Cypress Hills is a provincial park shared between Alberta and Saskatchewan. In the summer of 2021, I spent a weekend camping on the Alberta-side of the park, which was the furthest east I have been within Alberta.
The drive from Calgary to the Elkwater Townsite (closest town to our campsite) is just under 4 hours. As a hiker who is used to heading west out of Calgary rather than east, the drive was very flat compared to the rolling foothills and mountain valleys. We stopped along the way at the Brooks Aqueduct to add some sight-seeing to our Alberta road trip experience.
The Brooks Aqueduct was built between 1912 and 1914 in order to provide irrigation to the surrounding farmland. It is no longer in operation, but is described as “a monument to pioneers who developed the region.”
After a brief stop to read about the history of the aqueduct, we continued on our way to Cypress Hills. The park filled who rolling hills stands in stark contrast to the flat prairies surrounding the area. We crossed into the park boundaries about 6:30 that evening. We drove through Elkwater and up the hill via Ferguson Hill road to Lodgepole campground where we stayed. This campground is unserviced and sits amongst the forest that blankets this hill. After setting up camp, we got busy preparing dinner. We ate over the fire around 9 and enjoyed as the stars peaking out from between the trees. Aside from exploring the area directly around camp, we didn’t have much time to see the park. We saved that for day two.
On the second day, we decided to begin our exploration on a drive around the Alberta side of the park. We Reesor Lake road and stopped at all the viewpoints along the way. The first stop, Reesor Lake viewpoint, gave us our first good view of the park. On the hill we had a good vantage point of both the lake below and the rolling hills surrounding us. Next, we continued to the lake where we were greeted by a pair of pelicans.
We were very excited to see these enormous birds, as they are not very common in our landlocked province (although I have seen some in Fish Creek Park in Calgary since this trip). After watching the birds for some time, we continued on to the next viewpoint, Police Point Slump. This was not a particularly notable stop, though we had switched from a paved road to a gravel one. The road got considerably rougher here, as we moved from Battle Creek Road to Graburn Road. As we ascended the hill again from Reesor Lake and the network of creeks in the valley, we approached our last point of interest: the Survival Tree.
This lodgepole pine was growing in various directions, a result of a particularly perilous life. The sign nearby details the trials that the tree has survived in its over-a-century long life. The view from this point of the loop is very flat, and it seems as if the horizon stretches on forever.
For lunch, we drove out to the Head of the Mountain viewpoint to have a picnic. There are a couple picnic tables here, and a small loop at the end of the road to park your vehicle. The view of the sloping hills fades towards the south, with the United States about 80 km away (less than an hour’s drive).
We ate and took photos, but did not linger too long here because the flies were swarming and we got tired of swatting them away. We decided to head down to the lake, and stopped at the campsite long enough to change into swimsuits.
The lakefront in Elkwater was busy, so we lay our towels out on the grass across from the sand. We enjoyed the early warmth on this last weekend of June, and even braved the cold water in short bursts. We returned to our campsite for dinner and to prepare for our planned sunset hike.
We hurried up a multi-use trail (also popular amongst mountain bikers), in order to catch the sunset over Horseshoe canyon. As with the other canyons that share its name, this one has a tight circular shape carved into the landscape by water. Differing from the most popular Horseshoe Canyon in the USA or another similarly named spot in Alberta, however, this canyon is covered in evergreens. The trees give this canyon a very different look that the bare rock of other horseshoe-shaped canyons. We arrived at the top of the hill just before the sunset, out of breath but impressed by our timing.
Once we returned to the bottom of the hill (and our vehicle), we decided to do some stargazing on the beach. The view of the stars at our campsite was largely blocked by the trees, so we huddled together on the beach and watched for shooting stars.
Amongst a group of avid campers, watching for falling stars is a bit of a competition. As three of us were competing, however, the fourth was using her new photography skills to take long exposure shots of the stars. Although the photos still don’t do justice to the real thing, it gives an idea of how impressive the sky is away from the light pollution of the city.
Our next day we packed up and drove back to the city. Along the way, we made a detour in Medicine Hat to visit the Saamis Tepee. This gigantic structure sits atop a hill overlooking the city, and is filled with 10 art pieces created by indigenous artists who share the history and cultural of the land and their peoples. It was originally built for the 1988 Olympic Winter Games held in Calgary. The tepee shares the history of the Blackfoot Confederacy, the Plains Cree, Plains Ojibwa, Assiniboin or Stoney, and small numbers of Dakota, Atsina and other groups, as well as the Métis of the Plains. The artwork has been contributed from indigenous artists from many different nations. Informative boards accompany the artwork to explain the historical and cultural significance of both the art and the Treaty 7 region. Not knowing anything about the landmark other than seeing it on our drive to Cypress and deciding to stop on the way back, I thought this was certainly worth the visit while driving through southeastern Alberta.