Home Destinations Summer Fun in Cypress Hills Provincial Park (Elkwater, AB Area)

Summer Fun in Cypress Hills Provincial Park (Elkwater, AB Area)

by Karen Ung
How to spend a fun long weekend in Cypress Hills Provincial Park.

Cypress Hills Provincial Park straddles the southern Alberta-Saskatchewan border and is the highest point between the Rockies and Labrador. Enjoy boating and beach time at Elkwater Lake, mountain biking, and mini golf; or head to Fort Walsh on the Saskatchewan side to learn about the area’s history.

Elkwater Lake, Cypress Hills Provincial Park
Elkwater Lake, Cypress Hills Provincial Park

Using Firerock Campground on Elkwater Lake as our home base, we enjoyed a variety of free family-friendly activities. Here’s how we spent 4 days at Elkwater with kids from 2 to 5 years old.

Day 1

Cypress Hills Provincial Park Shoreline Trail
Cypress Hills Provincial Park Shoreline Trail
  • Rode our bikes along the Shoreline Trail (2.4 km one way). The trail is paved / boardwalk and flat, so it is suitable for young riders – my daughter is 5 – or pulling a Chariot.
  • Played at West End Day Use Area (beach and playground). The playground was new, had a picnic table in the shade of a tree beside it, and was near a small beach and swimming area. We spent a bit of time here each day. Best of all, the water was warm enough for swimming (shallow and perfect for little kids – go to the Marina for deeper water)!
Cypress Hills Provincial Park Beach
Cypress Hills Provincial Park West End Day Use Area Beach

Day 2

  • Walked the Lakeshore Trail from the Marina to East End Day Use Area (approx. 500 m one way). There were lots of wildflowers in bloom and ripe wild raspberries and saskatoons along the trail.
  • Played at playground
  • Did two rounds of mini golf (the kids couldn’t get enough!)
  • Walked back to Marina and played at the beach for the afternoon
  • Dinner and evening campfire with friends
Elkwater Mini Golf
Elkwater Mini Golf at East End Day Use Area (Did I mention it is free?!)

Day 3

  • Rode our bikes to West Central Day Use Area; visited the biologists who were catching, identifying, and tagging birds. Both of our daughters had the amazing opportunity to release a bird (see video below)! 2018 Update: The bird research program at Elkwater Lake is no longer active.
Helping a researcher release a bird
M releasing a White Crowned Sparrow
  • Drove up to Horseshoe Mountain Viewpoint for a hike. The view was nice and would be particularly lovely at sunset on a clear day. We also hiked to the Tom Trott Memorial Forestry Museum.  We enjoyed looking at the exhibits and having a snack at the picnic area.
Horseshoe Canyon Viewpoint, Cypress Hills Provincial Park
Horseshoe Canyon Viewpoint, Cypress Hills Provincial Park
Fire Lookout at Tom Trott Memorial Forestry Museum
Fire Lookout at Tom Trott Memorial Forestry Museum
  • As we finished our hike, it started to pour, so we took refuge in the Visitor Centre. Admission is
    free and there are some interesting displays/exhibits on the local
    history, geography, and Dark Sky conservation. There is also
    a great children’s area including play room, coloring
    station, (magnetic) fishing, play house/puppet theater, floor puzzles.
    If you need to heat
    up some baby food or water, there is a microwave in the playroom that
    the public is free to use.
Elkwater Visitor Centre Play Area
Elkwater Visitor Centre Play Area
Elkwater Visitor Centre Fishing
Elkwater Visitor Centre Fishing
Elkwater Visitor Centre Coloring
Elkwater Visitor Centre Coloring
  • Had dinner at Elkwater Landing (now CAMP Cookhouse), next to the Visitor Centre. Tasty meals at reasonable prices. 2017 update: The new restaurant is even better!
Camp Cookhouse, Elkwater
Camp Cookhouse, Elkwater
  • Got an ice cream bar from the Elkwater Landing Grocery Store (2017: now CAMP Cookhouse & General Store). All the essentials are here (camp fuel, bread, milk), but there is no produce.
  • Drove up to Head of the Mountain Viewpoint. On a clear day, you can see the Sweetgrass Hills in Montana. Note: Cows grazing in the area. Keep kids and dogs close. This would be a great place to bike in good weather.
Head of the Mountain Viewpoint, Cypress Hills Provincial Park
Head of the Mountain Viewpoint on a rainy day

More Summer Activities in Cypress Hills

  • Boating: Powered and non-powered boats are allowed on the lake. Canoe, paddleboat, and stand up paddle boats are available for rent. Inquire at the Visitor Centre. Note: There is a free lifejacket loaner program at the Marina if you want to save space packing and only bring your boat!
  • Camping: There are several great campgrounds and group sites in Cypress Hills. More info here. We enjoyed Firerock Campground.
  • Cycling: Various trails, more info here.The Shoreline Trail, paved & boardwalk, is excellent for young cyclists.The Firerock Trail is an excellent (blue) mountain biking trail.
  • Fishing: There are perch and pike in Elkwater Lake and trout in nearby Reesor and Lake and Spruce Coulee Reservoir.
  • Hiking: various trails, more info here. Be advised there are cougars in the area.
  • Mini Golf: There is free mini golf at the East End Day Use area!
  • Playgrounds: at Marina, West End Day Use, and East End Day Use Area. Note: play structure at East End not for younger children.
  • Sunbathing/Swimming:
    There are sandy beaches at West End Day Use area (second largest) and
    Elkwater Marina (largest), and West Central Day Use area. The best place for swimming is Elkwater Marina as the water is deeper there.
  • Tom Trott Memorial Forestry Museum: An interesting stop on the
    way to/from the Horseshoe Canyon or Head of the Mountain Viewpoints.
    Picnic tables and washrooms available.

The Elkwater area is really family-friendly with all the beaches and playgrounds along the lake. The park doesn’t get as busy as the mountain parks, so we had a pleasant and relaxing stay.

Have you ever been to Cypress Hills Provincial Park?

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Playoutsidegal April 22, 2017 - 9:51 PM

It's a really family friendly camping destination! I regret we didn't visit the Saskatchewan side of the park! Thanks for letting me know about Fort Waslh. 🙂

Sarah July 28, 2016 - 9:26 PM

We just went camping there a few weeks ago and had so much fun! My kids are 3 & 7. We also really enjoyed visiting Fort Walsh, on the Saskatchewan side of the park, and doing loads of birdwatching.

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