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Hidden Canadian treasure worth Rockies detour

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Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park on the border of Saskatchewan and Alberta really takes you by surprise writes Shropshire expat Becky Lawrence.

Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park on the border of Saskatchewan and Alberta really takes you by surprise writes Shropshire expat Becky Lawrence.

As you drive west along the Trans-Canada Highway from Moose Jaw, where we live, the flat prairie landscape stretches out as far as the eye can see.

But just half an hour south of the highway, near Medicine Hat in Alberta, there is a high plateau about 600 metres above the Great Plains with not only hills but also forests and wetlands.

We made the four hour drive to Canada's first interprovincial park at the beginning of April, just out of season.

Obviously proving we are not yet truly Canadian, we forgot to check the weather forecast. Moose Jaw has had a surprisingly warm winter and we've barely worn gloves and hats so didn't think to pack them for our trip.

But the weather was quite different and it in fact snowed during our stay. The frosty sprinkling turned the park into a beautiful snow scene, although made it very cold for walks. There are more than 50 km of trails for hiking and mountain biking to explore but we stayed close to the Elkwater Lake Lodge and Resort area, due to the weather and having a seven-week-old baby in tow. There was a paved trail along the lakeshore, which was great to use with the pram.

We also drove up to the Horseshoe Canyon Viewpoint, which had a spectacular view of the rolling hills.

Cypress Hills includes a national historic site; the Cypress Hills Massacre and Fort Walsh. We weren't able to visit as it is closed until the May long weekend but for people visiting the park in season, it should definitely be on your to-do list.

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The Cypress Hills Massacre occurred in 1873 when a group of American wolf hunters lost some horses and attacked a nearby camp of Assiniboine. The event was the catalyst that brought the North West Mounted Police to the west. Established in 1875, Fort Walsh became the largest and most heavily armed fort for the North West Mounted Police during their early years in the west.

The park is also a haven for wildlife. In the summer months, it is great for bird watching. At Ressor Lake, white pelicans can often be spotted.

During our stay, we were lucky enough to see a moose – and we didn't even have to go far. My mother-in-law just happened to look out of the window of our condo while we were warming ourselves by the fire and the moose was right outside. We all clambered onto the balcony, including the baby, and watched the moose make its way across the picnic area and back into the forest. It was incredible to see such a large animal in such close proximity.

We also saw many deer both near the resort and while we were driving around the park.

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Our time living in Canada is coming to an end and I'm sad we didn't visit Cypress Hills sooner as I'm sure it is a great place to go camping in the summer months. There is plenty to do from swimming in the lake and taking part in water sports to hiking, biking and golfing.

Cypress Hills is also a dark-sky preserve, meaning it is a sanctuary from artificial light so it is a great environment for nocturnal wildlife as well as stargazers. The dark-sky preserve has been in effect since September 28, 2004, when a declaration was signed between the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta and the Government of Canada, in partnership with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

Cypress Hills is another one of Canada's hidden treasures. Many people are tempted to drive straight past the park on their way to or from the Rocky Mountains without so much as a glance to the south but they are definitely missing out. Even a short visit is well worth your time.

For more information, see http://www.elkwaterlakelodge.com/ or http://www.cypresshills.com/

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