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A Trip To Saskatchewan’s Great Sandhills

A Trip to Saskatchewan’s Great Sandhills

If you can find Saskatchewan’s Great Sandhill’s you are in for a treat! Despite the fact they cover 1,900 square kilometres in the western part of the province, rather a large chunk of real estate if you ask me, they are difficult to find. Signage is next to non-existent until you’re within spitting distance of the dunes. But don’t let that deter you.

The dunes and the accessible area around them are very beautiful – and perfect for families with kids who have energy to burn. Nothing beats running up and down the dunes a few times to help tire everyone out.

The sand dunes that make up the Great Sandhills are some of the largest and most active in Canada!

First view of the sand dunes - western Saskatchewan

First view of the sand dunes

Most of the dunes are no more than 15 metres above the surrounding plains. But they’re stacked close together so as you can imagine, walking on the dunes is hard work. There are a few trails – nothing formal – so it’s up to you to decide where to go. Just be sure to keep track of the location of the parking lot.

We started our exploring with a steep walk to a form on the horizon. It turned out to be an archway of used cowboy boots – built by John Both (1927 – 2007) – and built as “a cowboy’s way to show his appreciation and love for life.”

Cowboy boot memorial, Great Sand Hills, Saskatchewan

Cowboy boots – all colours and sizes

From there John and I wandered across the landscape marveling at the vastness of the landscape – especially as we ended up having the place to ourselves.

The Sandhills have a long history of ranching dating back to the late 1800’s. Right now 60 grazing operations operate in the Sandhills. Natural gas wells are also in the area and according to signs in the parking lot, hunting occurs at times as well.

But in the area of the actual dunes accessible from the parking lot, you wouldn’t be aware of any of those activities. Instead, you can look for more than 150 species of birds that have been sighted (we saw one – a lonely wren) or the 20 types of mammals. We did see loads of pronghorn antelope but none of the mule deer who live here. Unfortunately we also missed the Ord’s kangaroo rat – a nocturnal animal that requires sand dune habitat to nest.

Great Sand Hills, Saskatchewan

It’s big sky country in the part of the world

The Great Sandhills, Saskatchewan

Plants help to stabilize the dunes

Great Sandhills, Saskatchewan

You feel small in a landscape of sand and sky

Footprints in the sand, Great Sandhills, Saskatchewan

Footprints in the sand

Roads through the Great Sandhills; it is low density ranching country

Roads through the Great Sandhills; it is low density ranching country

We saw lots of antelope driving in and out of the Great Sandhills

We saw lots of pronghorn antelope driving in and out of the Great Sandhills

How do you find the Great Sandhills?

Make your way to either Leibenthal or Sceptre; you’ll probably need a map to do that. We drove to Sceptre on Highway 32 and found the Great Sandhills Museum on the main street – closed unfortunately. But they did have a map posted on their door. You could tell it was done by a local who knew the area. Quite frankly I can’t tell the difference between a gravel road and a dirt road out in the middle of nowhere. And although there were signs for bird viewing areas, it wasn’t until you were within a few kilometres of the parking lot that any signs mentioning sandhills showed up. Nonetheless we found them.

Take a picture of this map in Sceptre so you can find the dunes

Take a picture of this map in Sceptre so you can find the dunes

I’m glad we persevered in locating the sand dunes. I had been told by a few people on a couple of separate occasions, including in a restaurant in Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland, that I really should make the effort to see the dunes. I’m glad I did – and you will too. Just be warned that there are no services at the dunes so bring lots of water and a picnic lunch or dinner with you. For great photography, aim to be there for sunrise or sunset.

Did you know there was a vast area of sand dunes in western Saskatchewan?

A Trip to Saskatchewan's Great Sandhills

Thank you to Tourism Saskatchewan for helping make this trip possible.

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 13 Comments
  1. Each time I read your blog, Leigh, I learn something new about Canada. This time it’s something new and very surprising – I had no idea about these sand dunes and if this were a Jeopardy question, I would’ve not gotten it right.
    Your photos really show the vastness of the landscape – real Big Sky country for sure – and its variety. Despite the lack of signage and facilities, you were right to persevere. It’s beautiful country.

    1. @Ted I think that antelope got into some twine that it can’t shake loose. The sandhills – under than the Athabasca Sand Dunes in the northern part of Saskatchewan were news to me.

  2. Great information and photos! Did you have to use a 4 X 4 to get there – or would my little Honda Fit be able to make the journey you did? And what time of year were you there? Thanks!

    1. @Cat We were there in late May and drove a car with regular clearance. You should be just fine if you don’t take any sandy sideroads. IT IS POORLY marked so take a photo at the museum in town so you can properly find it.

  3. I grew up in Swift Current, just down the roadfrom the sandhils. You’d be surprised that most people even that close have no cue that they exist. I’ve never made it to any of the official sites, but I’ve spend a lot of time in the sandhills. My dad grew up on nearby, and we still have many family friends in the area. Mom took us out for picnics and summer sledding on friend’s land. Dad taught me how to drive on the wiinding sandy roads. Many memories made there. Thanks for sharing the story of on of my favourite places on earth.

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