Exploring Alberta’s Provincial Parks: Cypress Hills

Table of Contents

About Cypress Hills

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is the only Alberta park administered by two provinces. It is located southeast of Medicine Hat, Alberta in the Cypress Hills. The park is very large. It is broken into two pieces: the West Block which is the Alberta part that extends a bit into Saskatchewan – and about an hour east of that – the Central Block which holds the bulk of the Saskatchewan portion of the park’s camping. The West Block is about 345 square kilometers and the Central Block ads another 58 square kilometers to the park’s size.

In 1931, Cypress Hills Provincial Park was created in Saskatchewan and 20 years later – In 1951, Alberta followed with their own version of the park. In 1989, the two parks started cooperating on ecosystem management. Fort Walsh National Historic Side would join this partnership in 2000 and the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan would sign the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park agreement officially establishing Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park as Canada’s first interprovincial park.

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Cattle Ranching in the Alberta Cypress Hills.

History of Cypress Hills

The Cypress Hills have been used by humans for more than 8500 years. Before Europeans, the indigenous tribes used the hills to supply wood, water, horse pasture, shelter, and game to survive the cold Alberta/Saskatchewan winters. The tribes known to use the area are the Cree, Assiniboine, Gros Venture, Blood, and Peigan tribes.

The Palliser Expedition made its way through the area in 1859 and Captain Palliser himself described the area as “a perfect oasis in the desert.” By the 1870s, there were a number of trading posts built along Battle Creek that traded liquor for fur and pelts (similar to Fort Whoop-Up in Lethbridge). The best known trading posts were Abe Farwell & Moses Solomon.

The Cypress Hills Massacre (1873)

The Cypress Hills Massacre was a tragic interaction that took place at Fort Walsh on June 1, 1873. The incident happened after a small group of Red River Metis and American wolf hunters were returning from a winter hunt and set up camp on the Teton River in Montana. Overnight, their horses were stolen and they decided that it had to be the ‘Indians’ that committed such a crime. They walked to Fort Benton, Montana and asked for help from the local police. They were refused help so they took matters into their own hands and they set off on an expedition to retrieve their stolen horses. They ended up Abe Farwell’s Trading Post in the Cypress Hills region[1].

There was a small band of Assiniboine camped near the trading post but the wolf hunters determined that it was unlikely that they stole the horses since they didn’t have any horses. George Hammond – a friend of the wolf hunters who had been selling whiskey in the Cypress Hills area joined the party. He complained again that the Assiniboine tribe had stolen his horse overnight and convinced the rest of the wolf hunters to head over to the camp – intoxicated. When they arrived they found the Assiniboine chief also intoxicated[1].

At first things went smoothly, but as things often do when people are intoxicated; they quickly escalated. Based on witness accounts of the events, the chief offered two of his horses until the hunters could find theirs. This wasn’t received well by the hunters and they began getting belligerent. Women and children fled camp as the tribe began taking off their clothes for battle. The wolfers took this as the signal that a fight was about to occur. Abe Farwell himself pleaded with the wolfers to not shoot and start a fight. Hammond was the first to fire his rifle and the rest of the wolfers would follow[1].

The Assiniboine – fighting rifles with primitive weaponry – saw massive amounts of casualties in this scuffle. After the dust settled, the Assiniboine tribe lost 13 men while the wolfers lost one of their own[1].

News of the Cypress Hills Massacre would not reach Ottawa for nearly 3 months. In late August, the massacre would find its way into Parliament. The Canadian government very quickly decided that the wolfers were no longer welcome in Canada and took steps to extradite them to the United States and charge them for murder. The government only had one issue: there was no wide scale police force in Western Canada. Funding for the North-West Mounted Police increased massively as a result of the Cypress Hills Massacre[1].

In 1874, the North-West Mounted Police arrested 7 wolfers involved in the massacre but the rest were let go due to lack of evidence. In June 1876, three members of the party entered Canada and were arrested and sent to Winnipeg to be put on trial. All three were once again acquitted and let go due to lack of evidence[1].

To this day, nobody has been convicted for the Cypress Hills Massacre (and all involved are long dead by now).

Fort Walsh Today (Image:Vonsulnasaga, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Fort Walsh

Fort Walsh was constructed in 1875 as part of the federal response to the Cypress Hills Massacre. The fort was constructed to fight the illegal whiskey trade and protect Canada’s border with the United States (Police Outpost Provincial Park is a similar fort in western Alberta). The fort would serve as the NWMP headquarters between 1878 and 1882 before being closed and dismantled[2]. The NWMP detachment was moved to Maple Creek instead which had just received a Canadian Pacific Railway connection and was growing.

Modern Cypress Hills

In 1906, the newly formed Alberta government created the Cypress Hills Forest Reserve which was 18 square miles (kilometers would not be adopted until the later part of the century). In 1911, the Forest Reserves & Parks Act was passed and expanded Cypress Hills Forest Reserve to 190 square miles. In 1951, the park’s land status changed again and it officially became a provincial park[1].

Ckearns673, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Activities at Cypress Hills

Summer at Cypress Hills

Summers at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park are amazing! The weather is warm and sunny, with cool breezes blowing in from the hills and valleys. The park is known for its picturesque scenery, diverse flora and fauna, and numerous outdoor recreational activities.

One of the most popular activities in the park during the summer months is camping. Cypress Hills has several campgrounds, ranging from basic tent sites to fully serviced RV sites. Whether you’re a seasoned camper or a first-timer, there’s a site that will meet your needs. You can spend your days exploring the park’s trails and lakes, then retire to your campsite at night to relax around the campfire and gaze up at the stars.

For those who prefer more comfortable accommodations, there are also several lodges and cabins available for rent. These cozy and comfortable cabins provide a great home base for exploring the park, with all the amenities you need to enjoy your stay.

Another popular activity at Cypress Hills during the summer months is hiking. The park has over 50 kilometers of trails that wind through the hills and valleys, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. From easy walks to more challenging hikes, there’s a trail for everyone. Mountain biking is also popular on these trails. Whether you’re looking for a short stroll or a full day of adventure, you’re sure to find it here.

If water sports are more your thing, Cypress Hills has plenty to offer. The park has several lakes and reservoirs, including Reesor Lake and Elkwater Lake, where you can swim, boat, fish, paddle, and water ski to your heart’s content. You can rent canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards from the park’s rental shop or bring your own equipment.

For a more relaxed day, you can also visit the park’s beach areas, where you can soak up the sun and enjoy the refreshing waters of the lake.

Lastly, Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is a great place to take in some culture and history. The park is home to a number of historic sites and museums, including the Fort Walsh National Historic Site and the Cypress Hills Massacre Site. These sites offer a glimpse into the history of the area and provide an opportunity to learn about the people who have lived and worked here for centuries.

In conclusion, summers at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park are an incredible experience. With its stunning natural beauty, endless recreational opportunities, and rich history and culture, this park has something for everyone. So pack your bags, grab your family and friends, and head out to Cypress Hills for a summer vacation you’ll never forget.

Ckearns673, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Winter at Cypress Hills

The park offers a variety of winter sports, including skiing, snowshoeing, and ice fishing. With its stunning scenery, cozy lodges, and endless outdoor activities, Cypress Hills is the perfect place to embrace the winter season.

Camping at Cypress Hills

Camping in Alberta

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park has tons of available camping opportunities throughout the park.

CampgroundAmenitiesType of SiteAmount AvailableCost/Night
Battle Creek Campground
(May 31 – September 4)
Firepits, picnic shelter, outhouses, water pumpsUnserviced9$26.00
Walk In Tenting4$26.00
Beaver Creek Campground
(May 15 – October 9)
Flush toilets, horseshoes, playground, power hookups, sewage disposal, showers, water hookups, water taps, firepitsPower/Water/Sewer (30 amp)20$55.00
Elkwater Campground
Cook shelter, firepits, flush toilets, horseshoes, picnic shelter, playground, power hookups, showers, water hookups, water taps, outhousesPower/Water (15/30 amp)80$47.00
Winter Camping36$31.00 – $39.00
Ferguson Hill Campground
(May 15 – September 4)
Firepits, horseshoes, outhouses, playground, water pumpsUnserviced50$28.00
Firerock Campground
(May 15 – October 9)
Boat launch, firepits, outhouses, playgrounds, power hookups, showers, water taps, flush toiletsPower (15/30 amp)71$39.00
Lakeview Campground
(May 15 – November 30)
Firepits, power hookups, showers, water hookups, wheelchair accessiblePower/Water (30 amp)13$47.00
Lodgepole Campground
(May 15 – September 4)
Firepits, horseshoes, outhouses, playground, water pumpsUnserviced49$28.00
Old Baldy Campground
(May 15 – October 9)
Firepits, outhouses, water hookups, water taps, power hookupsPower/Water (30 amp)19$47.00
Reesor Dock Campground
(May 17 – October 11)
Boat launch, pier, outhouses, water pumps, hand launchUnserviced10$26.00
Reesor Lake Campground
(May 11 – October 9)
Cook shelter, firepits, pay phone, outhouses, playground, water tapsUnserviced38$26.00
Walk In Tenting7$26.00
Spring Creek Equestrian Campground
(May 15 – September 30)
Firepits, horse corrals, outhouses, hitching railsUnserviced9$27.00
Spruce Coulee Campground
Cook shelter, firepits, hand launch, picnic shelter, outhouses, water pumpsWalk In Tenting & Winter Camping9$26.00
Group Camping
Aspen Ridge Group Use
(May 15 – June 28)
Firepits, firewood (sold), water hookups, showers, flush toiletsWater6 units$600/6 units
Highway 41 Group Use
(May 15 – September 24)
Firepits, firewood (sold), showers, flush toiletsUnserviced10 units$210/5 units + $30/extra unit
Main Group Use
(May 15 – September 24)
Firepits, horseshoes, cook shelter, outhouses, water taps, power hookupsPower6 units$210/5 units + $30/extra unit
Nichol Springs Group Use
(May 15 – September 24)
Firepits, firewood (sold), cook shelter, outhouses, water pumpsUnserviced10 units$210/5 units + $30/extra unit
Willow Creek Group Use
(May 15 – September 24)
Cook shelter, firepits, firewood (sold), outhouses, warmup shelter, water pumpsUnserviced20 units$210/5 units + $30/extra unit
Comfort Camping
Elkwater Cabins
Single over double bunk bed, mini fridge, table and chairs, power and lighting, electric heater, picnic table and fire pit outside3 Person2 cabins$100.00
Firerock Cabins
(May 15 – September 4)
Single over single bunk bed, queen bed, table and chairs, power and lighting, electric fireplace, firepit and picnic tables.4 Person5 cabins$100.00
Graburn Hut
(November 1 – September 30)
Single over single bunk bed, queen bed, wood stove4 Person1 hut$100.00
Medicine Lodge
(November 1 – September 30)
3 single over single bunk beds6 Person1 cabin$100.00
Reesor Lake Hut
(November 1 – September 30)
Single over single bunk bed, queen bed, wood stove4 Person1 hut$100.00
Spruce Coulee Hut
(November 1 – September 30)
2 single over double bunk beds, wood stove6 Person1 hut$100.00
Tom Trott Hut
(November 1 – September 30)
3 single over single bunk beds, wood stove6 Person1 hut$100.00
Aspen Ridge Cabins
(June 29 – September 24)
3 single over single bunk beds, queen bed, table and chairs, power and lighting, mini fridge, electric heater, fire pit and picnic table8 Person6 cabins$100.00
This data is accurate as of 2023

Camping in Saskatchewan

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park in Saskatchewan consists of 2 pieces that are about an hour drive apart. The West Block is the portion connected to Alberta and the Central Block is located an hour east of the West Block. We tried to get as much information on the Saskatchewan campgrounds as possible, however their parks website isn’t nearly as useful as Alberta’s. There is some information we couldn’t find (sorry… we tried!). Hopefully they improve their system but here’s the link to Saskatchewan Parks if you want to look for yourself.

CampgroundAmenitiesType of SiteAmount AvailableCost/Night
Cypress Hills Equestrian Campground
(May 1 – September 30)
Firepits, waterUnserviced24$20.00
Cypress Hills West Block Campground
Pine Hill Campground (Center Block)Showers, flush toilets, FirewoodUnserviced89$20.00
Lodgepole Campground
(Center Block)
Power (15/30)25
Deer Hollow Campground
(Center Block)
Aspen Grove Campground
(Center Block)
Outhouses, water tapsUnserviced28
Meadows Campground
(Center Block)
Service center, water taps, outhouses, sewage dump, firewoodPower (15/30)117
Dark Sky Campground
(Center Block)
Warlodge Campground
(Center Block)
Outhouses, water tapsPower (15/30)79
Rainbow Campground
(Center Block)
Outhouses, water taps, showersPower (15/30)63
Terrace Campground
(Center Block)
Outhouses, water taps, showers, playgroundPower (15/30)90
This data is accurate as of 2023. Saskatchewan Parks’ website is much less useful than Alberta Parks website so some information cannot be found during research.

Day Use at Cypress Hills

There is 9 day use areas at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park (in Alberta). Saskatchewan has a bunch of day use areas as well that are not abundantly clear in their parks system. The Conglomerate Cliffs, Bald Butte, and Fort Walsh are destinations on the Saskatchewan side. Fort Walsh is a National Historic Site connected to Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park (In Saskatchewan) and was the site of the Cypress Hills Massacre. Also note that Saskatchewan charges an entry fee to their parks visitors.

  1. East End is located along Elkwater Lake at the east end of the Elkwater townsite. Liquor is permitted here between 11am and 9pm.
    • Open: April 29 – October 31
    • Amenities: Hand launch, pier, outhouses, water pumps
    • Activities: Canoeing, Kayaking, Picnics
  2. West End day use is also located along Elkwater Lake at the Firerock Campground.
    • Open: Year-round
    • Amenities: Boat launch, pay phone, outhouses, water pumps
    • Activities: Boating, Fishing
  3. West-Central day use area is also found along Elkwater Lake between the visitor center and Firerock Campground. This day use area has a small beach area.
    • Open: Year-round
    • Amenities: Boat launch, pay phone, outhouses, water pumps
    • Activities: Swimming, picnics, boating
  4. Spring Creek Trailhead and Shelter day use is the access point for the Spring Creek trail. It is also a good picnic spot.
    • Open: Year-round
    • Amenities: Picnic shelter, cook shelter, outhouses
    • Activities: Hiking (front country), picnics, cross country skiing
  5. Spruce Coulee Trailhead / Rodeo Grounds
    • Open: Year-round
    • Amenities: Outhouses
    • Activities: Front country hiking, Cross country skiing
  6. Bull Trail Pullout
    • Open: Year-round
    • Amenities: None
    • Activities: Front country hiking, Cross country skiing
  7. Head of the Mountain day use is a viewpoint and picnic focused day use area. Liquor is permitted here between 11am and 9pm.
    • Open: Year-round
    • Amenities: Outhouses
    • Activities: Picnics

Distances to Alberta Cities

Distance to Calgary: 405km

Distance to Edmonton: 613km

Distance to Red Deer: 493km

Distance to Lethbridge: 245km

Distance to Grande Prairie: 1067km

Coordinates: 49°41’03.5″N 110°01’20.9″W

Alberta Parks Website



[1] Dempsey, Hugh A. (1953). “Cypress Hills Massacre”. The Montana Magazine of History3 (4): 1–9. JSTOR 4515883.

 [2] “Fort Walsh National Historic Site”Parks Canada. 2009-06-22. Retrieved 2009-10-18. ^