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.
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.
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.
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.
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.