This time we're traveling three hundred kilometres south east of Claresholm past Medicine Hat. The route takes us through mostly flat farm land, wheat turning golden and rippling in the wind, corn reaching high in the hot sun, hay neatly baled and dotting the landscape. But when we turn south a few kilometres east of the Hat, everything changes! We begin a steady climb…farmland is no longer flat, velvety rolling hills undulate as we pull the trailer higher and higher. By the time we have reached the summer resort town of Elkwater in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, we are at an elevation of 1234 meters or about 4000 feet. That's nearly the same as Banff and we've just climbed from 690 m at Medicine Hat. The truck has worked hard to get us to this beautiful forested area, so unexpected when we're so far from the Rockies. Further along the road, we come to the highest point in Canada between the Rockies and Labrador at 1466 m. The views are incredible!
To the southwest we can make out the Sweetgrass Hills, 100 km away
as the crow flies, in Montana.
This huge park is the only park in Canada that straddles two provinces. A drive on a paved road east from Elkwater will bring you to Reesor Lake, a popular camping and fishing spot.
From there you can continue east on an ungraded gravel road, 4×4 is recommended, to Fort Walsh and the Saskatchewan part of the park. The narrow road, lined heavily in some spots with trees and shrubs, twists and turns, loosely following along Battle Creek. Meadows and hill sides are covered in wildflowers…bergamot, rocket, yarrow, daisies, delphiniums and many more I can't identify.
We have checked in to one of the many campsites on the Alberta side of the park. We are walking distance from a great Visitor Centre and Elkwater Lake, the largest lake in the park. The sandy beach is a great place to spend a hot summer day or you can get out on the lake with your canoe, kayak, or motor boat. You will share the lake with geese, pelicans, grebes and many more water birds that inhabit the wetlands around the lake.
The park is riddled with hiking trails of varying length and ability. In the winter, many of them double as cross country ski trails. We got onto the Ranger's Trail behind our campsite and followed it up to the Cobble Miner loop one day and followed the Shoreline trail another day.
Along the Ranger's Trail were 4" water hoses filled with water and attached to sprinklers throughout the forest. The weather has been so dry here for so long that the danger of forest fires is extremely high. Helicopters circle the area repeatedly throughout the day, on constant alert. Bush buggies stand ready for action if necessary. Rain is really needed…we got a short thunderstorm but it barely left things wet.
We're actually quite surprised there is no fire ban here… we are allowed fires as long as we keep them small and make sure we extinguish them when we're finished with them. But we've been told a ban could be issued at a moment's notice.
We took an afternoon and drove east through the park, then northeast to Maple Creek, Saskatchewan and south again to Cypress Hills Resort. It's called the Centre Block and a small resort town and campgrounds have been built up around Loch Leven. There is a charge to enter this part of Cypress Hills but it has lots of family activities available such as beach, swimming pool, zip-lining, etc.
For us, the drive through the
hills and back was the highlight.
Fort Walsh National Historic site, in the southeast corner of the park, was a Northwest Mounted Police Trading Post and the site of the Cypress Hills Massacre. We visited it a number of years ago and found it extremely informative with interpreters dressed in period costume offering a glimpse of what life was like between 1873 and 1878. We didn't go again on this trip but would recommend it.
Just east of Reesor Lake, a cairn stands in memory of Constable Marmaduke Graburn who, in 1879, was the first Mountie to be killed by violence since the force was organized in 1873. Law and order was not always wanted in these Hills.
We only had two full days to explore this area this time. A week here could really do it justice if you like hiking, fishing, boating and camping.