THE AUDIBLE: BIKEPACKING CYPRESS HILLS

THE AUDIBLE: BIKEPACKING CYPRESS HILLS

January 12, 2018 / No Comments
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Although not as dramatic as the Canadian Rockies to the west, this 3-4 day bikepacking route in the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park is a unique destination for anyone interested in deep rooted history, geological phenomena, diverse landscapes, challenging hills, quiet fishing streams, “tame” and wild animals, few people, fewer cars, and a dark sky preserve.
The Cypress Hills are an oasis in the middle of the huge, dry prairie. Often forgotten for the splendour of the mountainous National Parks to the west, Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park offers a bit of everything. Rising 600 meters above the surrounding flatlands, this “Island in the sky” escaped glaciation in the last ice age, and is the highest point in Canada between the Rocky Mountains and Labrador.

As far as the riding goes, this route utilizes an excellent section of Trans Canada Trail, (Now called “The Great Trail”). There’s also some fun singletrack and enough gravel to rack up some serious mileage. The local mountain bike club (670 collective) is doing lots of work to increase the quality of trails in the area. The rolling hills go on and on, with twisting roads and long, steep climbs and descents, matched with seemingly endless flat sections up on the plateaus.

The route is peppered with amazing lakes for fishing, swimming and boating, while small creeks jammed full of beautiful Brook and Rainbow trout criss-cross the area. The camping is quiet and plentiful, and, being a dark sky preserve, the stars are absolutely silencing on a clear night. Everywhere you go, the views are incredible, with the terrain falling down around you, allowing you to see for up to one hundred kilometres on a clear day. Wildflower meadows are everywhere, full of orchids, dragonflies, caterpillars and more butterflies than you can imagine.

  • bikepacking Cypress Hills, Canada
  • Bikepacking Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park

The forests are Lodgepole Pine and Spruce, with lots of Hawthorn trees waiting to tear into unsuspecting passers-by. Whitetail deer, redwing blackbirds, beavers, muskrats, Pronghorn Antelope, squirrels and cougars are some of the beasts that you may run into along the way.

The history of the area is rich with the stories of the First Nations, the original stewards of the land, the beginnings of Royal Canadian Mounted Police, bootlegging, and massacre. Farming and ranching now play a large role in the area, with friendly herds of cattle taking advantage of the rich grasslands. Fort Walsh National Historic Site is worth checking out as well.

Difficulty: This route is assigned a 4 out of 10 as completed. It can certainly vary, but with it being mostly gravel, reasonable daily mileages, easy resupply at either end, with some resupply possibilities in the middle, it’s easily attainable by most people. However, the hills are long and often steep, and the singletrack can be a bit overgrown on some of the further out sections of trans Canada trail, so it’s not a cakewalk either. Try to do in in 2 days, it’s probably a 6. Done in wet weather, this could easily push up to an 8 or 10 because of the clay roads on some of the longer sections. Navigation isn’t too tough, but we didn’t find a single map that could be relied upon for everything you need. We found having a couple of maps on the go at all times was helpful.

Route Development: Aligning the schedules of a paramedic, a firefighter and an office worker was almost as difficult as the aggressive bikepacking route we had planned in the Canadian Rockies. Despite the forecast of constant rain and possible snow in the mountains, we knew we had to make a trip happen this four-day weekend or it might be another year before our calendars were in sync again. Guided by the Environment Canada forecast we looked east, away from the mountains and National Parks, to Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, an area that straddles the borders of Alberta and Saskatchewan. It looked dry, so we threw together a rough plan, with lots of flexibility due to the unknowns, and headed out. It took a few different maps, a bit of exploration in Google Earth, and the kind folks at the visitors info center in Elkwater for advice, but we cobbled together a route. Two hours into the ride we knew we made the right decision. This route was designed and ridden by Ian Dingle (headwind neutralizer), Patrick McCabe (bit of a delicate flower) and Lyndon Cousins (could really use a sandwich). The Audible was selected as a runner up winner in theROUT3 Contest.

To see more photos in their photo gallery – visit http://www.bikepacking.com/routes/bikepacking-cypress-hills/

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Bike Route between the Alberta and Saskatchewan sides of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park
  • HIGHLIGHTS

  • Reesor Overlook for views of the surrounding prairie
  • The “No pedal challenge” on Gap Road (Seeing how far you can go without pedalling in a downhill tailwind.)
  • Being lit up by a Pronghorn Antelope
  • Fly Fishing in Battle Creek
  • The incredible stars of the Dark Sky Preserve
  • Camp Cookhouse in Elkwater
  • Lodgepole Grill for Black Bridge Beer and Hutterite Saskatoon pie and ice cream in the Center Block
  • Wildflower meadows jammed full of butterflies
  • Stampeding free range cattle that we frightened while roaring down a hill

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