Horseback Riding

Echo Valley Ranch

East meets West: escape to BC's unique guest ranch getaway

Nestled in a picturesque valley miles from anywhere, Echo Valley Ranch is a one-of-a-kind getaway. A unique take on guest ranching, they've woven together a blend of Eastern and Western influences — you can head out and explore on horseback or relax poolside with a traditional Thai massage, then end your day with a fireside barbecue one night and a spread of authentic home-cooked curries the next. It's a fascinating juxtaposition, and somehow it just feels right.

This summer we were invited out to experience Echo Valley for ourselves, and we were immediately enchanted. We packed our day full of activities, experiences, and explorations and still managed to leave feeling clear-minded and relaxed. And that is something special.

The thai-style western ranch house
Riding horses through the vast Cariboo landscapes
Preparing the horses for the day's ride

Arriving at Echo Valley

Located on the broad valley between the Fraser Canyon and the Marble Range mountains, Echo Valley is surrounded by some of BC's most wild and expansive landscapes. The sweeping golden grasslands and blue-hued mountains, the endless forests, the craggy river chasms... it just feels so open here, so varied and brimming with possibility.

With its own airstrip you can fly in from Vancouver in under an hour, or you can come by one of three dirt roads. We took the scenic West Pavillion Road from Lillooet — definitely not the most direct way — as we wanted to cross the mighty Fraser via the Big Bar reaction ferry (with no engine, it harnesses the strong river currents to shuttle back and forth). And wow, what a beautiful drive! We saw bears and bighorn sheep and miles and miles of forests and sage-swept canyons, but no doubt you'll see something neat no matter which route you take.

Making our way up the rugged Fraser Valley
The desert landscapes of the Fraser Valley

Nearing the ranch the pine forests once again open up, revealing expansive views of pastures framed by the distant Edge Hills and the rock-topped Marble Range, then a little garden, horse corrals, and a couple cabins and lodges. The crowning building is the distinct Baan Thai, an ambitious pagoda-topped pavillion reimagined in a classic Wild West style. Housing the ranch's most luxurious accommodations as well as spa facilities and gathering areas, its sleek teak interiors and ornate decor are complemented nicely by the weathered cedar exterior. Designed by famed Thai architect Piny Suwankari, it is a stunning focal-point for the ranch and a perfect summation of what sets this place apart.

On paper it might sound a little odd to blend upscale Thai with more rough-and-ready cowboy aesthetics, but the owners Norm and Nanthawan Dove figured if they could successfully meld East and West in their marriage, there was no reason they couldn't signify and celebrate the union in the ranch itself. And in the process they've created something really special.

To be sure, it wasn't originally planned to be a hotel. Echo Valley started out as a country home for Norm and Nan, but the pull of the place proved too irresistible and as they built cabins to host friends and family it grew organically. It can now host as many as 40 people at a time, although to maintain the intimate ambiance they try to limit that to 26. And it works: although luxurious, there was a decidedly relaxed and comfortable camaraderie, and we were welcomed like old friends. There's no main lobby, no fobs, no underground parking garage. As we pulled up someone simply came out to greet us and invite us in, and then Norm and Nan offered us a tour. With half a dozen friendly dogs running around and almost as many cats scattered about, it truly just felt like we had arrived at someone's home, not an anonymous and faceless hotel.

Little horses in a big BC landscape
The main pagoda-style pavilion at Echo Valley
Where east meets west
In the living room of the main ranch house
Practicing our archery
Relaxing at the Echo Valley Guest Ranch
Make time to pet the dogs
Echo Valley Guest Ranch
Morning on the ranch

Horseback Riding

Surrounded by thousands of acres of fields and forests and public lands, this is BC cowboy country at its finest. With over two dozen horses, you can head out on half- or full-day guided rides, meandering through the woods to hundred-year-old homesteads and scenic overlooks. We rode out with Ryan, the head wrangler at the ranch. He has wrangled and guided trips all over Western Canada from the Yukon down, and his experience was evident even on our short ride.

Storm rolling in
Rounding up the horses at Echo Valley Ranch
One beard to another
Saddling up in the Cariboo
Riding horses at Echo Valley Ranch
Riding horses around the guest ranch's trout pond
Riding horses in the Cariboo Chilcotin
Riding horses through the vast pine forests of the BC interior
Out and about on a horseback ride in the Cariboo

Farm Friends

Back at the ranch, the pigs and chickens and turkeys are let out every day to wander around and be their animal selves. The turkeys are actually wild, not sure how they ended up in the pen but they keep coming back, and Norm has evidently started learning how to speak turkey with them. It was a particular delight to walk the two pigs Babe and Lucky as they squealed with delight and wandered down to the ponds for a daily wallow. Their oinking grunting pleasure was infectious, and it was hard not to smile. If only everyone loved rolling around in the mud that much.

Hi there little guy
Two of the ranch hands at Echo Valley
Two turkeys running the place
Farm chickens
Friendly horses at the guest ranch
Walking Babe the pig
Two little piggies exploring the meadow
Piggly wigglies

Fresh & Foraged

Echo Valley grows and harvests much of its own food to maximize quality and freshness. There are gardens and a greenhouse, and chef JK Gosselin heads out into the surrounding fields and forests in search of seasonal ingredients for his inspired creations. There are four different biomes within easy reach of the ranch, so more often than not something will be ready to harvest. We went out on a sunny afternoon and found wild strawberries and onions, saskatoons, edible flowers, and armloads of mushrooms. In one day he can harvest as much as 40lbs of food, though he always makes sure to keep it sustainable by minimizing impacts and leaving more than he takes. It was a gratifying experience to head out onto the land and collect food, and then find our efforts laid out on the table for a delicious meal.

Another highlight of our stay was Thai night. We got a quick cooking lesson from the spa director Yalaporn as she made a batch of red curry paste from scratch, and holy moly. It was the best Thai food we've ever had! There was something like 9 or 10 different dishes, from homemade curries to various noodle dishes to spring rolls and spicy hot veggies. I wish we could have sat there eating until the end of time. Such a treat.

Looking for wild strawberries in the fields of the Cariboo
Found some wild strawberries!
Foraging for mushrooms with chef JK Gosselin
Foraging for wild onion
Fresh food from the greenhouse
Chef JK Gosselin cooked us up something special

Fly Fishing

We were new hands at fly fishing, but after a quick lesson on the lawn we were trodding off down to the trout pond to catch some rainbows. They keep the pond stocked and it was deceptively easy to catch fish, even when we didn't present the fly with any skill or expertise. It was gratifying to slowly get the hang of it, to throw loops and feel our skills develop. Needless to say, the fish weren't the only ones who got hooked (obligatory dad pun).

Fly fishing for trout at Echo Valley's little pond
Fly fishing at the Echo Valley guest ranch
Caught a rainbow
Fishing at the Echo Valley Trout Pond

Whether you want a getaway filled with outdoor adventures, a full suite of relaxing spa treatments, or to simply curl up with a book and watch the clouds roll over the landscape, Echo Valley has something for everyone. From yoga and hydrotherapy to archery and mountain scrambles, there are a lot of activities to do at Echo Valley. But it was just as nice to simply be at the ranch, to meander up to the horse paddocks and gaze out at the meadows and mountains, feeling the warm glow of a day well spent as the summer sun slowly sinks below the horizon.

Evening coming on
Horses in BC's vast Cariboo
Petting the horses at Echo Valley
Last light on the mountains behind Echo Valley Guest Ranch
Evening at the ranch
Roasting marshmallows around a campfire

Big thanks to Echo Valley Ranch for inviting us down and hosting us

Echo Valley Ranch & Spa