Sunday, February 28, 2016

Winter Fun in Cypress Hills Provincial Park, Alberta

Cypress Hills Provincial Park is located 3.5 hours south east of Calgary near the City of Medicine Hat. From my house it's closer to a 4 hour drive as I circle the city first, but we are quickly discovering that some places are worth the effort to reach. Very worth the effort.

Cypress Hills forms an inter-provincial park sharing a border with both Alberta and Saskatchewan but our recent trip took us to the Alberta side of the park centered around the Town of Elkwater. We've camped here a couple of times in summer, always loving it and wishing it were just an hour or two closer, but this was our first winter visit to discover what's so special about the park in the off-season.

Winter in Cypress Hills Provincial Park along the Horseshoe Canyon Trail,

We visited Cypress Hills Provincial Park over the February long weekend so that we'd have lots of time to explore. What we discovered is perhaps the BEST provincial park that Alberta has in its collection for year-round family fun. Following are some of the many things you can do in Elkwater during the winter:

  • Cross country skiing with 30km of groomed trails (rentals available at the Visitor Centre)
  • Snowshoeing on all of the park's 4-season hiking trails
  • Luge Track for the kids in front of the Learning Centre (sleds and helmets available to borrow)
  • Skating on the Old Baldy Campground Loop (cleared with a 1.5 km long loop around the campground)
  • Downhill Skiing at the Hidden Valley Ski Resort
  • Ice Fishing on Elkwater Lake, Reesor Lake, and on the Spruce Coulee Reservoir
  • Kick Sledding (sleds available for rent at the Visitor Centre)
  • Fat Biking permitted on most trails (other than the groomed cross country trails at Spring Creek)
  • Camping at the Elkwater Campground (open year round)

I challenge you to find me another Alberta Park that has this many activities available to families in the winter. If there is, I want to go there next winter.

Skating on the Loop in the Old Baldy Campground, Cypress Hills Provincial Park

Backcountry Cabins in Cypress Hills Provincial Park 

Cypress Hills is the only provincial park in Alberta with a collection of backcountry cabins (three in fact!) We hiked into the Tom Trott Hut, located a short 5km from the Spring Creek Trailhead. In theory, we were supposed to be skiing into the hut on the park's groomed trails and we were excited to have found a hut that was accessible for families on cross country skis. This year however, there wasn't enough snow in the park and so we had to hike in on foot pulling our sleds on whatever snow we could find. We did manage to hike out on a lovely hiking trail though and followed the Beaver Creek Trail down to the Visitor Centre to reach our car, driven down by our friends.

The Tom Trott Backcountry Cabin in Cypress Hills Provincial Park

The Tom Trott Hut sleeps 8 people in two bedrooms. The one bedroom has bunks for 4 people, and the second bedroom has bunks for 2 people. There is also a double futon in front of the fireplace where I chose to sleep. The hut did not have a stove (so we had to bring our own with us) and had no water source (meaning again that we had to bring in our own water in big camping jugs pulled in on sleds.) The hut did however have all of the dishes we needed along with pots and cooking supplies.

Backcountry Camping in Comfort!

For more information on the Tom Trott Hut and its neighboring hut, the Medicine Lodge (which sleeps 10 people,) visit this link to Backcountry Huts in Cypress Hills Provincial Park.

Hiking into the Tom Trott Cabin in Cypress Hills Provincial Park

The third hut in the park is the Spruce Coulee Hut, which sleeps 6 people. It is located 4.5km from the Reesor Viewpoint or 9km from town. This hut has more of a backcountry feel as it's a bit more remote and is not accessible by road in summer. It's next on my list to stay at.

Hiking along the summer road to reach the Tom Trott Cabin and Medicine Lodge

These three huts are open year round but when the summer roads are open, you can drive right up to the Tom Trott Hut and the Medicine Lodge Hut. They would be great places to stay in shoulder season for bike-packing (even when the road is closed.) You would just have to pull water in with a Chariot or wagon of some sort. When the road is open, these huts would serve as a pleasant alternative to camping and would make things very comfortable if visiting the park in spring/fall when tenting is often chilly and damp.

Snuggling beside the fire in the Tom Trott Hot
The Simple Kitchen in the Tom Trott Hut

We had a fabulous weekend hiking around the hut, exploring the Horseshoe Canyon Trail (500 metres away from our cabin,) and then hiking back down into town. It was a surreal experience to hike out of the backcountry and into an actual town where coffee and chili cheese fries awaited us at the Cookhouse Restaurant beside the Visitor Centre.

Horseshoe Canyon viewpoint
Looking down from the Horseshoe Canyon Viewpoint
Great hiking trail 500 metres from our hut at Horseshoe Canyon
We loved the frosty trees in Cypress Hills
The kids thought the frosty trees were pretty awesome too!
Hiking down the Beaver Creek Trail to Town
Out of the Backcountry and Heading to Town

Weekend Highlights

Other highlights of the weekend were the skating in the Old Baldy Campground (half of the loop was downhill and you just had to stand and glide down the trail - so much fun!) My son also loved the luge track. And I would go back to Elkwater just to have lunch at the Cookhouse (did I mention the chili cheese fries??)

Elkwater Luge Track
Fun for adults too!
Skating in Elkwater
This was seriously a lot of fun skating around a campground!
A very good reason to return to Cypress Hills next winter!!!


Final Frost Photos of Cypress Hills Provincial Park


Horseshoe Canyon, Cypress Hills Provincial Park
LOVED the Frosty Trees
A little bit of snow and kids are entertained for hours

My new Role as an Alberta Parks Ambassador

I have been chosen to be an Alberta Parks Ambassador for the 2016 season and I'm thrilled with the opportunities that await me. Follow my journey on social media with the hashtag - #ABparksAmbassador

Discovering new places to explore as an Alberta Parks Ambassador

I look forward to exploring new parks, introducing a younger generation to our beautiful parks, and promoting the hidden gems of our province with my readers.

I can't wait to explore new parks this year as an Alberta Parks Ambassador


Luge Track Video 1 in Cypress Hills Provincial Park


Luge Track Video 2 


  1. we hit the sask side of cypress every Aug for the star party!! such a great place to go to. It certainly looks like you guys had fun

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience. Tom Trott is my father and he passed away 20 years ago last week. I grew up in that park and I'm happy to see people using the hut at the museum site. Thank you for sharing photos too!

    1. Wow, Karrie, thanks for connecting. So glad we got to stay overnight at a great place and legacy to your father.