By Robert Lucke
The Cypress Hills are a low-forested ridge that runs close to a hundred miles long just north of Havre in Saskatchewan and Alberta, Canada. Many Hi-Line folks know about the western park in the hills - Elkwater and the Hidden Valley ski area. Fewer know about the eastern park and its centerpiece, Lock Leven.
First, there are no cypress trees in the Cypress Hills. The eastern park is thick lodgepole pine, due to a bad fire in 1885. At Elkwater, the fire must have missed the trees there as there are very mature Douglas fir.
Folks at the East Provincial Park tell of ice ages completely missing the Cypress Hills, and because of that, things grow there that have been growing since before Christ walked the earth.
Shirley Helmerson is the public relations and marketing director of the 165-bed Cypress Hills Lodge, located in a thick forest just above a finger of Loch Leven.
"There is lots of wildlife and it is a bird watchers paradise around here," related Helmerson. "There are moose, deer, elk, coyotes and a large number of birds all year long.
The spring and summer season is just beginning in the Cypress Hills.
"There is some good hiking, lots of trails, rare flowers, mountain biking, a golf course that now has grass greens, and just plenty to do around here for a weekend," said Helmerson. "Right here Lock Leven is good for fishing or just paddling around and close by is Cypress Lake which has water-skiing and things like that."
That part of the Cypress Hills hosts plenty of retreats of one sort or another all year long and is popular for weddings and conventions. The Cypress Hills Lodge has convention facilities for 250 itself and there are plenty of other places in the area that function in some convention capacity.
In the immediate area of Loch Leven are a couple of restaurants, a lounge, general store, many campgrounds, fast food outlets, a nature center, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and amphitheater.
Fishing is good, particularly in Cypress Hills' streams. Out of country licenses are easy to obtain.
"There are all sorts of trout here," explained Helmerson. "There are cutthroat, rainbows and browns."
With an elevation of 4,500 feet, the Cypress Hills are one of the highest points in all of North America, east of the Rocky Mountains.
"We have many astronomy groups who come here just to study the stars, they are so clear," said Helmerson.
"Really," continued Helmerson. "There is something for everyone here. Peace and quiet along with lots to do winter or summer."
There is every sort of accommodation known, from primitive camping to luxury condos complete with fireplaces in the park.
Located around 80 miles from Havre and 80 miles from Medicine Hat, the East Block of Cypress Hills Provincial Park is close to historic Fort Walsh and around an hour away from a dinosaur museum and the Wallace Stegner home at Eastend.
But mostly, this mysterious low mountain range, sulking amidst huge Canadian prairies, is a special place, unlike any Montana mountains. Not all questions about the Cypress Hills will probably ever be answered, but it is a great place to rest and be inspired at such beauty so close to the Montana border.
For further information, contact Shirley Helmerson at (306) 662-3238.