Tucked into the southeast corner of Alberta, crossing into Saskatchewan, is the highest point in Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. Reaching up to 1,466 metres above sea level, the beautiful Cypress Hills are protected within Canada’s first and only inter-provincial park.
The 38,000-hectare park is an easy 66-kilometre drive from Medicine Hat. It’s split into three blocks: the Alberta side, the West Block wilderness area, which crosses the border, and the Saskatchewan-side Centre Block. Cypress Hills offers so much to explore in terms of geology, history and adventure activities that it can be difficult to know where to start. Try this three-day itinerary for your foray into the great outdoors.
Begin your adventure on the Alberta side of the park in the Elkwater townsite. Choose from one of the many campgrounds or check into the Elkwater Lake Lodge and Resort for a few more creature comforts. The resort’s restaurant, Buglers Dining Room & Lounge, offers a menu loaded with locally sourced produce.
While exploring flora and fauna along the 50 kilometres of hiking and biking trails, try “geocaching”—a popular activity for hikers and other outdoorsy types that involves burying containers filled with hidden treasure at specific GPS points. If you can find the Elkwater Magnet Cache, help yourself to a fridge magnet—but be sure
to leave one, too.
To cool off after finding your treasure, rent a paddleboard, canoe or kayak at the Boat and Bike Rental Booth. Or try to reel in a northern pike or yellow perch from Elkwater Lake.
End your day with a drive up to Horseshoe Canyon viewpoint for a prairie sunset. On a clear night, visibility spans up to 100 kilometres, so you might spot Medicine Hat in the distance.
Head to the Saskatchewan side of the park: From Elkwater townsite, take Highway 515 east toward Maple Creek, turning onto highway 271 to access the West Block wilderness area.
Make a mouth-watering pit stop at the award-winning Cypress Hills Vineyard and Winery. Enjoy a self-guided tour of the lush vineyard and a fruit wine tasting, or kick back on the outdoor patio for lunch. Before leaving, pick up a bottle of the vineyard’s bestselling Saskatoon berry wine. It’s a tasty local libation to share later in the evening while stargazing.
In the morning, continue south down the highway to enjoy the rolling pastureland. Make your way to Fort Walsh National Historic Site—the former headquarters of the North West Mounted Police was established in 1875 in response to a massacre of First Nations people by American fur traders. The historic buildings give a taste of fort and frontier life.
After learning the compelling history of the area, drive to Conglomerate Cliffs, north of Battle Creek, for a spectacular view of Adams Lake. The calm water is surrounded by hills dotted with spruce, pine, aspen and grasslands.
Heading back along Highway 271, venture into the town of Maple Creek to dine at one of several restaurants. The Star Café & Grill, located in a 19th-century stone building, is a local favourite. The menu features international dishes, including spicy-but-not-too-spicy curries.
Hop on Highway 21 south to the Centre Block of Cypress Hills. Check into the Resort at Cypress Hills, nestled in the lodgepole pine by Loch Leven, a small man-made lake. The resort offers rooms, townhouses and cabins. (There’s also a spa for achy muscles.)
At sunset, make your way to Bald Butte, a popular site overlooking the hills and prairies. Cypress Hills is a dark-sky preserve—meaning there’s no light pollution and the real view emerges when the sun goes down. The park is ideal for stargazing, with an observatory, an astronomer-in-residence and other evening events with multiple telescopes for public use.
After a relaxing night under the stars, switch gears with a canopy tour at Cypress Hills Eco-Adventures. Depending on your skill level, try a zipline, rock-climbing wall, treetop drop or slacklining. After all that exercise, stop at Ivan’s Restaurant in the resort for lunch. Treat yourself to some fresh-baked Saskatoon berry pie as reward for a weekend very well spent.
Getting there: Before heading to the park, upgrade to a Plus or Plus RV membership. Without it, an unexpected tow could cost hundreds of dollars.
Map it: Use the AMA Mobile App to map your road trip. Find the best route, book a hotel, rent a car, locate AMARewards partners and find the cheapest gas.
Where to stay: Best Western Plus Sun Country is a good home base near Medicine Hat. Members save up to 15% at Best Western hotels in Saskatchewan and Alberta.