Eastend to Ravenscrag top drive in Cypress Hills

Jones Peak
Jones Peak
Sandstone formation on Jones Peak.

The Cypress Hills abounds in scenic driving routes, especially around the town of Eastend, so named for being at the east end of the Cypress Hills. The one that tops our list for photography is a 50-km or so loop trip from Eastend, combining Ravenscrag and Middle Bench Roads. We have more details in our new book, Photographer’s Guide to Saskatchewan, but here’s a brief overview.

Frenchman Valley
Frenchman River Valley

Head west of Eastend on Grid Road #614, then after 2 km, turn left onto Ravenscrag Road which winds along the Frenchman River the entire way with one spectacular view after another. The north slope of the valley is heavily eroded in places, revealing several seams of bright white mud containing kaolin, which is highly prized in making ceramics because it retains its white colour after firing. Near the start of the road is a pyramid-shaped hill known as Chocolate Peak, where kaolin mining didn’t go as hoped. Many years ago, some miners had a smart idea–burn off the seam of coal in the hill to make it easy to get at the kaolin. Not so smart after all. The coal burned slowly for years, baking the valuable clay and turning everything brown. About halfway along you can see Jones Peak, the highest point along the north rim, marked by a communications tower.

Frenchman River
Frenchman River along Ravenscrag Road.

For photography, Ravenscrag Road has inviting light from early to mid-morning, then again from late afternoon to early evening. In midsummer, if you wait until too late in the evening, the sun will be too far to the north to illuminate the north slope, which is the most impressive part of the valley. When we stay in Eastend, which has a nice campground near the river, we like to drive Ravenscrag Road in late afternoon, then return along Middle Bench Road in the evening, a nice loop trip that makes best use of the light.

Jones Peak
Jones Peak from Ravenscrag Road.

Ravenscrag Road ends at a T-intersection with a grid road near Ravenscrag. Turn north, cross the river, then take the first road to the east, which is Middle Bench Road. This route takes you higher into the hills, across open rolling pastureland of native prairie. The main feature of this scenic route is Jones Peak. The approach road to the peak is easy to find; watch for the communications tower on the valley rim. It’s named for Corky Jones, a local resident and amateur palaeontologist who unearthed many fossils, which in turn led to the area’s famous dinosaur discoveries.

Middle Bench Road
Middle Bench Road.

The peak offers wide views over the Frenchman River Valley. This is a wonderful spot to come for sunset when the low sun illuminates much of the valley. We like to arrive well before sunset so that the sun still lights up some of the north slope, especially the impressive sandstone formations near the top.

Jones Peak
Sunset on Jones Peak.


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15 thoughts on “Eastend to Ravenscrag top drive in Cypress Hills

  1. Early histories I have read and heard around here is that the name Eastend comes from it being the NWMP outpost on the most easterly side of the hills from back when patrols left from Fort Walsh.

    1. Thanks for your comments Byron. Yes, that would be a more complete explanation of the name – It did originate with the NWMP post, which was named Eastend because it was at the east end of the Cypress Hills.

  2. Beautiful pictures, I have lived here for 70 years, my wife and I make this loop often and have for 50 years, notice you make no mention of the wildlife which is a photographers dream in this area. Thank you for bragging up our our little Valley of Hidden Secrets.

    1. Thanks for your comments John. Good point about the wildlife – we have seen various critters while driving in the area, but I imagine that you would see a lot more when you live close by. You’re lucky to live in such a beautiful area.

  3. Awesome pictures, I remember going to a restaurant near Ravenscrag about 1993, is it still there??
    I think the cook had to go out to the chicken coop and gather some eggs for our supper!!
    Great place!!!

      1. Are you able to kayak the Frenchmen river in the valley? Is there loading and unloading places?

      2. We are not aware of anyone having kayaked through here, and we’re not sure if it is even feasible. The water can get quite shallow. Perhaps if you called Tourism Saskatchewan or Eastend Tourism, someone there might have more information. People do canoe and kayak parts of the Frenchman River farther downstream in Grasslands National Park. But here too, water levels can get quite low, so it is best to first check on conditions with the park.

  4. I kayaked the Frenchman River a few years ago from Ravenscrag to Eastend and had no difficulties. The only annoying thing was the river smelled of cowshit.

    1. Thanks for your comments Neil. It must have been a great experience to see the valley from water level, even with the unwelcome aromas.

      1. Hi Jeff. I sent you an email with the contact information for Neil who has paddled this route. He said that it would be fine if you contacted him with questions.

      2. I would also liked to know more about kayaking in the area – I’m in the planning stage of moving there and would greatly appreciate connecting with locals who have experience to share.

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