As the highest point east of the Canadian Rockies, the Cypress Hills plateau is like an island, rising up 600 m (1,970 ft) above the surrounding prairie. It is a special place of forests, lakes, wetlands and grasslands and my husband and I love it here. Every summer we come to pursue our favourite pastimes – camping, hiking, wildlife viewing, and anything to do with water. We can’t wait to pack our gear and supplies, hitch up the boat and head through the badlands of southern Alberta to Canada’s first interprovincial park, straddling the Alberta-Saskatchewan border
Campsites and Stargazing
Whether you like to stay cosy in an RV or pitch a tent under the stars, you’ve got lots of choices here. There are 10 camping grounds on the Alberta side of the park housing more than 400 individual camp sites. There are also three rustic outback cabins that provide additional comfort and amenities. We typically set up camp along the south shore of Elkwater Lake where we roast sausages over a campfire and watch the sunset over the lake. After the sky becomes pitch black, settle in for some serious stargazing in one of Canada’s darkest night skies – the park is a designated dark sky preserve. On a cloudless night, the constellations seem close enough to touch.
I can only fit so much in the car and, chances are, one of us will forget something. We usually stop in the town of Elkwater for groceries, fuel or fishing licenses. There’s even a laundromat. They also have accommodation if camping isn’t your thing. When we want a break from campfire cooking, we’ll stop in for a meal at Elkwater Lake Lodge and Resort.
Elkwater Lake is always the main water hub for us. Some days it’s motor boating, waterskiing, wakeboarding and swimming; others, you’ll find me flopped on the sandy beach with a good book. The lake is home to naturally occurring northern pike and yellow perch and the marina has boats for rent if you’re not bringing your own. This trip, we’re fishing the Spruce Coulee Reservoir for walleye and rainbow trout.
Flora and Fauna
Because of its unique climate and landscapes, Cypress Hills protects a rich array of flora and fauna. There are more than 700 species of plants, including wildflowers you won’t find anywhere else in Alberta. Every visit, I’m on the hunt to find some of the 18 different species of wild orchids. Watch for 47 different kinds of mammals. And it’s heaven for bird watching, too – over 220 species nest or migrate through here.
There are tons of trails and we try to pick new ones each year. We’ve pretty much covered the Elkwater Trail System, so we’ll start working our way through the Spruce Coulee Trail System. Each has a must see look-out point: Horseshoe Canyon Viewpoint and Reesor Viewpoint. On a clear day when you look north, you can see rolling hills, coulees and prairies for more than 100 km (60+ mi). Pick up a trail map at the Visitor Centre – it’s open year round.