The Fundy Footpath is a rigorous multi-day hike along the Bay of Fundy in New…
Visit Spruce Woods Provincial Park near Brandon, Manitoba to hike the Spirit Sands and Devil’s Punch Bowl Trails. The Spirit Sands or Carberry Sandhills (as they are also called) are Manitoba’s only sand dunes. The dunes are not true desert but a remnant of a sandy delta on the Assiniboine River. The sands get almost twice the amount of rain of a typical desert – allowing a wide variety of plants to colonize the dunes as you’ll see on the hike.
Spruce Woods Provincial Park is located approximately 180 km west of Winnipeg. The closest city is Brandon, 76 km away to the northwest. To get here, drive east on the Trans-Canada Highway until you reach Highway 5. Follow it south for 30 km.
Why visit Spruce Woods Provincial Park?
The only sand dunes in Manitoba – the 4 square km Spirit Sands are in Spruce Woods Provincial Park where the boreal forest meets the Assiniboine River. They are a great place to hike, play, wander and photograph, especially in summer when the wildflowers make an appearance.
Two reptiles that are unique to Manitoba also call this park home. They include the northern prairie skink (a lizard and the only one that lives in Manitoba) and the western hognose snake. While this snake is non-poisonous, if threatened, it imitates a rattlesnake. Unfortunately we saw neither reptile on our hike.
Spirits Sands – Devil’s Punch Bowl trails
We spent three to four hours exploring all the trails that make up the Spirit Sands – Devil’s Punch Bowl combination. The differences in ecosystems can easily be seen in the photos below.
The Spirit Sands trail offers easy hiking but it can get seriously hot by noon on a summer day. Avoid that time if possible. All the hiking trails could be covered in as little as 90 minutes but at a meandering pace it could easily take three hours.
There are two approaches to the sand dunes – a, flat easy trail or one that requires a bit of stair climbing. Climb, if you can for the excellent views of the area. If you were a bird, the Spirit Sands would appear somewhat circular from the air, reminiscent of a medicine wheel.
As you reach the dunes, by way of the East Gate, sometimes referred to as the Place of Beginnings, be aware that you are walking on land considered hallowed by generations of native people. Be respectful. The South is called the Place of Plenty, the North – the Place of Wisdom and the West – the Place of Endings.
The Devil’s Punch Bowl Area, Spruce Woods Provincial Park
The Devil’s Punch Bowl area is adjacent to the Spirit Sands trail. Access is via an easy 1.9 kilometre connector trail through fields. The Punch Bowl from first appearances looks like an innocuous pond, one where birds from all over appear to hang out.
But it’s formed by an underground stream. In fact sand slides into the 45 metre depression and disappears into what has been called eerie blue-green water.
Extensive stairways lead you over the boggy bits and up the sandy banks. Take advantage of well-placed benches to sit and revel in the scene.
The Assiniboine River Canoe Route
Near the Devil’s Punch Bowl you can see the Assiniboine River. There is a canoe route on the river that starts in Brandon and winds through the park to end in Holland, Manitoba. Maps are available showing the location of access points, drinking water and camping spots.
Beware of poison ivy when you’re hiking
Beware of the poison ivy in this park. It’s everywhere. Long pants are a good idea and if you do touch the poison ivy, wash the area thoroughly with soap and water.
At the beginning of the trail, there is also a sign advising you not to touch suspicious objects. The area was a former military testing ground so there is the remote chance of finding explosives.
Where to stay if you don’t want to camp at Spirit Sands Provincial Park
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Brandon is your best bet if you want to night somewhere close by. There are lots of chain hotels – never my favourite – but at least a couple are rated fabulous. The Best Western Plus – Brandon Inn and Lakeview Inn & Suites – Brandon are solid picks.
More Manitoba reading
- A Visit to Historic Hecla Island in Manitoba
- Canoeing the Caddy Lake Tunnels in Whiteshell Provincial Park
- Gorge Creek Trail in Riding Mountain National Park
For more information on Spruce Sands Provincial Park visit the website.
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Thank you to Travel Manitoba for their help with this trip. All opinions as always are my own.