The interior of British Columbia is ‘Cariboo Country’ – known for its sprawling ranches, cowboy culture and gold rush history.
With unspoilt lakes, mighty rivers and gasping canyons, the landscapes are a mesh of rolling green, rocky limestone, and arid browns. We are on an APT tour of the region, watching the scenery change from urban (Vancouver) to farmland, to ranchland. Around 4-5 hours from Vancouver, we arrived at Echo Valley Ranch, a little piece of paradise set in its own private valley surrounded by the Cariboo Mountains.
We are greeted by a pack of friendly border collies who roam freely around the ranch, keeping the company of any guest who is willing, and meet Norm and Nan, owners of Echo Valley Ranch & Spa and our hosts.
Adventures at Echo Valley Ranch
The Echo Valley Ranch & Spa is a luxury ranch; there are stables that house 35 horses and a donkey, a pen for the pig, a coop for the turkey and an organic vegetable patch. Farm machinery sits in the nearby barn and the workers walk around in cowboy hats and boots.
But also in this setting you’ll find the ranch lodgings, character timber buildings that catch the light perfectly and scream comfort and hospitality. You can’t help but be spellbound by the postcard beauty of the place, and the friendly atmosphere that pervades it.
Our eyes can’t help but be caught by the magnificent traditional Thai pavilion situated on a hill across from the other more typical timber ranch buildings. This must be the famous ‘Thai Spa’ referred to in the name. I can even see one guest walking from her lodgings to the spa in a white dressing gown, and can’t help but admire the business genius of combining ranch activities with relaxing and rejuvenating spa treatments.
It is a real example of ‘East meets West’ and an incredible acknowledgement to Nan’s Thai heritage. We learn later that the architect to the Royal Thai Family actually designed this spa.
It was time for us to explore and get stuck into the ranch life, and what better way than on horseback. Clint was made for cowboy boots and a hat and found his size pretty quickly before jumping on the back of ‘Joker’ the horse. Along with Norm and Nan, Julie the head wrangler, and a couple of border collies, it was time to set out and see more of this beautiful land.
Through forest and paddocks, you could see the ranch from many different perspectives on this ride. It was also a great time to get to know Norm and Nan a little better, and find out what inspired them to create such an amazing eco and adventure resort, which has recently been named in the Top 10 in North America.
Returning from the ride, you could smell the barbecue and guests were beginning to mill around the dedicated barbecue pit and campfire, socialising, having a laugh and a drink. You could see how relaxed the guests were, whether they had been here for one day, or ten. This ranch is clearly good for the soul.
Norm and Nan welcome guests into their own home, which is the main communal area of the property, and has several ensuite rooms, as well as into the several other lodgings situated around it. The standard is superb, with private ensuites, luxury amenities and someone always on hand to help you with anything. Clearly, Norm and Nan love this business so much to open their hearts and their home to guests each day and it is evident they get a great deal of pleasure from watching their guests enjoy themselves so much.
After a hearty dinner and a chat around the campfire, Clint did a little disappearing act… After a little investigation, he was found in the Baan Thai Spa indulging in a little traditional Thai massage! Perhaps the horse ride affected him more than he let on.
The next morning, Darrell, a farmhand at the Echo Valley Ranch, takes us on a fantastic adventure that no one should miss if they visit the ranch. We head down to the Fraser River Canyon by 4WD to search for gold in the heart of what is known as ‘gold country’.
Darrell knows this land like the back of his hand; at every turn he has a story or anecdote about what we are seeing and the history behind it. The world rushed to this region in the 1850’s when gold was first struck. Within days, the population in this wild and rugged and almost seemingly uninhabitable country swelled into the tens of thousands, all hoping they would make their fortune. It was the Chinese who brought their sophisticated mining techniques to the region, designed to overcome the perils of sheer cliff faces and a mighty rushing river. Today, we are in a 4WD vehicle and the country still seems perilous. Imagine being in a horse and cart…
Turning the bend, we glimpse the first sighting of the mighty canyon, nicknamed the ‘Grand Canyon of the North’. With drops of up to 3000 feet, this is sheer and rugged beauty that leaves you speechless. The Fraser River at the bottom runs an aqua blue thanks to the glacial flour it collects along the way. We drive along the top of the canyon and Darrell entertains us with one of his many passions, singing. With a native song that rings of a Canadian version of ‘Waltzing Matilda’, he twangs ‘Aunt Martha’s Sheep’ to us, which just seems to complete the picture.
We embark upon a steep decline to the river. With hairpin turns and gradients of up to 23 degrees, this is an exciting and thrilling journey in itself. The scenery just gets more and more incredible.
Darrell has been panning for gold here for years; his biggest find was 3 grams, which is an $8,000 day! He now has two claims along the river and comes down here whenever he can, with or without guests from the ranch.
We make it to the bottom of the canyon and are dwarfed by the rising walls around us and the mighty Fraser before us. Darrell and Clint head down to the banks with their gold panning equipment to see what they can find.
Darrell shows Clint how to dig around what he calls his ‘lucky rock’ and collect deposits in the tray. It’s hard manual work out here in the sun! Down in the water, they rinse and sieve until they are down to the last few deposits in the tray. Gold is twenty times heavier than water so always stays in the bottom of the tray to be found at the end.
And sure enough, Clint lets out a whoop when he sees flecks of the gold stuff in the bottom of his tray. Darrell estimates around 20 cents worth!
We may not have made it rich, but it has certainly been a golden day, and we cap it off with another steep climb in the 4WD up to Cougar Point Lookout, which affords spectacular views over the entire valley and the perfect way to cap off our adventure at the Echo Valley Ranch & Spa.
If you’ve ever visited British Columbia yourself, we’d love to hear how much gold you found in the comments below!