Discover winter fun in southeast Alberta’s Cypress Hills Provincial Park!
Cypress Hills Provincial Park, in the southeast corner of Alberta, is a “kind of a lost world” according to Neeraj Mishra and that’s what he likes about it. With only 300 people in the village of Elkwater (less in winter), you can truly connect with nature and relax.
Neeraj first visited the park in March 2016 after a friend told him about a hotel for sale. He recalls, with a smile on his face, how the landscape changed as he approached Elkwater Lake. “As soon as I saw this place… I thought if it makes business sense, I will buy [it].” One month later, he was the proud owner of Elkwater Lake Lodge & Resort.
What is it about Cypress Hills that captures people’s hearts? Neeraj says, “You get the mountain experience without getting commercialized.” He admits is is “a different experience, totally different [than the Rockies],” but in a good way, and is excited to share it with his guests. While some have been coming to the park for decades, and others have just discovered it, one thing they have in common is that “once they come here, they fall in love with this place!”
There’s definitely a lot to love about Cypress Hills, perched above the prairies with over 50 kilometres of trails to explore! Here are 10 things to do in Cypress Hills Provincial Park this winter:
1. Play & learn
Do you wanna build an igloo? Sign up for a fun interpretive program with Alberta Parks! Several programs are offered each weekend including: igloo building, guided snowshoeing, night sky stories and star gazing, and snow science. See Cypress Hills Provincial Park Activities and Events for more information.
2. Ski above the Prairies!
Hidden Valley Ski Resort is a family-friendly ski hill with 9 fun runs, a terrain park, chairlift, learning area with magic carpet, T-bar, tow bar, and great snow! Snowmaking ensures consistent conditions and small features (e.g. spine; rolly bolly like a short, snowy pump track) are added to several runs throughout the season so learners can up their skills. Open Wednesday to Sunday. Don’t miss the Big Air Slush Cup in March!
3. Comfort camp in a cozy hut
Frontcountry and backcountry huts are available. Read about our awesome snowshoe trip to Reesor Lake Backcountry Hut here.
4. Sled and slide
Hit the luge track and tobogganing hill near the Learning Centre, then warm up inside with complimentary hot chocolate! Toboggans are available for public use.
5. Kick and glide on groomed cross country ski trails
The Spring Creek Cross Country Ski Trails has 10 kilometers of beginner and intermediate trails as well as two warming huts (Spring Creek at the trailhead, and Willow Creek at Willow Road). More groomed trails are available at Spruce Coulee and Horseshoe Canyon Lookout Trail. *Fatbiking is permitted on all groomed trails except Spring Creek trails.*
6. Snowshoe and look for wildlife
Winter is a great time of year to spot deer and moose. Try Reesor Lake, Spruce Coulee, or Reesor Lookout.
7. Ice skate
The 1.5 km skating track goes through Old Baldy Campground, near Elkwater Lake. Bring marshmallows to roast in the warming hut! There’s also an outdoor skating rink on 7th Avenue.
Fatbiking is permitted on all groomed trails except Spring Creek trails. Green trails are easy, blue are intermediate, and black are advanced. Please stay off the cross country ski tracks.
9. Go ice fishing
Elkwater Lake (pike and perch), Reesor Lake (rainbow trout) and Spruce Coulee Reservoir (brook trout) are popular ice fishing spots in Cypress Hills Provincial Park. Check the ice thickness before you venture onto the ice and review Alberta Fishing Regulations. Ice should be at least 10 cm / 4″ thick to walk on; or 15 cm / 6″ thick to support a group of people.
10. Star gazing
Cypress Hills Provincial Park is a Dark Sky Preserve so it’s easy to see tons of stars just a short walk from the village. Great star gazing spots include Firerock Campground, Reesor Lake, and Reesor Viewpoint.
Pop in to the Cypress Hills Visitor Centre to check out the exhibits and children’s play area, get trail reports, or warm up!
Know Before You Go
The Cypress Hills Visitor Centre is open Wednesday until Sunday, 10 am – 4:30 pm, from October 1 – May 17.
Wildlife: You are in cougar country! While cougar sightings are extremely rare, familiarize yourself with cougar safety tips here: Alberta Parks Cougar Brochure.
Where to Stay
Elkwater Lake Lodge & Resort has spacious suites (standard, loft, jacuzzi), rustic cabins (sleep 6), and modern condos (studio, 1 BR, 2 BR, and 3 BR) in the charming village of Elkwater. Amenities include a salt water pool and hot tub, and Bugler’s Restaurant. The Learning Centre, Visitor Centre, mini golf, beaches, and trails are all walking distance from the lodge. We loved our well appointed jacuzzi suite, dinner at Bugler’s, and complimentary treats in the lobby.
Visit Elkwater Lake Lodge & Resort for more information and inquire about their Ski, Stay, Play special & e-bike rentals!
Huts: Cypress Hills Provincial Park has several cozy huts that sleep 4 to 6 people. Frontcountry and backcountry huts are available. Visit Alberta Parks – Comfort Camping for more information.
Winter Camping: Elkwater (36 power sites available in winter) and Spruce Coulee (9 walk-in campsites) campgrounds are open year round. Backcountry camping is also available near Reesor Dock.
Elkwater, located 65 km south of Medicine Hat, is your base camp for exploring the Alberta side of Cypress Hills Provincial Park (it’s an interprovincial park with lots to do on the Saskatchewan side too).
What to Bring
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Good hiking boots, a down hoody or fleece, toque, gloves, and windproof/waterproof shell are recommended year round. Trekking poles are useful for long hikes, steep descents, or babywearing. You should also carry The Ten Essentials including: water, extra food, extra clothes, a first aid kit, headlamp, GPS / compass, and map of the area, sunscreen (this mineral sunscreen is fragrance free, paraben free, and reef-friendly), bug spray (this deet-free one contains 20% icaridin and will repel ticks), and bear spray. Carry bear spray in a Bear Spray Holster or Scat Belt.
A Garmin inReach Mini 2 satellite communicator is highly recommended for contacting Search & Rescue and emergency contacts in the event of an emergency, or communicating with friends and family when you are out of cell phone range. You can send text messages and your GPS coordinates via satellite (but a monthly plan is required)!
In snowy/icy conditions, traction devices such as Kahtoola Microspikes (Available from Amazon, MEC, and Valhalla Pure Outfitters), or Hillsound Trail Crampons (Available at Valhalla Pure Outfitters and Sport Chek) are recommended. See our Fall Hiking Gear Guide for recommended clothing and gear.
For snowshoeing, see our Snowshoeing Pack List.