Elkwater is a small town in Alberta about 40 miles southeast of Medicine Hat with a population of just under 100 people. It sits at about 4,000 ft elevation and is located along Elkwater Lake and in the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. The area provides a cool respite from the hot summer days experienced in the prairies. Elkwater is the hub of activity for the Alberta side of the park and provides accommodations, restaurants, and stores along with a full array of summer and winter activities including boating, fishing, biking, golf, skiing, etc.
Elkwater has a marina with slips for rent for short or long term along with a boat rental facility and 2 boat launches.
Shoreline Trail runs for just over 2 miles and has both paved trails and boardwalk areas over the lake. The trail runs along the lake on the south side and is perfect for an afternoon stroll or bike ride.
Horseshoe Canyon Viewpoint is along the way to Head of the Mountain Viewpoint and provides not only a good viewing area but also sits at the trail head for the Horseshoe Canyon Trail.
Head of the Mountain, at 1,466 m (4,810 feet), is the highest point in Canada between Labrador and the Rocky Mountains. You can drive the road to the top where there is an excellent viewing area along with picnic tables and benches.
Cypress Hills Elkwater has over 40 miles of trails, at all levels, for hiking and biking. There is always a trail to hike.
Firerock Trail starts up on the hill by Loop C at the Firerock Campground and heads down the hill to the Old Baldy Trail where you can hike up and have terrific views of the lake. You can either return the same way you came down the hill or return one any of the various other trails available in the park. There is a nice network of trails to allow exploring all the different areas.
We headed on to the lake and walked along Shoreline Trail before taking another trail back up the hill.
Another nice hike is Plateau Hike which meanders along the plateau by Horseshoe Canyon Viewpoint and on to Mystery Trail. The trail is in the woods therefore shaded most of the way. It is very pleasant on those hot days.
Tom Trott Backcountry Hut and Tom Trott Memorial Forestry Museum are along the way after you start out on Plateau Trail. The Hut can be rented for overnights and the museum is outdoors and can be toured anytime. You can see it through the trees along the trail and is a easy side trip while hiking.
East Loop Drive
East Loop Drive is a recommended auto route tour from Elkwater which takes you east to Reesor Lake and on to the West Block of Cypress Hills in Saskatchewan and back again. One of the side tours to take is Fort Walsh which will add a few hours on to the drive. There is also a stop for a 150 year old Lodgepole Pine which has survived even being cut down!
Reesor Lake is a small trout fishing lake at Cypress Hills Alberta and is about 15 miles from Elkwater via a beautiful scenic drive with a viewpoint to stop and soak in the surrounding vistas. There are 2 campgrounds on the lake, one on the north side and is basically a parking lot for fishermen, and one on the south side called Reesor Lake Campground which was lovely but full and crowded.
Fort Walsh was the home of the North West Mounted Police from 1878 to 1882 and was built to aid in protecting the area from the whisky trade, the US border, and and to aid native policy. It was also used for the breeding and training of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride horses in the 1940’s. It is now a national historic site which can be toured where you can see the old fort buildings, the townsite, cemeteries, and the whiskey trading post. There is a Visitor’s Center with cafe and daily activities including rifle demonstrations.
West Loop Drive
The West Loop Drive is a recommended auto route and it goes from Ferguson Hill Rd (south), to Willow Creek Rd (south), to Thelma Rd (west), and on to Eagle Butte Rd (north) and back to Highway 41 to Elkwater. A beautiful drive with a few stops including a church.