Like a slice of the north dropped in the middle of all that vast, flat farmland of southern Saskatchewan, Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is a fascinating geographical anomaly. The northern part of our province is well known for its thick forest, placid lakes and plentiful wildlife. The south, on the other hand, is not really known for any of these things (except maybe wildlife, if you happen to be into antelope and gophers). Immediately upon entering the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, though, you are transported to a wooded wonderland of pretty lakes, interesting hiking trails and shaded Cypress Hills camping options.
Where is Cypress Hills
Cypress Hills is actually divided into two main sections, one in Alberta and the other in Saskatchewan. Then the Cypress Hills Saskatchewan side is further split into the West Block (hiking, rustic camping) and the Centre Block (main facilities, campgrounds, large selection of ice cream flavours).
Historic Fort Walsh is in the West Block, only about 45 minutes if you could get there by back roads but those were closed when we visited, meaning a 1.5-hour drive out and around the park.
How High is Cypress Hills?
Cypress Hills features the highest point in Saskatchewan. Which doesn’t seem like it would be a very impressive feat except that it actually reaches 1,400 metres, which is barely below famous famously high Denver (“The Mile-High City”) and about on par with Lake Atitlan (“Our Favourite Place to Winter”).
The altitude means it is slightly cooler than the prairies around it and there are fewer mosquitoes (still a few at dusk, though, as one would expect).
Things to Do in Cypress Hills
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park offers a wide range of activities, most of which revolve around the two small, very Scottish-themed lakes, Loch Lomond and Loch Leven (which is also next to the optimistically named Ben Nevis Drive). There are a couple of small beaches and several nice picnic areas to enjoy around Loch Leven and even a fairly large pool next to the visitor centre (overlooking the lake).
Beyond that, there is everything from boat and canoe rentals to biking, ziplining, golfing, tennis and horseback riding, so you shouldn’t have to worry about getting bored.
Definitely take a drive (or bike, or horse) out to Bald Butte, a pretty impressive viewpoint of the surrounding prairies that really emphasizes just how high Cypress Hills is in comparison.
Plus, there is the Dark Sky Observatory, a unique attraction designed to take advantage of the amazing clear night skies in this sparsely populated section of the province.
Hikes in Cypress Hills
With its cooler climate and large collection of easy trails, Cypress Hills Saskatchewan is the ideal place to hike with the whole family. If you only have the time (or inclination) for a couple of hikes, we would recommend the following two trails as the pick of the bunch:
Whispering Pines Trail
2.5 km / 45 min / 50m elevation gain
AllTrails: Whispering Pines Trail
Starting at the north end of Loch Leven from Lodgepole Campground, this easy jaunt through the forest has a few small hills, a pair of good viewpoints and some interesting bush scenery.
Highland Rotary Trail
1.8 km / 30 min / 30m elevation gain
AllTrails: Highland Rotary Trail
This basically flat trail leaves from the Lone Pine Private Camping area in the southeast section of the park. It circles around a pair of scenic little ponds/lakes with good views and lots of birds.
Other hikes worth checking out:
Of course, the entire Trans-Canada Trail (officially known as the Great Trail) extends, as you might expect, all the way across Canada, is around 24,000 kilometres long and will probably take around 3-4 years.
If you aren’t quite that dedicated, though, you can hike the small portion that passes through the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park (5-10 km one-way depending on where you start).
It is probably even worth taking the small detour to Twisted Tree trail, which I personally found very disappointing, although I must admit there were, in fact, a couple of weirdly twisted trees. Just not nearly as many, or as twisted, as I had hoped. Still, check it out and see if you agree…
Cypress Hills Camping: Saskatchewan Options
I was somewhat shocked to learn how many Cypress Hills Saskatchewan camping options there were with over 600 campsites available in the Centre Block of the Saskatchewan section of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, and that doesn’t even include several private group campgrounds.
All in all, this park holds a significant proportion of the Saskatchewan campsites. All the public Cypress Hills campgrounds are within a few minutes of each other and within walking distance of the lake and restaurants. However, there are some differences you may want to consider when making your choice:
Set nicely back up the hill in the trees, the sites are well-spaced, quiet and fairly private. It is one of the furthest from Loch Leven, although Lone Pine Pizza is very close. We would recommend the back row. T72 is great if you are tenting as it has a lot of room, no neighbours on one side and flush toilets and sinks right across the road but is on a hill so won’t work for RVs.
There are 4 free, hot showers in the central bathroom. This is our favourite of the Saskatchewan Cypress Hills campgrounds.
The sites in Rainbow are very similar in appearance to those in Terrace but it is a bit closer to the action (probably 5 minutes closer to Loch Leven on foot) and, as a result, fills up a lot quicker.
In quieter times of year this will make a big difference (Terrace was practically empty in early June) but in mid-summer they are probably all full anyway. It is a popular choice for RVs but anywhere along the back row will be relatively private (sites 25-28 especially).
This is the closest campground to Loch Leven which might be preferable for families or anyone planning to spend most of their time in, on or around the water. The lodgepole pines give it a unique appearance but the sites are a bit closer together than some of the others.
We would recommend sites 21-22 and 25 along the back row for a bit more privacy and proximity to the bathroom. The middle rows could get pretty crowded.
Another good choice that looks a lot like Terrace but is a little farther away from the busiest roads, Warlodge has large, nicely space sites that work well for RVs (but are still appealing for tenters).
Once again, the sites farthest back from the entrance look best with 20, 21 and 27 being good choices where you park high and camp low, creating a bit of a barrier from the road. 31A/B and 41A/B are good options for groups but don’t have any shade (which is fine as long as you have a tarp or awning).
Deer Hollow Campground
Close to Terrace and Lone Pine Pizza, this tiny, single loop campground is very compact, tenting only, non-electrified sites. Good choice for a smaller camping area.
This huge campground is usually one of the last to fill up. They have a good range of different sites catering to both tents and RVs but it is quite far from the lake, which is fine if you plan to drive or bike but not ideal if you want to walk back and forth. On the other hand, it is very close to the observatory and dark sky viewpoints if you are hoping to do a little stargazing.
There are numerous group campgrounds in Cypress Hills that work great for family gatherings or coordinating your camping adventure with friends. Loch Leven and Valley Trail are between the lake and Lodgepole Campground, making them the most convenient for enjoying the lake.
Sunset and Aspen Grove are set well back by Meadows Campground, with pretty much all the same pros and cons. Hidden Valley is a quiet little spot tucked in (some might say hidden) behind the golf course. And Lone Pine is even farther out along the same road, featuring a pleasant, remote spot right at the start of the Highland Rotary trail.
There are some basic seasonal campsites in the West Block that operate on a first come, first served basis. There are picnic tables, fire pits, pit toilets and drinking water, but not much else. There is also an equestrian camping area with all the amenities need for horseback trips and trail rides.
You can make your Cypress Hills Saskatchewan camping reservations at Saskatchewan Parks, where you will be able to compare the exact facilities and dimensions of the different sites available.
You can also get a Cypress Hills camping map when you go through the park gates.
Where to Eat in Cypress Hills
There are three restaurants in the Centre Block of the Saskatchewan section of Cypress Hills park, all of which only accepted cash. Which, considering there is a strong cell signal in the park, not to mention wifi, seems like a bit of a scheme to make you take money out of the extremely overpriced ATMs that just happen to be placed very conveniently in each place. Other than that, we were quite impressed with the food in Cypress Hills.
Lake View Grill
The only eat-in option, they also have a nice terrace with great views over Loch Leven. Both the fish and chips and beef taco wrap were outstanding.
Dar’s Little Dipper
Right next to the main Loch Leven parking lot, Dar’s Little Dipper has somewhere around a bazillion flavours of ice cream (hard and soft serve) but also offer a pretty extensive takeout menu of the usual burgers, chicken fingers, etc. The pulled pork was quite good, as well.
Lone Pine Pizza
Located a few blocks from the lake between the Terrace, Rainbow and Deer Hollow campgrounds, they unsurprisingly specialize in excellent pizza but also sell a variety of other takeout specials and desserts.
For even more variety, it is just around a 20-minute drive to Maple Creek.
How to Get to Cypress Hills
The Centre Block of the Saskatchewan section of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is located 20 minutes (30 km) south of Maple Creek, which is an hour and 20 minutes (140 km) west of the major city (in Saskatchewan terms) of Swift Current along the Trans-Canada Highway (#1).
If you are coming from Alberta, Maple Creek is about an hour (100 km) east of Medicine Hat. The Saskatchewan and Alberta sections of the park are roughly 1.5-2 hours apart.
This is normally where I would describe all the different options to reach the park by public transportation but this is Saskatchewan so, you know, there aren’t any.
Things to Do Around Cypress Hills
If you have extra time or are heading north anyway, you should definitely check out the Great Sandhills Ecological Reserve. Located roughly an hour north of Maple Creek, this quiet 1,900-acre protected area is home to the second-largest sand dunes in all of Canada.
Meanwhile, around 2 hours southeast of Cypress Hills you can find Grasslands National Park, one of only two national parks in Saskatchewan.
Remote and expansive, yet brimming with a huge variety of natural wildlife and stunning prairie and badlands scenery, it is definitely worth visiting both the West and East Blocks of this extremely unique national park and maybe even try out some backcountry Saskatchewan camping.
Compared to similar forest/lake combos in northern Saskatchewan, Cypress Hills probably won’t stand out. Plus, from Saskatoon or Prince Albert the northern highlights are much more convenient than the 5-hour drive down to the southwest corner of the province. But for people travelling in the area or who live down south in Swift Current, Moose Jaw or Regina, Cypress Hills represents a special opportunity to enjoy a bit of altitude, some of the best campgrounds in Saskatchewan and lush forest hikes.
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