Wandering in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park: A Saskatchewan Provincial Parks Signature Experience

This post on Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park was created in collaboration with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport. It is one part of a series of three Saskatchewan Provincial Parks Signature Experiences written in partnership with the Ministry. As always, the adventures, stories and information provided in these articles are genuinely and authentically my own and based on personal experiences.

*Until June 24, 2019, Saskatchewan Provincial Park campers will receive $5.00 off the cost of spring camping.

Cypress Hills is big.

Not just in size, but in height as well.

At 48,000 hectares, it crosses the border with Alberta, making it the first and only interprovincial park of its kind in Canada. At 1,392 metres (4,500 feet) above sea level, it’s the location of the highest point in the country east of the Rocky Mountains. (A fun fact to share when dispelling the “Saskatchewan is flat stereotype.”)

Currently, I’m taking in what feels like a lot of that height from on top of a platform 14 metres (45 feet) in the air at Treeosix Adventure Parks Tree Top Drop. Looking out from where I stand, I’m level with the lodgepole pines that make up much of the park’s centre block.

My clammy hands grip the railing as I peer over the edge down to the ground below. For someone who constantly self-professes to love adventure, heights still give me the heebie-jeebies.

The harness around my waist is connected to a cable with a power fan that will slow my fall. It’s safe, but it doesn’t make me any less nervous.

I take a deep breath and remind myself that the longer I wait, the harder it’s going to be. Stepping off the edge, I plummet towards the ground. My stomach flips and I can’t help but squeal a little bit as my body adjusts to the change in gravity and momentary weightlessness before the resistance of the power fan kicks in.

Gently touching down on the ground below, I’m a little relieved it’s over. But I’m determined to climb back up the pole for a second time to prove to myself it’s really not that bad.

Treeosix Adventure Park is just one of the many locations and activities to experience in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. With zipline tours, a high ropes course, a climbing wall, axe-throwing, frisbee golf, slacklines and spike ball, it’s easy to spend an entire day here.

This afternoon, I’ve opted to test out the Tree Top Drop and zip through the trees on their two-hour guided zipline course. After the 45 foot fall, flying from platform to platform on a metal line and crossing over wooden suspension bridges seems quite tame. In fact, my guide Don and I joke around and set up photos making it look like we’re pushing each other off the platform.

There’s so much to see and do in this park, it requires multiple days or multiple visits. I’ve decided to save the high ropes course and climbing wall for another time. I want to stick around the Centre Block, particularly because I’ve heard the sunsets at Bald Butte can’t be beaten.

Leaving Treeosix, I stop to wander the trails through the trees – a great vantage point for watching a few other zipliners pass over head. It’s also perfect to quietly soak up the positive energy I always feel when outdoors.

Tonight, I’m tenting in Deer Hollow. It’s one of my favourites of the nine campgrounds in this block, partially because of the trees everywhere and partially because there are only 35 sites. There’s enough privacy here to feel like you have your own quiet space. Plus, if you have a hammock, you can rig it up. In certain sites, you even get a view of a little creek that runs behind the campground.

When you hear the sayings “you can see forever here” and “you can watch your dog run away for seven days,” the Bald Butte viewpoint must be what was being referred to.

Close to sunset, I’ve wandered my way up to watch the sun splash its final rays over the horizon. Tonight, on a weeknight before the busy summer season, the park is quiet and there are only a few others out with the same idea.

I take a seat on the bench, conveniently facing west and wait for the sky to perform its magic. In front of me, the hills rolls and curve toward the horizon, almost as if the lowering sun is beckoning to them.

It’s quiet and peaceful as I sit and enjoy the last rays lighting up the world. But just because daylight is over, doesn’t mean it’s time for bed yet. Cypress is also known as a Dark Sky Preserve – it’s one of the darkest and most easily accessible in Canada.

The stars here are so brilliant, the park not only has its own observatory open to the public but they also have a resident astronomer that teaches intro astronomy.

Tonight, I’m content with viewing the stars on my own. I patiently wait at Bald Butte until the last visitor has left. Pulling a blanket out of my car, I set it out in the grass and happily lay back and gaze at the impressive views of the twinkling lights above.

Searching for information on the Alberta side of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park? Check out what to do on a day trip to Elkwater as well as my AMA Insider’s guide to Cypress Hills.

Cypress Hills West Block

Looking for things to do in the west block of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park? It’s a great location for hiking, history and a little cowboy culture.

Here are three suggestions on what to see and do.

1. Fort Walsh

It’s a National Historic Site in a provincial park. Fort Walsh is a former North West Mounted Police fort as well as the site of the Cypress Hills Massacre. It also used to be the location where horses were bred for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Musical Ride. It has been commemorated and memorialized by Parks Canada and is an important part of Saskatchewan history.

2. Conglomerate and Hidden Conglomerate Cliffs

The Conglomerate Cliffs are easy to access considering you can drive right to them for spectacular views of the rolling hills and Adam’s Lake. But the real gem is taking the time and effort to hike into the Hidden Conglomerate Cliffs. You can either walk along the Great Trail from Battle Creek Road for views of the forested valley (particularly stunning in autumn) or you can walk one kilometre across open grassland to the valley rim.

3. Historic Reesor Ranch

A destination still unticked on my bucket list, I’ve heard wonderful things about the overnight stay and horseback riding adventures at the Historic Reesor Ranch. In fact, they’re a Canadian Signature Experience as chosen by Destination Canada. Bring your cowboy hat and curiosity and get ready for some cowboy poetry and a glimpse into traditional ranching life.

Know Before You Go:

Service can be limited in certain areas of the park, particularly the West Block. Stop in at the parks information and visitor centre before travelling out or give them a call to get updates on road conditions or any closures (fire bans or large amounts of rainfall can inhibit access to some areas).

There are free roaming cattle in the park in certain areas, so please drive with caution.

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is home to 700 species of plants and animals including cougars, pronghorn antelope and 14 species of orchids. Please be respectful of all wildlife and practice Leave No Trace policies while out exploring.

Getting There:

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park can be accessed from both Alberta and Saskatchewan. The park is quite large so make sure to plan enough days or time to drive between each block if you’d like to see it all.

*Note: On the Saskatchewan side – there is road access to the West Block from the Centre Block. However, it’s recommended to travel north to Maple Creek and continue on Highway 271 or drive south on Highway 21 past Consul, and up Highway 615.

Centre Block: The Centre Block of Cypress Hills can be accessed by travelling 33 kilometres south of Maple Creek on Highway 21.

West Block: The West Block of Cypress Hills can be accessed by travelling southwest of Maple Creek on Highway 271. There is an access road from the West Block to the Alberta side of the park.

Alberta Block: Less than 70 kilometres from Medicine Hat, the main townsite of Elkwater can be reached by turning south on Highway 41, off of Highway 1.

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