State Recreation Area
88292 State Highway 97 | Valentine, NE 69201
Located in a picturesque Sandhills of Nebraska southwest of Valentine, Merritt Reservoir offers some of Nebraska’s best fishing, along with boating and camping. It is a deep lake with excellent inflow from the Snake River and Boardman Creek. The park also offers some of the darkest skies in the world, meaning the park is well-known for its stargazing opportunities. In 2022, it was designated as an International Dark Sky Park.
Walleye, crappie and white bass have long been the favorites with anglers here, although lunker catfish can be found in the Snake River arm. The reservoir has two modern fish cleaning stations.
For more information on fishing opportunities here and at parks across the state, visit the interactive public fishing areas map. This map provides detailed information on available species, regulations, public boat ramps, fish cleaning stations and ADA-accessible boat ramps and docks, among other features in reservoirs, lakes, streams and rivers statewide. Lake contour maps are available for some lakes, as well.
Renowned for its Sandhills location providing spectacular astronomical views, Merritt Reservoir SRA is the perfect stargazing destination.
In 2022, Merritt Reservoir SRA became the first Nebraska site certified by DarkSky International, the recognized authority on light pollution and is the leading organization combating light pollution worldwide.
Merritt has hosted the annual Nebraska Star Party each summer for three decades, when professional and amateur astronomers converge to take advantage of a sky free of light pollution.
All types of boating are permitted at Merritt. Ready access to the lake is available at public boat ramps in the Powder Horn, Fisherman’s Boat Ramp, Cedar Bay, Beed’s Landing and Snake River areas. There are seven ramps and six docks all together. Fuel is available nearby at the Merritt Trading Post.
The Merritt Trading Post is a privately owned resort just outside the State Recreation Area. It offers cabins, bait, groceries, fuel, and boat rental.
Hunting is permitted in season at Merritt Reservoir beginning the day after Labor Day. Sharp-tails and prairie grouse are prime upland species. Both whitetails and mule deer along with wild turkey offer good action here. There is some excellent waterfowl hunting on the lake and on the Sandhills lakes in the area.
Merritt Reservoir offers 6 picnic shelters (5 regular, 1 large) throughout the park. All shelters have picnic tables and a grill at them. The large shelter is located at the Cedar Bay Campground. A dedicated picnic area is located at the Fisherman’s Boat Ramp (day-use-only) Area. It features picnic tables and an ADA firepit.
The nearby Valentine National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 72,000 acres in the heart of the Nebraska Sandhills. Lakes and marshes in the valleys and prairie grasses in the hills and meadows provide habitat for many kinds of wildlife. The refuge also provides excellent fishing opportunities. Learn more on the refuge website.
Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area offers Electric Plus and Basic campsites with numerous camping options over several campgrounds. See the campground maps for detailed information on campground and campsite amenities. Water, modern restrooms and showers are available to campers, and there is a dump and fill station on site. Additional camping spots are available at the Merritt Trading Post.
Camping reservations are available for half of the campsites in Beeds Landing, Boardman and Cedar Bay campgrounds. All other camping is all first-come, first-served, and campers register their nightly camping fees in a raised, locked box called an Iron Ranger. Self-service envelopes are provided at each Iron Ranger station. Check or cash only. Iron Rangers are generally located near the park entrance or in the campground area. On-site camping informational signs are provided to help guide campers with the self-registration process.
Reservations are accepted for cabins, lodge rooms, and group lodges up to one year in advance of the arrival date. Reservations for camping are accepted up to 180 days in advance of arrival date. The Reservation Call Center hours are Monday-Friday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (CT) and closed on holidays.
A park entry permit is required to visit state parks and may be purchased at the park, statewide Game and Parks offices and permit vendors, or in advance of your arrival online. View those fees, as well as attraction and amenity pricing.
Our 76 gorgeous state park and recreations areas host a plethora of events throughout the year. From bird hikes to kayak races, Living History events to family outdoor days, our parks host something fun for every outdoor enthusiast.