While perhaps not the most well-known tourist hotspot of the area, the Great Sandhills of Saskatchewan snagged my interest the first time I noticed the sign for them while on the #1 highway from Regina to Calgary. You mean, there are sand dunes…. in Saskatchewan? Yeah, man.
While the most famous sand dunes in Saskatchewan are perhaps the Athabasca dunes in the northwest corner of the province (which can only be reached by plane or boat, I’m told), and the most visited dunes perhaps the ones by lake Diefenbaker in Douglas Provincial Park, I wanted the Great Sandhills. 1900 square kilometres of dunes, I mean, they just scream adventure.
Yet, it wasn’t until I moved to Medicine Hat in Alberta this past May that I finally got the gumption to visit the dunes – due in no small part to the move placing them within an hour and a half’s drive of my new digs and a friend telling me that he would drive. Like, twist my arm why don’t ya.
What to Expect at the Great Sandhills of Saskatchewan
A Bit of a Rocky Road In
To get to the Great Sandhills of Saskatchewan, head to the Saskatchewan town Sceptre (where the interpretive centre is), and then follow the signs. Once you do this, you’ll realize that getting to the entrance of the dunes means taking a sand/dirt/gravel road, that would be pretty much impassable should it rain.
While my friend and I didn’t have any trouble getting in with his SUV on a sunny day, if the forecast says showers, plan for another day.
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A Great Hiking Spot
While you’ll find a dune directly in front of you when you park your car at the entrance to the park, its what’s beyond that initial dune that is most fascinating. To get to the most sand-dense area of the park, you’ll need to hike about a half hour from the first dune (I’d give you directions but honestly you can’t miss it). While the off-sand hiking in this area is fairly easy, make sure you wear long pants as you’ll be trekking through thistle (not to mention rattlesnake) territory. Note from my photos that I did not wear long pants and, believe me, it was an immediate regret.
And don’t forget – the sand reflects the sun so don’t forget to bring a reusable water bottle and some sunscreen!
A Photographer’s Wet Dream
Did I just use the term wet dream on my website? Looks like I did.
Anyway, while hiking around the dunes for a few hours was all well and good, in the end, I was so glad I brought all my camera gear along – including my wide-angle lens – as I had an absolute blast photographing this area. Now, I’m no expert photographer (not by a long shot) but I do enjoy new scenery to take photos of, as well as thinking up new points of view.
A History Lesson
Ever wondered why there are random sand dunes in the middle of the Canadian prairies? Well, so did I, and thankfully, there is a whole interpretive centre plus signs at the gate which will clear some of the mystery up for you. In short, the dunes were deposited around 12 000 years ago when the glaciers that covered this region began to recede.
This also explains why the dunes are surrounded by grassy plains and farmland. If my photos are giving you the impression that the Great Sandhills of Saskatchewan mean sand as far as the eye can see, then I’ve accomplished the camera trickery I was going for – because this is not the case.
In fact, apart from one particularly expansive dune, the grassy shores of the dunes will rarely leave your sight.
What to Pack for The Great Saskatchewan Sand Hills
Bug Spray: Ever heard of sandflies? Well, I’m pretty sure that was what was biting me the whole time we were on the dunes. Bring bug spray, I beg of you.
Water Bottle: I like to recommend a reusable water bottle with a built-in filtration system. You never know when you’re going to need a refill from a sketchy source.
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