The Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park consist of 3 main parts. There is the Alberta side around Elkwater, the West Block Wilderness Area and Centre Block on the Saskatchewan side. Fort Walsh is located in the West Block Wilderness Area.
The Cypress Hills, which were never glaciated, have a rich and exciting history. They are known as an erosional plateau, having been formed by millions of years of sedimentary deposition followed by millions of years of erosion. An archaeology project started in the 1970’s at the Stampede Site near the Elkwater townsite, has revealed human inhabitation of the hills for more than 8,500 years.
The focal point of the displays in the Cypress Hills Visitor Centre is the archaeological peel that was removed from the site. More information on the history of the hills can be found in the resources section.
The main access route to Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park - Alberta is via the TransCanada Highway #1 to Highway #41 south. Medicine Hat is the closest city, located approximately 65km away.
The majority of facilities in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park - Alberta, including the Visitor Centre (open year round) and 7 campgrounds with over 350 individual campsites, are concentrated along the south shore of Elkwater Lake in the Elkwater townsite, located just off Highway #41. In addition, 3 smaller campgrounds with more than 50 sites, as well as viewpoints and hiking trails, are found scattered throughout the Hills.
With its unique climate and mix of montane forests, wetlands and grasslands, it is home to an astonishing diversity of plants and animals. More orchids grow in these hills than anywhere else on the prairies. At least 18 species have been recorded here. Over 220 bird species, 47 mammal species, and several species each of reptiles and amphibians – Cypress Hills is a wild and wonderful place!
Two outstanding features of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park - Alberta are Horseshoe Canyon Viewpoint and Reesor Viewpoint. Looking north on a clear day, you can see rolling hills, coulees and flat prairie landscape for more than 100 km. The cliff faces of Horseshoe Canyon expose the conglomerate caprock that protects the underlying bedrock. From the plateau at Horseshoe Canyon, there are no obstructions so sunsets are spectacular and the lights of Medicine Hat can be seen in the distance.
The main access to the Centre Block is via TransCanada Highway #1 to highway #21 south. Maple Creek is the closest town with Swift Current, SK and Medicine Hat, AB the closest major urban centres, both approximately 120 km away.
The majority of the facilities and services are located in the Centre Block off highway #21 and #221 including the Visitor Centre and Park Administration and Cypress Park Resort Inn. Here you'll find over 600 individual campsites in 5 main camgrounds. Campsite services range from basic to full hookup. Group campgrounds also exist for private functions and family gatherings. The Centre Block also has access to over 27 km of nature and hiking trails, scenic view points and a variety of outdoor pursuits.
West Block Wilderness Area
The West Block wilderness area is accessible off highway #271 and boasts a place of backcountry charm. Campers and equestrians find this area peaceful and tranquil offering hikes or horseback rides from easy to challenging. Two rustic campgrounds and the Equestrain campground are nestled in Battle Creek Valley near the Ranger Station.
The Equestrian facilities include tie stalls, pens and paddock area. No other services are available in the West Block however the adventurous will find it very relaxing and suitable for self-contained campers.
Step back in time at Fort Walsh
Fort Walsh creates an experience of what life was like in the 1880's for the North West Mounted Police. Interpreters dressed in period costume will relate the reasons and events of the coming of the North West Mounted Police and the taming of the western Canadian frontier. You might be lucky enough to witness the firing of the nine pound field rifle built in 1875 or see a Victorian era rifle drill.
As you are guided through the fort's historic buildings you will feel like you have stepped back in time.
Learn about the men who forged the law and order for the Canadian West, the outlaws, the whiskey traders and the first nations people that make our Canada such a diverse and dynamic country.
It all happened in the Cypress Hills:
- A bloody battle, the Cypress Hills Massacre, acts as a catalyst in bringing the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) out West... - "Fort Walsh would quickly become the most important, largest and most heavily armed fort the North West Mounted Police garrisoned during their early years in the West." - Fort Walsh NHSC website
Weather and Climate
Reach Up and Touch the Clouds
Due to the higher elevation, the Cypress Hills experience temperatures that are a few degrees lower than the surrounding area and experience more precipitation.
As air masses approach the Cypress Hills they are forced up and over the plateau. With each 100 meter increase in altitude, the temperature drops about 1ºC. When air cools, clouds form and precipitation begins to fall. The top of the plateau receives about 100 millimeters more precipitation than the base.
Due to the increased cloud formation and thunderstorms at this altitude, the Cypress Hills have also been called "The Thunder Breeding Hills".
Watch for the Chinook Arch. The warm dry air of the Chinook wind flows across the prairie, potentially raising the air temperature 5ºC in a single hour. In a 12 hour period, the temperature can climb from -20ºC to +10ºC. An arch of clouds in the west signals it is coming. Starting out as a wind off the Pacific Ocean, laden with moisture, the wind moves up and over the western slopes of the Rockies. The moisture it carries cools, condenses and falls out as rain or snow. Free of its load of moisture, the wind then descends down the eastern side of the range, gaining heat as it loses elevation.
History as old as the land itself
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is rich in history. The land itself is historic – as the spot passed over by retreating glacial ice.
For thousands of years, people of many cultures have interacted with the abundant resources of the hills and the surrounding grassland. A detailed account of the history can be found under our resources section.