TRIP REPORT: Cypress Hills Provincial Park (Elkwater, AB Area)

by - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cypress Hills Inter-provincial park straddles the southern Alberta-Saskatchewan border and is the highest point on the Canadian prairies. Enjoy boating and beach time at Elkwater Lake, mountain biking, and mini golf; or head to Fort Walsh on the Saskatchewan side to learn about the area's history.

Using Firerock Campground on Elkwater Lake as our home base, we enjoyed a variety of free family-friendly activities. Here's how we spent 4 days at Elkwater with kids from 2 to 5 years old. 

Day 1
Shoreline Trail
  • Rode our bikes along the Shoreline Trail (2.4 km one way). The trail is paved / boardwalk and flat, so it is suitable for young riders - my daughter is 5 - or pulling a Chariot.
  • Played at West End Day Use Area (beach and playground). The playground was new, had a picnic table in the shade of a tree beside it, and was near a small beach and swimming area. We spent a bit of time here each day. Best of all, the water was warm enough for swimming (shallow and perfect for little kids - go to the Marina for deeper water)!
West End Day Use Area


Day 2
  • Walked the Lakeshore Trail from the Marina to East End Day Use Area (approx. 500 m one way). There were lots of wildflowers in bloom and ripe wild raspberries and saskatoons along the trail.
  • Played at playground
  • Did two rounds of mini golf (the kids couldn't get enough!)
  • Walked back to Marina and played at the beach for the afternoon
  • Dinner and evening campfire with friends
Mini Putt at East End Day Use Area (Did I mention it is free?!)
 Day 3
  • Rode our bikes to West Central Day Use Area; visited the biologists who were catching, identifying, and tagging birds. Both of our daughters had the amazing opportunity to release a bird (see video below)! The biologists are at this location most of the summer and don't mind visitors, but ask that people watch for the nets that are set up in the area (to catch the birds). 
M releasing a White Crowned Sparrow
  • Drove up to Horseshoe Mountain Viewpoint for a hike. The view was nice and would be particularly lovely at sunset on a clear day. We could not find Plateau Trail (I think it is closed/overgrown, no one at the Visitor Centre knew about it either), so we hiked to the Tom Trott Memorial Forestry Museum.  We enjoyed looking at the exhibits and having a snack at the picnic area. 
Horseshoe Canyon Viewpoint
Fire Lookout at Tom Trott Memorial Forestry Museum
  • As we finished our hike, it started to pour, so we took refuge in the Visitor Centre. Admission is free and there are some interesting displays/exhibits on the local history, geography, and Dark Sky conservation. There is also a great children's area including play room, coloring station, (magnetic) fishing, play house/puppet theater, floor puzzles. If you need to heat up some baby food or water, there is a microwave in the playroom that the public is free to use.
Visitor Centre Play Area
Visitor Centre Fishing
Visitor Centre Coloring
  •  Had dinner at Elkwater Landing (next to the Visitor Centre) - limited menu, but good portion sizes and reasonable prices. Excellent BBQ chicken for only $10!
BBQ chicken with braised cabbage at Elkwater Landing
Elkwater Landing
  • Got an ice cream bar from the Elkwater Landing Grocery Store. All the essentials are here (camp fuel, bread, milk), but there was no produce or gluten-free products.
  • Drove up to Head of the Mountain Viewpoint. On a clear day, you can see the Sweetgrass Hills in Montana. Note: Cows grazing in the area. Keep kids and dogs close. This would be a great place to bike in good weather.
Head of the Mountain Viewpoint on a rainy day
Other Activities
  • Boating: Powered and non-powered boats are allowed on the lake. Canoe, paddleboat, and stand up paddle boats are available for rent. Inquire at the Visitor Centre. Note: There is a free lifejacket loaner program at the Marina if you want to save space packing and only bring your boat!
  • Camping: There are several great campgrounds and group sites in Cypress Hills. More info here. We enjoyed Firerock Campground. 
  • Cycling: Various trails, more info here.The Shoreline Trail, paved & boardwalk, is excellent for young cyclists.The Firerock Trail is an excellent (blue) mountain biking trail.
  • Fishing: There are perch and pike in Elkwater Lake and trout in nearby Reesor and Lake and Spruce Coulee Reservoir. 
  • Hiking: various trails, more info here. Note: Inquire about Plateau Trail before attempting (the person we spoke to at the Visitor Centre was not aware of it. We tried twice to find it, but couldn't.) Also, be advised there are cougars in the area.
  • Mini Golf: There is free mini golf at the East End Day Use area! 
  • Playgrounds: at Marina, West End Day Use, and East End Day Use Area. Note: play structure at East End not for younger children
  • Sunbathing/Swimming: There are sandy beaches at West End Day Use area (second largest) and Elkwater Marina (largest), and West Central Day Use area. The best place for swimming is Elkwater Marina as the water is deeper there.
  • Tom Trott Memorial Forestry Museum: An interesting stop on the way to/from the Horseshoe Canyon or Head of the Mountain Viewpoints. Picnic tables and washrooms available.
The Elkwater area is really family-friendly with all the beaches and playgrounds along the lake. The park doesn't get as busy as the mountain parks, so we had a pleasant and relaxing stay.

Have you ever been to Cypress Hills?

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2 comments

  1. We just went camping there a few weeks ago and had so much fun! My kids are 3 & 7. We also really enjoyed visiting Fort Walsh, on the Saskatchewan side of the park, and doing loads of birdwatching.

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  2. It's a really family friendly camping destination! I regret we didn't visit the Saskatchewan side of the park! Thanks for letting me know about Fort Waslh. :)

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