Cypress Hills Provincial Park often gets (a lot) of snow early in the season. Which makes it one of the most magical winter wonderland getaway destinations in Saskatchewan.
It’s the kind of snow you see in Christmas movies and fairy tales. The kind that grandparents speak about from their younger years.
*This post on winter in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is created in partnership with Saskatchewan Parks. But as always, experiences and opinions are genuinely and authentically my own.
Staycation in Cypress Hills Provincial Park
As my parents and I pulled into the park for our four-day staycation, piles of fluffy whipped cream-like snow covered the landscape. It blanketed the lake, swirled into every corner, crack and crevice, and buried vehicles and man-made structures into indistinguishable mounds of white.
But most spectacular of all were the trees. The white spruce and lodgepole pine (which the park is known for) were piled so high with snow weighing down their boughs, they looked like snow ghosts. It felt like we were in Finland experiencing their unique tykkylumi phenomenon (in the right conditions, spruce trees at elevation develop a hard frost covering.) It’s somewhat akin to what us Prairie Canadians occasionally experience as rime ice and hoarfrost (two similar-looking but subtly different weather marvels). But at an elevated level. The already dreamy landscape of Cypress Hills looked surreal and it felt magical.
Over the past several years, I’ve become a very passionate winter enthusiast. I sleep in quinzees in -50C temperatures, winter camp and cross-country ski. I’m an advocate for dressing properly and taking advantage of the six months of snow we receive here in Saskatchewan. I’ve also convinced my family members that it’s pretty awesome.
So my mom and dad joined me for one of the coziest winter experiences we’ve had in Saskatchewan.
We rented a townhouse at The Resort at Cypress Hills and loaded Dad’s truck with gear and equipment. I packed my skis and snowshoes and we all packed gloves, toques, warm jackets, ski pants and boots. Proper clothing really is the secret to a comfortable and enjoyable outdoor experience.
READ MORE: How to Dress for Saskatchewan’s Cold Weather
We packed a few extra items including a cooler for groceries to cook in the en-suite kitchen in our townhouse and to cook outdoors over a fire. We brought newspaper, lighters, hot dog sticks plus an axe – for a very unique reason. As part of a new winter initiative, the park is allowing visitors to cut down their very own Christmas trees throughout the month of December.
Why Winter in Cypress Hills Saskatchewan?
Cypress Hills Provincial Park is unique in several ways.
- It’s the only interprovincial park in the country, bordering Alberta and Saskatchewan in our southwest corner.
- With an elevation of 1,466 metres (4, 810 feet) on the Alberta side, it’s the highest spot in Canada between the Rocky Mountains and Labrador – which makes for a uniquely southern subarctic climate. This means it’s cold and snowy in wintertime. The region’s record for snowfall in one day is 60 cm (23.6 inches). But it’s not uncommon for Chinook winds to blow through and tip the temperatures from the negatives to well into the positives in a 12-hour time period.
3. The park is dominated by a towering forest of lodgepole pine trees. It’s an awe-inspiring experience to ski, snowshoe and drive past trees more than 120 years old and 23 metres high. They grow very close together in thick stands with very little shrub undergrowth. This makes for a special experience when everything is blanketed in a fresh fall of snow.
10 Activities to Try in Cypress Hills Provincial Park:
There’s no better way to enjoy the snow than sliding, gliding and snowshoeing your way through it. Dressed properly and with the right gear, it can be a lot of fun.
Here are some of the best winter activities to experience in Cypress Hills Provincial Park.
1. Guided Tours
Sask Parks has focused on expanding winter activities in their parks and are offering guided tours. There are opportunities to snowshoe as well as learn about birding, astronomy and the night sky.
2. Go Snowshoeing
Whether you choose to go with a guide or go out on your own, snowshoeing is a great way to explore the trails. For those without gear, snowshoes are available for rent at The Resort.
READ MORE: The Best Snowshoe Trails in Saskatchewan
There are two groomed trails to explore:
1. The Valley of the Windfall Interpretive Trail is 1.2 km. It leaves from The Resort and loops through the forest down towards Loch Leven Lake. There is a new enclosed warm-up shelter near the beachfront for a great spot to make a hot chocolate and enjoy a snack.
With such deep snow this season it was perfect for my mom to try snowshoeing for the first time on this trail. We started out on the groomed path and quickly veered into the powder to play a little more. Needless to say, she had a great time.
2. Valley View Trail is a 2.1 km loop that starts on the south side of Cypress Drive just past the swimming pool. The trail winds up and down through the lodgepole pines and there is a very good chance of spotting deer as they frequent this area. There’s also a small warm-up shelter at the mid-way point on the trail.
A map of the snowshoe trails can be found here.
3. Star Gazing
The park is an official Dark Sky Preserve and one of only two in the province! As a sanctuary from artificial light, this makes it one of the best locations to view the stars. The park has set up an observatory where visitors can learn more about and have access to a better view of the night sky.
While summer is host to Star Parties, on winter weekends the guided stargazing program is perfect to learn more about the importance of the preserve as well as the night skies. The best part is you don’t have to stay up late to appreciate it and simply stepping out for views on the deck of your rental cabin is impressive.
4. Try Cross-Country Skiing
There is no easier way to travel through the forest than on a set of classic or skate skis. For those without gear, they can be rented from The Resort.
Moose Trail is a 6.4 km outer loop that links up major points in the park and travels through forest and grassland. There’s a moderate elevation gain of about 170 metres. Skiers can also travel up the 1.2 km Deer Trail that splits Moose Trail into two halves for a shorter skiing route.
A map of the cross-country ski trails can be found here.
5. Downhill Tobogganing and Luge Track
Downhill tobogganing is a Canadian pastime and rite of passage for any young child. Cypress Hills has amped it up by adding a luge track next to the toboggan hill. It’s like a giant snow slide with several bends and turns on the way down. The hill is BYO sled, crazy carpet, or toboggan. There is an on-site enclosed shelter with a stove to warm up and hang out in. Helmets are also recommended.
5. Outdoor Campfires
The most wonderful thing about spending time in winter is there are no mosquitoes. This makes hanging out at an outdoor campfire the perfect activity to enjoy. Despite the snowy setting, the fire keeps you warm and is the perfect place to mash together Celebration cookies and marshmallows. (It’s a modern take on the traditional s’more. The cookies come with chocolate on one side and make the pairing with a marshmallow simple and tasty).
During our four-day trip, we had three outdoor fires. Two at lunch for a hot dog roast and one late in the evening to enjoy the stars and the quiet setting.
Campfire pits can be found on either side of the townhouse buildings, in the forest across the parking lot from the townhouses, and at each cabin. Fair warning, you may have to shovel the fire pit and picnic tables out from under the snow before using them. Wood is available on-site at the resort but bring an axe or hatchet to split it for kindling.
6. Wildlife Viewing
Wildlife viewing opportunities in the park are a treat as fewer people and a quieter park means the animals hang around. While the chance of seeing a cougar is rare, the region happens to be the traditional home for these big cats and is the easternmost breeding population in Canada. In winter, you might get lucky and spot prints in the snow.
More than likely, you’ll get a chance to view moose, elk, white-tail and mule deer as well as herds of pronghorn. Keep an eye out for black-capped chickadees, hairy and downy woodpeckers, great horned owls, ruffed grouse, a variety of warblers, wild turkeys, and many other winter birds.
7. Warm-up Around the Fireplace
Not everything has to be done outside and in the snow. One of the biggest draws to staying in a townhouse is the indoor fireplace. This is the ultimate in terms of staying cozy and practising hygge (the Danish word for the concept of “coziness”).
Mom and I crafted our very own hot chocolate charcuterie board. Instead of meats and cheeses, we brought a selection of chocolates, sweets and nuts to decorate our board and enjoyed a mug of hot chocolate in front of the fireplace in the evening. I strung up twinkle lights and put down a blanket for added ambiance. The Resort offers puzzles and games to borrow and play.
For those without access to a fireplace in their accommodation, the rear foyer inside The Resort has a double-sided natural gas fireplace perfect for hanging out, playing games or reading a good book.
Geocaching is a very popular global activity often done in the summer months. It’s a modern-day treasure hunt and a great activity for all ages. Sask Parks has created a winter geocaching course within the park. GPS units can be borrowed from the Park Administration Office but smartphones and the free Geocaching app work best.
The provincial park welcomes snowmobilers in designated areas in the Centre Block once the snowpack has reached 12 inches. There is a staging area at the ball diamond near Meadows campground to unload and leave your vehicle behind. Snowmobilers can rip through the snow in the area west of the road to Lookout Point and Bald Butte.
Guests of the Historic Reesor Ranch are also allowed to snowmobile on the private ranch land. It’s another option to book a night in to stay-and-sled near the park.
10. Ice Fishing
Ice fishing is an iconic Saskatchewan winter activity. Loch Leven Lake is stocked each year with brook and cutthroat trout. Locals recommend fishing at Cypress Lake 42 km south of the Centre Block for walleye and brown trout. Pan Lake (Blacker Lake) is also one of the few lakes stocked with brown trout. Ice thickness should be tested before fishing – a minimum of 3-4 inches is needed for a single person to walk on the ice.
You can purchase a Saskatchewan fishing license here.
10. Skating Rink
Every winter Sask Parks and The Resort clears a section of Loch Leven Lake for skating. Call ahead for ice and rink conditions. Make sure to snap a photo with the Cypress Hills picture frame beside the gazebo on the shoreline while down by the lake.
Where to Eat in Cypress Hills Provincial Park
These are the best restaurants and coffee shops open in winter near Cypress Hills Provincial Park and the neighbouring community of Maple Creek.
Ivan’s is the only four-season on-site restaurant within the park. It’s connected to The Resort and is open for seated service as well as takeaway. The menu is diverse with options like pad thai and Asian beef stew to smoked brisket and a Mediterranean avocado salmon salad.
Self-Serve Meals in the Townhouses and Cabin
Both the cabins and townhouses are equipped with kitchenettes that make bringing groceries and cooking-in an easy and practical option.
There’s nothing tastier than a hot dog cooked over a fire outside with a thermos full of hot chocolate to keep warm. We planned two meals over the outdoor firepits near the townhouses. Access to picnic tables made setting up and eating easy – even in the snow. There’s also a new enclosed picnic shelter on the main beach as well as numerous warm-up shacks perfect for making a meal together over the wood-burning stoves.
The Rockin’ Horse Cookhouse & Market
In Maple Creek, The Rockin’ Horse Cookhouse and Market offers chef-prepared, heat-and-eat style meals. It’s the perfect option to take to-go and enjoy in the park as a picnic or warmed up later for a full meal.
Rafter R Brewing
One of Saskatchewan’s newest breweries, Rafter Brewing, opened in Maple Creek last summer. They offer seasonal beers including a smoked ale and winter spice. While food isn’t available on-site, you’re welcome to bring in any meals from local restaurants or snacks prepared at home. The brewery also sells Cypress Hills wine by the flight, glass or bottle. As a bonus, they’re a pet-friendly location.
The Daily Grind
The Daily Grind is a boutique coffee shop in Maple Creek. Along with providing a good cup of joe, they have hot soups, fresh baking and locally-made fine foods and gifts for purchase.
Where to Stay in Cypress Hills Provincial Park
Here are the best locations to stay in near Cypress Hills Provincial Park and the neighbouring community of Maple Creek.
The Resort at Cypress Hills
The Resort is the place to stay in the park. It offers three styles of accommodation including traditional hotel rooms, townhouses and two rows of cabins to cozy up in (including kitchenettes for cooking.) The cabins are near the top of the toboggan hill while the furthest set of townhouses has immediate access to the fire pits and snowshoe trail. There are wheelchair-accessible rooms and pet-friendly options. There’s an on-site restaurant, a yoga studio with the option of private classes upon request and a gift store.
For those seeking even more outdoor adventure, Cypress Hills has opened up one campground for winter camping enthusiasts. Pitch a tent, hang out in front of the fire, and enjoy all the park has to offer in the snow.
Cobble Creek Lodge
Cobble Creek Lodge is located outside the park on the west side of Maple Creek. It’s a newly-built, modern multi-story hotel that’s locally owned. It offers all the conveniences one would expect including free WiFI, a fitness centre, a business centre and a free continental breakfast.
New to Maple Creek is this cute little Airbnb that can host up to six guests in 3 bedrooms. It has Polynesian decor including a tiki bar patio, is pet-friendly, has a Juliette balcony and all standard home amenities.
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