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Merritt Reservoir

State Recreation Area

88292 State Highway 97 | Valentine, NE 69201

Information

An NDOT highway widening and resurfacing project is currently underway on Highway 97 around Merritt Reservoir SRA. Five miles of roadway from the Merritt Dam intersection to Snake River Rd will be affected. Work on the project will include asphalt resurfacing, pavement widening, culvert work and grading. A couple of entrances to camping areas will also be moved during this project, but will not affect access to the SRA. Traffic will be maintained by a pilot car, so park visitors should expect delays when arriving to the park and use extra caution while driving in work zones.

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.

Features

  • Boating
  • Camping
  • Canoe/Kayak
  • Fishing
  • Food service
  • Hunting
  • Picnicking
A man, silhouetted against a setting sunfishes, at Merritt Reservoir.

Fishing

Walleye, crappie, muskellunge 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.

The Milky Way glows in the night sky and reflect off of Merritt Reservoir.

Stargazing

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.

Attractions

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.

NOTE: Underwater hazards are present in the Boardman Creek, Powder Horn Arm and Snake River Arm areas. All watercraft must reduce speed in these areas. Areas are marked with buoys. Water skiing, wake surfing, or other similar water activities are not permitted.

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 nine picnic shelters 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 accessible firepit.

Valentine National Wildlife Refuge

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.

Camping

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 180 days in advance 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.

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Contact Us

88292 State Highway 97
Valentine, NE 69201

Reservations

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.

Park Pricing

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.

Park Events

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.