Nicola Ranch in the pristine Nicola Valley, one of Canada’s largest cattle ranches. Steeped in history, Nicola Ranch has been renowned for producing fine cattle since the 1870s. Nicola Ranch features renovated heritage buildings that were once part of the Town of Nicola, including the historic Murray Church (1876). The Quilchena Ranch dates from the mid-1880s. Originally built as a roadhouse to serve stagecoaches traveling between Kamloops and Merritt, the original roadhouse is now a store that still serves travelers.
Ranch Tours: Drive onto Douglas Lake Ranch and visit the General Store, housed in one of its original buildings. Douglas Lake Ranch offers world-class fishing on 12 private lakes, as well as swimming, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and private ranch tours, along with resort, cabin or yurt accommodation.
Wildlife: The higher-elevation upland plateau is a rich resource of lodgepole pine, fir and spruce. Moose, mule deer, bears, and grouse are the main wildlife species found here, while small numbers of elk and mountain goats find refuge in the timber-clad slopes of the region.
Central to this colourful town is the grand old Coldwater Hotel, a font of cold draught and some interesting history. Locals say this is where the whole town would congregate on Saturday nights, with cowboys and miners coming from all around. Built in 1908, the Coldwater Hotel remains the vintage hallmark of downtown Merritt, with its conspicuous copper dome and dramatic exterior that are reminiscent of early 1900s architecture.
Monck Provincial Park: Located on the northwest shore of Nicola Lake, 22 km north of Merritt, Monck Provincial Park is a good park for the entire family, where camping, boating, water-skiing, fishing, swimming and hiking are popular activities. From Hwy 5, a 12-km paved road follows the northwest side of the lake to the park, which is open May through October. Hiking trails, including an interpretive walk to some lava beds, provide spectacular views of the valley and surrounding countryside. The park features a visitor program and amphitheatre, boat launch, horseshoe pitches, and three archaeological sites. This area of the Nicola Valley was a winter encampment for Natives for centuries before European settlers arrived. Pithouse depressions remain near the park’s beach as evidence of their habitation. The name Nicola was given to the famous chieftain Hwistesmetxquen by the early fur traders who couldn’t pronounce his Native name. When they tried it phonetically, it sounded vaguely like Nicholas or Nicola, and their mispronunciation has remained. The vegetation of this part of the Thompson Plateau is chiefly ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, and black cottonwood. Tule and cattail, both used in Native mat making, grow in dense patches round the shore of Nicola Lake.
Lac Le Jeune Provincial Park: The largest and most northerly provincial campground in this area is Lac Le Jeune Provincial Park, located 37 km southwest of Kamloops. Besides camping and water sports, it provides lakeshore hiking opportunities, horseshoe pitches, and visitor-program activities in its amphitheatre. The park also contains two archaeological sites. The waters of Lac le Jeune are famous for producing fighting rainbow trout. From Hwy 5, take the Lac Le Jeune exit. An alternate access route is a 29-km paved road from Hwy 1. The various parks around Lac Le Jeune offer plenty of opportunities for canoeing. Lac Le Jeune is one of the bigger lakes in a region characterized by hundreds of pocket-sized ponds, many of which provide serenity in the midst of splendid isolation.
Walloper Lake Provincial Park: Also accessible via the Lac Le Jeune exit just off the Coquihalla Highway, is Walloper Lake Provincial Park, about 60 km northeast of Merritt. This small lake is surrounded by an open lodgepole pine forest. Facilities include picnic tables in a day-use picnic area, pit toilets, and a fishing wharf. No overnight camping is permitted, and an undeveloped area provides launching for small boats only.
Stake-McConnell Lakes Provincial Recreation Area contains two former Forest Service recreation sites also awaiting development; only McConnell Lake Provincial Park has one with camping facilities (rustic sites with pit toilets). Hiking and fishing, including fly-fishing, are possible here, and standard-issue, single-track, mountain bike trails are available at Stake Lake. The area is about 60 km northeast of Merritt, with access from Hwy 1, or take the Lac Le Jeune exit from Hwy 5.
Outdoor activities in summer include hiking, camping, mountain biking, trail riding, watersports, backroad exploring, and wildflower photography.
Coldwater River Provincial Park, south of Merritt and just north of the summit on the Coquihalla Highway, provides opportunities for great steelhead fishing in the Coldwater River. Nearby are the Coquihalla Lakes, where both the Coquihalla River and Coldwater River have their sources.
Camping: In addition to the campsites in Monck Provincial Park, numerous small, rustic campsites in the region are maintained by Recreation Sites and Trails BC (formerly maintained by BC Forest Service). They are located near lakes and rivers, blending in with the natural surroundings. Although these sites do not offer sophisticated amenities such as power hookups and piped water, they include basic sanitary facilities, fire rings, picnic tables, and, where appropriate, boat-launch ramps. Access is mostly via narrow unpaved roads, not always suitable for large RVs. Three popular sites with two-wheel-drive access via gravel road are those at Harmon Lake West, Harmon Lake East, and Kane Lake, and can be reached from Hwy 5 or 5A. To find them, drive about 20 km south of Merritt on Hwy 5A, then about 8 km west on the Kane Valley Forest Road.
Golf: The Merritt Golf & Country Club is a challenging, affordable 9-hole golf course located in the heart of Merritt, surrounded by scenic hillsides. The men’s yardage stretches 6,209 yards, and the Nicola River factors into play six times in the 9 holes. The facility is fully equipped with a practice range, short game area, and putting green – a fun and challenging place to spend some time and stretch those legs. Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
Horseback Riding: Go trail riding at one of the many resorts, guest ranches or riding stables in the area that offer a range of activities for the beginner or experienced rider. Try an overnight camping trip, a three day trip, or maybe just an hour on one of the many wilderness trails.
Fishing: The Nicola Valley is a fisherman’s paradise, offering excellent sport fishing in the valley’s lakes, rivers and streams. Many of the 150 area lakes are just a short drive from Merritt. Hundreds of cool, clear lakes in the valleys are home to the Kamloops trout, one of the wildest strains of the rainbow trout in the world. The variety of fish waiting to be caught include coho, chinook, sockeye, Ling cod, dolly varden, rainbow trout, brook char and white fish.
Winter Activities: For those who enjoy winter sports, there’s great cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and ice fishing. Hay rides and sleigh rides are also available for the romantic at heart, and curling and ice skating add to the pure enjoyment for the whole family.
The Kane Valley Ski Hills are located in Kane Valley, west of highway 5A/97C and 18 km south of Merritt. The Cross-country ski trails follow old roads and skid trails through open timber and across grassy slopes. The trails are generally protected from the winter winds by the Coast Mountains, and offer very pleasant skiing, even during colder weather. The terrain is variable and offers Nordic trails for beginners to advanced skiers.
Thynne Mountain in the Brookmere area, Swakum Mountain, and Henning Mountain all offer great snowmobile trails. Organized to raise funds for children with disabilities, the annual Snowrama is a favourite snowmobiling event held in February.
The Merritt Mountain Music Festival in July attracts over one hundred thousand visitors every summer for a weekend of country music. The festival rates itself as Canada’s Number One Country Music Festival. Reserved campsites are available on the east and west sides of the Coldwater River. Non-music activities on site include helicopter sightseeing tours, music boot camp, relaxing in the Coldwater River, or simply enjoy the river walk.
The Nicola Valley Pro Rodeo is held every Labour Day weekend in Merritt. Rodeo events include Bareback riding, Steer Wrestling, Saddle Bronc, Tie Down Roping, Ladies Barrell Racing, bull riding, and Team Roping. The long weekend in September is festive and busy in Merritt, with the Rodeo Parade & Fall Fair activites highlighting the ranching heritage of the area.
History buffs may want to stop in Quilchena and Nicola, where you can visit the historic Quilchena Hotel, walk down the old settlement of Nicola, and view one of the most photographed structures in British Columbia, the historic Murray Church, built in 1876 and still standing as an impressive landmark at Nicola.
The first settlers arrived in neighbouring Nicola Lake in July 1868, with the establishment of the community of Nicola Lake in 1882. Shortened to Nicola in 1905, it was the government and commercial centre of the Nicola Valley. The Nicola Courthouse was built in 1886, and the cookhouse, still operating today, was built in 1906. From 1907 to 1916, it provided meals for ranchers shipping cattle on Canadian Pacific Railway.
Farm Guide: Travellers looking for a down-to-earth experience can find a list of resources and activities featured in the Kamloops Farm Fresh Guide. The guide showcases the diversity of life in the Thompson Nicola region, which ranges from wine tasting to guided family horseback rides on a working cattle ranch. Visitors can use the guide (available from Tourism Kamloops) to locate area farmer’s markets and fall fairs, discover fresh-picked fruit and vegetables, farm-raised meat and eggs, and value-added products like honey and jellies.
The Nicola Valley in the southern interior of BC is a magical place where the sun heaps over 2,000 hours of annual sunshine on grasslands, rolling hills, historic ranches and shimmering lakes. The charming Nicola Valley is steeped in history; mining and railways, western lifestyle, and First Nations culture.
North of Merritt on Highway 97C is the community of Logan Lake, set into the hills beside Logan Lake in the heart of the Highland Valley. Logan Lake serves as a convenient base camp from which to explore all that the Highland Valley has to offer, and lives by its slogan A Lake a Day as Long as you Stay.
Circle Tours: See the best of the area on Okanagan and Kootenay Rockies Circle Tour. Travel the sunny interior of British Columbia, north through the Okanagan to Sicamous, following Highway 1 into the mountains of the BC Rockies. From Golden, head south through the Columbia Valley to Creston, and west through the Southern Okanagan, starting and ending your sun-drenched voyage in Osoyoos, the place where two lakes come together. Circle Tours in British Columbia.