Saskatchewan is Sand Dune Capital of Canada

If you like sand dunes, Saskatchewan should definitely be on your must-visit list. It’s home to both the largest and second largest sets of dunes in the country, plus a few others thrown in for variety. Some are easy to visit and others take more effort and planning. All have stunning scenery. Here are four of our favourite areas to go play in the sand:

Great Sand Hills

The Great Sands Hills of southwest Saskatchewan have the second largest sand dunes in Canada, and are the easiest to visit – you simply drive right up to them. the Great Sand Hills encompass some 1,900 square kilometres, one the largest areas of native mixed grass prairie in Saskatchewan. Stabilized hummocky covered with prairies grasses comprise most of hills. Active moving dunes account for less than 5% of the hills, but they are definitely the most impressive feature.
Great Sand Hills Saskatchewan

To get there, head to Sceptre, about 20 km east of Leader along Hwy #32. Your first stop should be the Great Sand Hills Museum and Interpretive Centre along the highway in Sceptre for an orientation to the area. From the east side of Sceptre, go south 9.6 km, west 1.6 km, then south 9.6 km. Seeing active sand dunes right beside the road takes many people by surprise. From the parking area you can hike throughout the fascinating dune fields, which keep changing with the prevailing winds. As with sand dunes anywhere, prime times to visit include just before sunset or just after sunrise, when the sand takes on a warm glow.
Great Sand Hills, Saskatchewan

Great Sand Hills
 Great Sand Hills, Saskatchewan

Douglas Dunes

Located near the eastern shore of Lake Diefenbaker, these dunes are also easy to visit. Head to Douglas Provincial Park and the trailhead for the Cacti Trail, which is immediately across Hwy #19 from the entrance to the park’s core area. After a walk of a half hour or so, you come to spur trail leading to the active sand dunes. You can walk through a vast area of rippled ridges, bowl-shaped blowouts, trees with exposed roots, circles in the sand made by blades of grass being whipped by the wind, and other dune features.

Sand dunes, Douglas Provincial Park
Hiking in the sand dunes of Douglas Provincial Park, Saskatchewan.

Dunes, Douglas Provincial Park, Saskatchewan
Dunes, Douglas Provincial Park, Saskatchewan
Sand circles

Good Spirit Lake

Good Spirit Lake Provincial Park is in east-central Saskatchewan. The park’s highlight is a long stretch of sandy beach lined by hummocky sand dunes. A visit here is essentially a walk on the beach, with short side excursions to see dune formations only a few steps inland. The lake is quite shallow, so during low water conditions the beach is also lined with a series of attractive sand bars.
 Good Spirit Lake Provincial Park, Saskatchewan 
 Good Spirit Lake Provincial Park, Saskatchewan
 Good Spirit Lake Provincial Park, Saskatchewan

Athabasca Sand Dunes

This is the big daddy of sand dunes – the largest in Canada and the largest this far north anywhere in the world. They are highly unusual in that they aren’t located in a desert or an arid region, but smack in the middle of boreal forest lakelands. The vast dune area, which includes three rivers and part of the south shore of Lake Athabasca, is now protected in Athabasca Sand Dunes Provincial Park. Getting there takes a lot of planning, since the area is remote with no facilities. But the isolation and unspoiled nature is what makes it all the more compelling. For a more extensive look at these dunes, see our posting Exploring Saskatchewan’s Athabasca Sand Dunes. Here is a small sample of images to get you started.

Athabasca Sand Dunes, northern Saskatchewan
Knife edge crest of a giant dune.
Athabasca Athabasca Sand Dunes, Saskatchewan
William River
Athabasca Sand Dunes, northern Saskatchewan
Massive walls of sand lining the west bank of the William River take on a pinkish tinge just before sunrise.
Athabasca Sand Dunes, northern Saskatchewan
Some of the giant dunes stretch up to a kilometre long.

Athabasca Sand Dunes, northern Saskatchewan
Exhumed forest overlooking Lake Athabasca.

Athabasca Sand Dunes, northern Saskatchewan
Approaching storm over the exhumed forest.

Mouth of Archibald River, Lake Athabasca
Underwater sand ridges at the mouth of Archibald River, Lake Athabasca


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6 thoughts on “Saskatchewan is Sand Dune Capital of Canada

  1. I’ve wanted for years to go to the Athabascan Sand Dunes. How far is it by water (if that’s the only way in)? And where would you have to depart from?

    1. Hi Lila. Many of the dunes are right along the shore of Lake Athabasca, so it isn’t essential to canoe along the river, although it’s the option that we like the best. Some people get dropped off on the lake shore then hike from there. There are a few different options for departure points. Stony Rapids is the main transportation hub on Lake Athabasca, and from there you can arrange a float plane to fly you in. We have also heard of people flying into Fond du Lac or Uranium City then arranging for boat transport. There are occasional organized excursions to the dunes, but not that many. The best bet is Churchill River Canoe Outfitters in Missinipe – they sometimes offer trips. The University of Saskatchewan Extension Division used to organize trips, but we’re not sure if they do anymore. It might also be worthwhile checking with Tourism Saskatchewan to see if they know of any organized trips. If you’re thinking of going and have more questions, feel free to contact us.

  2. Hi Enjoyed your photos very much. I have been to the sand hills area of western Saskatchewan. There is sandy land north of Webb. Many people went there to homestead in the early 1920s. They found they could not farm the area and it was made into a community pasture. Never should have been used for homestead land. I have also been to Checkerboard Hill.Nearly got lost. I have been up to Sceptre. I did not know about Avonlea. Thanks!

    I once met someone who said there was nothing to see in Saskatchewan. They sure are mistaken. Even the tall grass in the ditches will wave to you.

    1. Thanks for your comments Georgiaday. We’re glad that you enjoyed the article and photos. It certainly is surprising how much sandy land there is throughout Saskatchewan.

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