When Will George with Tourism Merritt invited me to spend some time taking photos of the city and surrounding Nicola Valley area I was thrilled! British Columbia’s southern interior holds a special place in my heart, having spent several years in Kamloops. I love the vast spaces, incredible vistas (I’m a photographer, after all!) and semi-arid climate. It truly is a unique part of Canada.
City of Merritt
And yet, I was only vaguely familiar with Merritt itself. Like many others it is a city I have stopped in and driven through; it’s location on the Coquihalla makes it a waypoint on plenty of southern BC road trips from the coast to the interior and vice versa. It is definitely a strategic stop to stretch the legs and maybe grab a coffee and a sticky bun or brambleberry scone at Brambles Bakery and Cafe. (Seriously, check them out next time you’re there, the scones are worth it!) Or stop for some lunch at Kekuli cafe and enjoy the welcoming atmosphere and a bacon, cheddar and bannock burger! Merritt’s downtown core is charming and vibrant and that it is a treat to ramble about and snap some photos for professional and recreational photographers alike. Try catching it on the weekend while the Farmer’s Market is in full swing to get a sense of the community and talent that calls Merritt home.
But, I happily discovered that there is so much more to Merritt than just being a stop along the way. Because it is nestled in the Nicola Valley the city offers sweeping views of the Cascade Mountains in virtually every direction. This makes the area beautiful enough during the day, but at sunset dramatic oranges and pinks erupt across the sky creating a striking contrast against the mountain peaks. Venturing beyond the city centre I encountered Merritt’s stunning scenery up close.
We wound our way out of town less than 25 kilometres and came upon picturesque Nicola Lake. This glacier-formed lake provides an important basin for the Thompson River Basin and accessible recreation site at Monck Provincial Park.
Monck Provincial Park provides a scenic spot to set up camp while you enjoy the hiking, fishing and cycling (and more) that the area has to offer. I didn’t have much time to indulge in any of that myselfthis trip but I am planning my next trip in order to do some hiking and swimming. A friend of mine laments that there is plenty of freshwater fishing in BC but it is almost exclusively trout. And while Nicola lake certainly offers up the seemingly ubiquitous rainbow trout it also is home to Kokanee and Burbot. Just be careful, Burbot is catch & release only. Traditional line fishing is popular but fly fishing can also be enjoyable and rewarding here. Of course, this typically placid lake is fantastic for other water activities like kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding as well. If you’re looking to partake in the beauty and activities of the region but camping isn’t your style, you may want to check out the Quilchena Hotel on the Eastern side of the lake. We stopped by this splendid, grand estate from the early 1900s that now serves as a well-appointed boutique hotel. However, this time around I was fortunate enough to have my extremely hospitable local guide put me up for the duration of my stay.
On the second full day in town I was treated to some more rural exploring. This time we headed roughly southeast about 40 kilometres to Kentucky-Alleyne Lakes Provincial Park. This rather wild feeling park is surrounded almost entirely by the massive Douglas Lake Ranch. Sweeping your gaze over the sprawling grasslands it makes sense that this would be cattle country. These turquoise likes shimmer like gems in the summer sun. The water becomes almost Caribbean clear at the shoreline making it super inviting for a splash. The fact that these pothole lakes are relatively small means that they warm up to a very comfortable temperature in the summer. Families can enjoy some of the shallow, gentle shores near the campsites and as can paddlers. Getting your kayaks or SUPs in or out is a breeze.
Anyone that knows me knows that I am a sucker for road trips. Taking in the countryside this way is particularly satisfying in places as expansive and diverse ecologically/geographically as Canada and India because you get to see so much change in a relatively short amount of time. You can have breakfast in one environment and dinner in a drastically different one. While Coldwater Road is not exactly endless, driving around the area surrounding Merritt gave me a real sense of its beauty and an inkling of the past merging with its present.
Coldwater Road twists somewhat parallel along Coldwater River though farmland and past homesteads old and new. Like so many other valleys in southern BC, agriculture plays a big role in the economy and history here. In some instances in blends almost seamlessly with the wilderness around it and in others is a stark contrast. In either case it provides striking visuals and a glimpse into just a little bit more of the heart and soul of this region.
I’m grateful that I’ve had a chance to scratch the surface of marvellous Merritt and can’t wait to pack my bags to do some hiking around Nicola Lake at some point this summer. This magical piece of the province deserves to be recognized as a destination in itself. In the meantime, those of us that know about it can enjoy the relative peace and quiet to be found in the Nicola Valley region.