Looking for a pristine spot for a Canadian snowshoeing holiday, my husband and I, along with another sporting couple, make our way to Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, a unique wilderness recreation area located one hour southeast of Medicine Hat or three and a half hours east of Calgary.
Situated on an elevated plateau, Cypress Hills is a natural anomaly on the Alberta prairie. In fact, it holds the highest elevation in Canada east of the Canadian Rocky Mountains at 1,468 m (4,816 ft). It’s a magical landscape where you can trek through silent meadows and aspen, spruce and lodgepole pine forests, past lakes, reservoirs and wetlands. Because of its high elevation, the park receives more snowfall than the surrounding prairies, making it a dream come true for snowshoers and Nordic skiers.
First stop, the Visitor Centre in the Elkwater townsite where we pick up our rentals and trail maps. We hit the trail as a light sprinkling of snow begins to fall, just enough to give this winter wonderland a fresh surface to make our own fresh tracks.
Overnight in a Backcountry Hut
We leave the beaten path and head for the Tom Trott backcountry hut. The two-bedroom structure offers a cozy retreat after the invigorating 5 km (3.1 mi) hike from Elkwater. With a living room, kitchen area and a wood-burning stove, this ski-in/out (or snowshoe-in/out) abode is in the perfect backcountry setting to relax and unwind. All we had to bring was bedding, a camp stove, some grub and a good bottle of wine – or two – nothing we couldn’t easily tow on a toboggan behind us.
The next morning, the sun beams across the gigantic blue sky, giving the snow a sparkly crystalline character. We slick some sunscreen onto our faces, throw on our much-needed sunglasses and set off to explore. At Horseshoe Canyon there’s a platform where we get a fabulous panoramic view of the forest and surrounding prairie below. Further up, we check out the Head of the Mountain, the highest elevation point in the park before hiking back to Elkwater.
Trade Snowshoes for Blades
After lunch, we trade our snowshoes for skates to do a quick spin on the park’s skating loop. Located in the first section of the Elkwater campground, the skating area includes washrooms and a warm-up shelter with free firewood. We glide along the ice and fill our lungs with a final dose of Cypress Hills’ fresh brisk air, before saying goodbye until next time.