Cypress Hills – West Block
A goal of mine, like many others is to spend more time exploring our home province of Saskatchewan. Growing up in Saskatoon, many of our summers were spent travelling north to explore the lakes past Prince Albert and it seemed once I had my driver’s license summer trips were spent out west. So when the time came to get away for the weekend in June, I excitedly flipped through the Saskatchewan Bucket list book and landed on some sites around Cypress Hills.
I have never been to Cypress Hills region before so was excited at the opportunity to explore a diverse landscape. I had only heard good things about this place so was excited to go check it out. I always seem to forget that it takes time to get places within Saskatchewan. The Drive from Saskatoon to the West Block of Cypress Hills is roughly 464km and should take just over 5 hours to get there. We did a slight detour and stopped at The Great Sand Hills just outside of Leader on the way down which added about 1.5-2 hours to our day. You are driving on secondary highway for majority of the trek so the highways are not the best but were also not that bad.
All the campsites in the West Block are first come, first serve and were operating at 50% capacity, definitely double check as this may have changed. Sites are taped with blue ribbon that are closed for use. Each campground has a self registration box and is cash or cheque only. The one we stayed at was $18.00 a night (cash or cheque only). The campgrounds are all basic with a single outhouse and some available firewood. There is no running water or powered sites. The one campground is fully set up for horses if you decide to bring a horse with you to explore the trails. I’m not sure the price of that campground or if there is rules pertaining to bringing a horse. We got there just after supper time, and got the last site available in all of the West Block. So be aware this summer may present challenges in finding a spot. They have a few RV sites then a few walk-in tent sites back in the bush slightly.
Saturday our plan was to hike some of The Great Trail (previously the Trans Canada Trail) that runs through the West Block. We started on the westerly trail head which starts at an old homestead, as you are driving there is a marker on the right hand side of the road directly across from the home which is on the left side of the road. The first portion of the trail is all up hill. It takes roughly 35-50 minutes to get up the this portion. The trail is easily defined here and you twist and turn through some Aspen and Lodge pole Pine forest. As you reach the top of the Valley’s rim you enter onto a wide prairie landscape. We were here in June and there was tons of brightly coloured wild flowers. The trail here is slightly less defined but there is regular markers which lead the way. You remain on the rim for awhile before the trail takes you back into the forest. Some of the markers have fallen down so be aware of this as you continue on. Once we entered back in to the forest, we did get slightly lost. We thought the pointer was directing us to stay along the creek bed and there was a very obvious trail fork which we could have gone either way, Turns out we picked the wrong way. We bushwhacked a little, and continue to follow what we thought was the correct path, but it seemed to twist and turn and we kept loosing the path. So we would look around and pick up another path and venture on that for awhile. We were confused as we had been walking for awhile without a sight of a trail marker which we thought was kinda strange for such a popular trail.
Once we had spent some time, going up and down along the creek bed, we had decided it was best for us to turn back and retrace our steps. We were able to find the last marker again and opted to take the other path, this path seemed to go back up towards the valley’s rim and did not follow the creek bed. Once we were on this new path markers started appearing again and a more defined path was visible. We have decided that more than likely we were following trails left from the grazing cattle in the park. Once we were back on the rim over looking the valley there was regular markers and we knew we were on the right path. The reason we chose this hike was to view the hidden cologmate cliffs. Cliffs in Saskatchewan? Those two words never seem to go together. But here they do. These cliffs are only accessible by completing this hike as there are no roads leading up to them. Cologmate cliffs look like looks of smaller rocks are cemented together, creating a unique texture. The cliffs overlook the valley in front of them and provide nice views of the surrounding forest. There is a nice bench where you can sit and enjoy a snack if you wish.
We decided that it was time for a quick break before carrying on. You walk along the rim for awhile longer, getting more views of the valley and the cliffs before starting to descend through the forest. The rim was very windy but provided a nice escape from the bugs, as you enter the forest again the wind calms but the bugs come out in full force. I was soo happy to have remembered bug spray. We saw one family on our way down who were doing the trail from the opposite direction, and they had forgotten bug spray and were about to call it quits until I offered some of our bug spray. Honestly if you do this hike during the summer you will not want to forget the bug spray. The Hike down was relatively short and takes you to a section where The Great Trail intersects the road. We decided this is where we would turn back to our truck. We opted to follow the road back instead of retracing out steps. The road is a hilly gravel road with very little traffic so we just hiked along it back.
In total we hiked just shy of 18km and it took us roughly 4 hour. I thoroughly enjoy stopping to take lots of photos while I’m out in nature, and we stopped for a decent lunch break and managed to get lost for a little while. So I would say we walk an average pace and not overly quick but not overly slow, if you are trying to figure out a time line.
The views this hike provides are well worth the effort and it was a nice way to fill our day. So if we if you find yourself in need of an adventure this summer I would highly recommend crossing The Great Trail in Cypress Hills West Block off of your bucket list.