Cypress Hills: A Diamond in the Rough
Cypress Hills Inter-provincial Park is a diamond in the rough. The park boast a unique landscape from the prairie sprawl that encircles the towering elevation that can be seen for at least an hour before you actually arrive. Cypress Hills Saskatchewan is divided into two; the Center Block, which is the hub of the bustling little community of campers and cabins, and the West Block. A 45 minute drive down the “gap road” or a 1 hour round about way back through Maple Creek (the closest town) will land you in the west block. Cypress Hills West block contains a equestrian boarding and camping grounds as well as the Fort Walsh National Monument and home to the Cypress Hills Massacre.
How to Get there
Cypress Hills is 20 minutes south of Maple Creek Saskatchewan off the #1 Trans-Canada Highway. It is 4 hours 3 mintues away from Regina (the capital city) and 4 hours 33 minutes away from Saskatoon (the largest city in Saskatchewan).
Click for directions
Why I love Cypress Hills
First off, there are no mosquitoes. I don’t know why but Saskatchewan is usually an explosion of the bloodsucking flying insects, but not at Cypress. Secondly, the views from almost anywhere an anytime are outstanding. The short drive then a short walk up Bald Butte may be the best view in the entire province and during sunset it is truly something special (see cover photo). Third, the chance of seeing moose, deer, and maybe even an elk is very likely. Cypress has so much to offer, I will try to touch on a few of the highlights below.
Camping at Cypress
Booking a site
Visit: http://saskparks.net/Reserve-a-Site to book your site. The online reserve-a-site will allow you to read a brief description and a picture of all sites before you book. If you are looking to book a specific site you will need to pay attention to the dates that booking opens up in the spring. Make sure to scout out a few potential sites before the booking date and have a login username and password. You will have to be ready at your computer (maybe multiple devices) ready to book before the booking opens up (usually 7:00am but make sure to check). You will be placed in a random queue and fast fingers get the best sites. It is worth practicing finding your site. Booking a site and searching for a site before the booking becomes available will look the same.
The Center Block
Cypress Center block boast over 600 campsites. Cypress is made up of a majority of old growth lodgepole pines. In my opinion Cypress is in a desperate need of a good fire to restart the regenerative forest cycle. Many spots in the park The only real issue with old growth forest and camping is that there isn’t much privacy. There are lots of lodgepole pines but not much else. The open forest does provide some great wildlife viewing opportunities. You might even be lucky enough to be woken up by Wild Turkeys which roam through the park.
Deer Hollow and Aspen Grove
have the most privacy in terms of foliage but sites are close together. I have camped here with a tent only, but there is lots of room for trailers. Just pay attention to how big of a trailer your site can handle when you book.
is a great mix of privacy, spread out campsites, and very large trees. I really like Warlodge camping but beware because some sites will require a topographical map because they are so slanty. When booking a site, if it says that it is un-level you need to believe it. I wouldn’t recommend booking an un-level site with very small children because they will most likely roll down the hill to the fire pit area. If you have sturdy toddlers or older kids there is a very accessable playground in the middle of the campground. There is a bit of a walk to the showers but there are enough flush toilets around the area for everyone.
is where you will find the full service sites. The full service sites are all right down the middle of the campground. All full service sites are pull-through which is nice, but you are really packed in like sardines. If you require a full service site this is your only choice. If you don’t, all the sites around the periphery of rainbow are bigger sites and back the forest. Rainbow campground is really close to minigolf and icecream and one of the closer campgrounds to the core area. I have camped in rainbow two year in a row with small children and it is a nice to be close to all the amenities.
campground has a few really nice campsites around its periphery, terrace campground also has a nice park for children. This is a good all around campground.
campground is nestled in an old growth lodgepole pine forest. The sites offer no privacy and I would only recommend this spot if you really like being around the old trees or want to camp with multiple families or friends. Lodgepole is very close to some great hiking trails, a group picnic area, and the tip of Loch Leven marine area.
campground is great for astronomers. Cypress Hills is a dark sky preserve and this campground will give you a great view of the night sky. You are right out in a meadow so don’t expect much shelter in this campsite. I have never camped here but I also believe this is better for the people with larger trailers or RV’s.
What to Do With Kids
Before you even get to Cypress Hills you need to stop in the town of Maple Creek. Fuel up check out the excellent toy store. Cowtown Kids Toys and Candy boasts the largest independent toy store in the province.
On your way out of town towards Cypress you need to stop at the Grotto Gardens. Here you will find another ice cream and pastry store with other trinkets. The higlight of the Grotto Gardens in their petting zoo. They have very friendly goats, and other farm animals. For $ .25 you get a handful of feed for the animals. The kids (and adults) will love it.
GO CARTS! Cypress Hills Speedway
Before you even get past the park gates there is a great little go cart track with single and tandem go carts. I have been taking my daughter there since she was 3 years old and she looks forward to beating the socks off the other family that we usually camp with. The tandem carts sit one adult and one child. There are two steering wheels, but only the adult one works (obviously). They have a washroom and a little canteen as well. The staff is awesome and everything is kept very clean.
ZIP LINE! TreeOsix
Deep in the core area is the clever play on Saskatchewan’s favourite area code (306). TreeOsix has lots of great activities for any age. The zip-line is the biggest draw as you zip through the cypress hills forest. TreeOsix also has a toddler zip-line that allows parents to zip their children down a very modest zip-line that is just barely off the ground. The best part is that you can buy an unlimited week pass that allows you to show up whenever your toddler needs some entertainment. You can strap them into the equivalent of a toddler swing at the park and let them go! We have been buying the week pass for a few years and our kids love it. I would say the small zip-line is only good for up to age 5 because kids legs will start dragging on the ground.
For older kids and adults, besides the big zip-line, there is a portable rock wall, electric bike rentals, and, a high rope course.
Mini Golf is always fun. There is a real good chance at a free game on hole 18. The course has a few interesting holes and most importantly a swinging pencil. The mini golf course is also attached to a great ice cream and food stand. Mini golf is within a very short walk of Rainbow and Terrace campsite, and is on the way to the core area from almost every campground in the park.
Cypress Hills Riding Academy
Contact Info (make sure to phone ahead and book a trail ride)
Phone(s): 306-662-3512 |
Open May long weekend to Labour Day.
12 noon – 7:30 p.m., advance bookings recommended.
Centre Block, approximately 2 km beyond the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park entry gate, 27 km S of Maple Creek on Hwy 21.
Latitude: 49.67268° N, Longitude: -109.4676° W
The Cypress Hills riding academy is very well run . All the horses looked very healthy and happy. There also seemed to be a lot more horses then people, which leads me to believe they give the horses lots of rest. Behind the stables there is also a pasture where the horses can stretch their legs. I was very happy with my initial observation of the opperation.
Children under 5 can ride with their parents. Our small 5 year old was put on the very well behaved “Patchy.” I had a permanent smile on my face watching how happy she was on this old horse. The trial ride will last anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour based on how fast the horses are walking. The ride takes you through a good mix of forest and grasslands. There was plenty to look at including lots of wildlife. We even saw three bull moose on the trail! I would highly recommend this adventure it was an awesome experience and we will be doing it again.
Cypress Hills is a dark sky preserve so you can be guaranteed an amazing view of the night sky. We always make sure to check to see when the International Space Station is flying by. Make sure to check out the Observatory. There is one big telescope and often a few other professional telescopes with people that know what they are doing and know what they are talking about. It is a fun evening for young and old if you are able to stay up that late.
There are lots of short hiking trips around center block. The Highland Rotary Trail is my absolute favourite. The entire hike circles a wetland. The first half takes you through a forested area with a few babbling brooks along the way. The second half of the hike takes you through a more open grasslands on the other side of the wetland. For birdwatchers this is a great place to see terns and kingfishers.
If you are heading to Cypress West block you can either take the gap road which is a goat path that is impassable when wet and should likely only be attempted with a vehicle with higher clearance. You could also drive back to Maple Creek and follow the signs which take you on the paved route. West Block is much more wild than Center Block. You can drive to see the Conglomerate Cliffs or camp in a few smaller no service sites. West Block is very close to Fort Walsh National Historic Site.
is my second favrourite trail. It contains a mix of forest and grasslands. There are always tons of wildflowers and signs of wildlife. There are also two spots with amazing views. The Whispering Pines trail is a 2.6km loop with a few bigger hills that makes pushing a stroller difficult. There is one hill in particular that I have to do in two trips. I take the kids up first and then go back for the stroller. We have a BOB jogging stroller that does off-roading real well. One particular section of the hike is very steep and covered with sandy gravel that is too much for even a jogging stroller.
You need to make the trip to Bald Butte during sunset. It is a short uphill hike and is the highest public point in Saskatchewan. The actual highest point in on private land. If you don’t want to hike you can always stop at the lookout which is 1km before the bald butte trail head.
Swimming and Water Sport
You have two option. There is a supervised swimming pool. The pool is well designed for all ages. There is a splash pool for babies and toddlers, lots of shallow water for children, and a deeper area (not deep enough to dive).
Toddlers (2 and under) – FREE
Children/Youth (3-15) – $2
Adults (16 and up) – $5
Family (2 adults and 3 or more children, or 1 adult and 4 children – max 5 people) – $14
Weekly Family Pass – $70
The second option is the beach area. There is some decent sand with a playground area. There is adequate parking for the beach space. The water can get murky but becuase the Loch is such a small area they do not allow large motor boats on the lake. Right by the beach area is a water sport rental. There are paddle boats, Stand up Paddle boards, canoes, and kayaks to rent.
What to Eat
There are two excellent Ice Cream and short order food places. One located right by the mini golf and Dar’s Little Dipper right by the park entrance. Dar’s serves up Foothills Creamery Ice cream and their serving size is out of this world. Both places are worth a try and both have great food. I really can’t choose which one is better but Dar’s definitely has a very strong reputation with the locals. The Restaurant by the swimming pool and attached to the interpretive center wasn’t my favourite and I would only eat there in a pinch.
Cypress Hills is a place you can easily spend at least a week and not do everything it has to offer. Cypress is my favourite camping destination in Saskatchewan, and is a must see for anyone looking to see what Saskatchewan has to offer.