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The Spirit Sands Hike In Spruce Woods Provincial Park

The Spirit Sands Hike in Spruce Woods Provincial Park

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 Spirit 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.

We almost have the whole park to ourselves on a weekday

We almost have the whole park to ourselves on a weekday

Where is Spruce Woods Provincial Park?

Spruce Woods is located about 180 kilometres west of Winnipeg. The closest city is Brandon, 76 kilometres away to the northwest. To get here, drive east on the Trans-Canada Highway until you reach Highway 5. Follow it south for 30 kilometres.

Why visit Spruce Woods Provincial Park?

The only sand dunes in Manitoba – the four square kilometre 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.

A hike on the 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. 

Map of the hiking trails in Spruce Woods Provincial Park

Map of the hiking trails in Spruce Woods Provincial Park

Spirit Sands Trail in Spruce Woods Provincial Park

Spirit Sands Trail

Poison ivy is everywhere on the Spirit Sands trail

Poison ivy is everywhere

Looking through the berries in Spruce Woods Provincial Park

Looking through the berries

Stairs provide a scenic overlook over Spirit Sands in Spruce Woods Provincial Park

Stairs provide a scenic overlook over Spirit Sands

Sand dunes are a magnet for kids

Sand dunes are a magnet for kids

Stairs are easier to climb up than down& in Spruce Woods Provincial Park

Stairs are easier to climb up than down

"Yellow flowers (name?) are found in abundance in the sand"

Yellow flowers (name?) are found in abundance in the sand

"Interpretive signs are scattered around the trail - Spirit Sands Park"

Interpretive signs are scattered around the trail

Shelter in the distance with a location map, Spruce Woods Provincial Park

Shelter in the distance with a location map

Heading off to explore one of the spur trails in the park

Heading off to explore one of the spur trails

Hiking on the sand dunes

Some of the sand dunes are quite steep

Hardy flowers in Spruce Woods Provincial Park

These flowers have to be hardy to endure intense summer heat- it can get up to 55 C at sand level

"We almost have the whole park to ourselves on a weekday"

We almost have the whole park to ourselves on a weekday

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 Devil's Punch Bowl, Spruce Woods Provincial Park

The Devil’s Punch Bowl

Stairs near the Devil's Punch Bowl in Spruce Woods Provincial Park

Stairs near the Devil’s Punch Bowl in Spruce Woods Provincial Park

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.

"Looking through the trees to the Assiniboine River"

Looking through the trees to the Assiniboine River

You can paddle the Assiniboine River - but there's a lot of debris from earlier floods along its banks

You can paddle the Assiniboine River – but there’s a lot of debris from earlier floods along its banks

"A palette of green near the Devil's Punch Bowl"

A palette of green near the Devil’s Punch Bowl

"Woody trail in Spruce Woods Provincial Park"

Beautiful woods – but stray off the path at your peril as they are loaded with poison ivy

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.

More Manitoba reading

Where to stay if you don’t want to camp at Spirit Sands Provincial Park

This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support.

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.

Did you know that there were sand dunes in Manitoba?

Hiking the Spirit Sands & Devil's Punchbowl near Brandon, Manitoba

Thank you to Travel Manitoba for their help with this trip. All opinions as always are my own.

 

 

 

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 12 Comments
  1. Your post has well captured the beauty of this region, Leigh. It’s been quite a few years since I was to Spirit Sands, but I certainly did enjoy our visit. It was an extremely hot day on our visit. But that didn’t stop me from enthusiastically scampering thru those sand dunes!

  2. I had no idea that there were sand dunes in Manitoba! I love the contrast between the two trails – interesting that two vastly different ecosystems could be so close together geographically.Love the little yellow wildflowers – don’t think I have ever seen flowers growing in sand before either!

      1. Hi! There are sand dunes in Saskatchewan also. The Great Sandhills near Leader are supposed to be pretty interesting to see and slide down on crazy carpets!! I am going in a couple of weeks so will see for myself before taking a tour group there soon.
        Also, The Boreal Forest Trail in Meadow Lake Provincial Park is on my bucket list for next year! Check it out!

        1. @June I did hike the Boreal Trail for three days last May – and included it in my book – truly a lovely hike. And in two weeks I’m off to check out the Great Sandhills and looking forward to it.
          Thanks for visiting and commenting.

  3. The yellow flowers are prairie sunflowers – Helianthus petiolaris. They love the sandy soil which the Spirit Sands are happy to provide

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