Sandbanks Provincial Park

Length of stay1 day
April 2021

Sandbanks Provincial Park is located in Prince Edward County along the shore of Lake Ontario. It is one of the most popular parks in Ontario and is famous for its pristine sandy beaches. It also has the largest fresh water sandbar of its kind in the world. Sandbanks offers a variety of activities, including swimming at three natural sandy beaches and hiking along six trails that weave through the dune habitat of the park.

We rolled into Sandbanks just before 1p.m. While Sandbank technically isn’t fully open for the season yet, some of the roads and parking lots in the park were open for day-use.

We parked behind the Park Office at the trailhead for the Woodlands Trail (3.5km one-way, rated easy). The trail weaves through abandoned agriculture fields. Today the area is slowly returning to a more natural landscape. The trail is relatively flat and crosses through the Woodlands Campground and West Lake Campground before ending at the Dunes Beach.

Along the trail there’s a few signs that provide more information about the flora and fauna in the park, including the different species of trees. According to the signs, most of Southern Ontario’s old growth forests were destroyed between the mid 1700s and early 1900s as a result of European settlement. Today less than 1% of forest stands are older than 120 years. Back in the day, a large portion of the land in and around Sandbanks was used for agriculture. Over the last 150 years the land has gradually been left to revert back to its natural state.

The trail ends at the road just past the West Lake Campground. Across the road lies a small parking lot and trailhead for the Richardson’s Trail (1km one-way, rated easy). We initially planned to make a detour to hike along the Sand Dunes Trail, but it wasn’t abundantly clear where we should have turned off from the Richardson’s Trail. We decided we could just drive back here rather than having to turn around and backtrack. So we continued onwards.

The Richardson’s Trail leads up and down a ridge and passes through an old pine plantation. The trail ends at the Richardson’s Campground.

We then walked through the campground to reach West Point where the former Lakeshore Lodge once stood overlooking Lake Ontario. In 1876 the original house that was built here was transformed into a resort. The Lakeshore Lodge however began to experience a decline in visitation in the late 1960s due to the popularity of camping in the nearby Outlet and Sandbanks Provincial Parks. In an attempt to unite these two parks the government began purchasing the adjacent land, including West Point and the Lakeshore Lodge.

In 1983 the lodge was destroyed in a fire. Some of the foundations from the building are still visible today though. There are a few signs along the grounds where the lodge once stood that provide some fun facts about the former resort. There’s also a bunch of picnic tables and a really nice view of Lake Ontario.

We walked through the grounds of West Point to get to the trailhead for the Lakeview Trail (2.4km one-way, rated easy). The first stretch of the trail winds through the forest and hugs the shoreline of Lake Ontario. Since there were no leaves on the trees, we had excellent views of the lake from the trail. You could even make a detour in some areas from the trail down to the shore which features a limestone outcrop full of 450 million year-old fossils.

The trail then leads out into an open meadow and former agricultural field. New trees have been planted, but these are still quite small. There is little protection from the sun along this stretch. From the trail you can see some of the private cottages which are nestled along the shore. The path leads to the Woodlands Campground. We wandered through the empty campground until we came across the Woodlands Trail. We followed this back to the parking lot.

We then drove to the Sandbanks beach area. The road leading into the various beach areas was closed, but there’s a small parking lot just outside the gate. We walked across the road to check out the sandy beach. It was surprising how many people were hanging out on the beach considering the time of the year.

From here we drove to the Richardson’s Trail in search of the Sand Dunes Trail. After consulting the map, we figured we should turn right near the trailhead for the Richardson’s Trail. Sure enough, we found the path, which was unmarked. Typically you can park at the Dunes Beach area where the official trailhead for the Sand Dunes Trail is located, but the road leading into the parking lot was still closed for the season.

The Sand Dunes Trail (2.5km, rated easy to moderate) loops through a dune system, which is the largest of its kind in the world. In addition to the main trail there’s a 1km loop at the beginning that is barrier-free.

About 12,500 years ago, as the glaciers retreated they left behind the beginnings of the Great Lakes along with tonnes of sandy sediment and numerous bays along the southwestern shoreline of Prince Edward County. Over thousands of years, sand was slowly brought to shore by wind, currents and waves, and dropped at the mouth of these bays creating underwater sandbars. As more sand accumulated, those sandbars eventually rose above the level of Lake Ontario, cutting off the bays and forming lakes.

I’m glad we returned to find this trail as this turned out to be my favourite trail in the entire park. The trail winds through a sand dune habitat and features two wooden viewing platforms along the way. As you would expect, the trail is quite sandy. There are some wooden boardwalks and planks to help climb up, down and around some of the dunes and fragile areas.

The trail is also well marked with arrows pointing you in the right direction.

After spending the day here I can easily see why Sandbanks is one of the most popular parks in Ontario. In addition to its nice sandy beaches, there are a variety of trails to explore the unique dune habitat in the park.


My progress on the Ontario Parks Challenge can be found here

53 thoughts on “Sandbanks Provincial Park

  1. Planet Paul says:

    Swimming and hiking. Sounds good to me!

    The colour of the water in the background of one of the photos almost looks tropical. It’s lighter than I ignorantly expect water in Canada to be!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Even though I live here, it still surprises me how some of the Great Lakes resemble clear Caribbean waters. The water looks very inviting, but unfortunately it was too cold to go swimming when we visited in April. Now that we’ve explored all the trails, I’d like to return in the summer for a beach day (assuming it’s not too crowded!).

  2. Ab says:

    Sandbanks is a gorgeous park. We camped there over many many summers and the beach is just stunning. I remember my first visit I couldn’t believe something like this existed just 2.5 hours from Toronto. The hiking trails are nice and in the summer, the kayaking is also great!

    I remember one summer it rained all day and was windy but my friends and I still went in the water. It was super wavy and was like a wave pool.

    You are right though. It is very popular and so hard to find a site these days! Definitely worth a return visit this summer – maybe as a day trip.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I camped at Sandbanks many years ago too, and even then it was cut throat to reserve a campsite. I can’t even imagine what it was like this year to book something. Agreed, it’s hard to believe that this beautiful sandy beach and extensive dune system exists so close to Toronto. I’d love to return during the summer for a beach day (assuming it’s not overrun with crowds). Swimming in the waves is always super fun. I have to remember not to wear my sunnies though as last time I did that I lost a pair to the waves!

      • Ab says:

        Agree that the dunes are lovely. I recall seeing Sandbanks have to issue announcements they were closed to day visits a few times last summer cuz of pandemic capacity issues. I imagine it’ll be the same this year! Hope your sunnies are not lost this year. 😊

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        I’m not surprised, the same thing happened at Wasaga Beach last summer. We’ll have to plan to take time off during the work week to visit the beach. I wouldn’t want to make the long drive there only to be turned around because they’ve reached capacity. And yes, now I try to wear a cheap pair of sunnies whenever I hit the beach. A lesson I learned the hard way!

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        Good call. We meant to visit during the winter as it’s reputed to have some nice trails for snowshoeing, but we never did. It’ll have to wait until the fall.

  3. kagould17 says:

    What a glorious blue sky day you had. The water and sand look so inviting, you can almost here the shouts of kids in summer. Great that is accessible during the offseason as a place to hike. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      That it was, there was nothing but blue skies and sun. We have regrets not wearing sunscreen though. And yes, it’s nice how some parks are still accessible even though they’re not fully open for the season. Given how busy our parks have become, I’m surprised they aren’t opening earlier this year, even if it’s just on weekends. It would be a good way for the parks to make more money and ensure the park is maintained.

  4. bernieLynne says:

    It looks like heaven! And I thought you had it all to yourself until you mentioned all the people at the beach.i can imagine it would be crazy busy in the summer. Is Lake Ontario cold to swim in? It’s so big.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It seemed like everyone was hanging out at the beach as the trails themselves were practically empty. No complaints from us as we visited for the trails. It’s too cold this time of year to go swimming anyway. The lake does warm up during the summer and it’s a popular spot to go swimming. This park is always busy in the summer, even before the pandemic, so I can’t imagine what it’ll be like in a few months!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      I’m sometimes surprised at how scenic Ontario is. We’re fortunate that we border four of five Great Lakes. A trip to the Finger Lakes sounds lovely. It’ll be good to escape and spend some time in nature. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

  5. carolinehelbig says:

    Love, love, love this park! I remember first seeing those dunes and the colour of the water and not believing I was in Ontario! I spent many memorable long weekends there in the 80s and 90s (even got a ticket for having alcohol on the beach…but that’s another story). I’m sure it has become much more popular, and for good reason as you say. Nice that you got to visit in the off- season.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s hard to believe that Sandbanks is in Ontario and better yet, on Lake Ontario itself. Sounds like you have quite the memories from camping there. We’ve been here a couple of times, but it’s become next to impossible to book anything over a weekend during the summer. Instead we’ve been trying to explore other nearby parks. And yes, I’m so glad we visited while we had nice weather and before it fully opens up for the season and becomes overcrowded.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      The Sand Dunes Trail was easily my favourite hike. Granted our shoes got sandy, but it’s not everyday you can walk through sand dunes. It’s hard to believe that all this exists so close to home. You’d think we were in the Caribbean or something. Too bad the water was too cold, otherwise it would have been nice to go for a swim afterwards. We’ll have to wait a few more months for that.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We sure did. I still can’t get over how lovely the weather was over the Easter long weekend. It’s been years since I last visited Sandbanks and even then we mostly just came to just enjoy the beach. It was nice to return and explore all the various trails. It was also nice to visit when the park wasn’t very busy!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      For sure. It was nice that the sun was shining, birds were chirping and the trees starting to bud. Sandbanks is such a beautiful park with its sand dunes and crystal clear waters. It’s hard to believe that it exists here in Ontario.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      While we’ve come to enjoy hiking in the winter, it’s nice to remember what the landscape looks like once the snow disappears. Sandbanks is such a beautiful park with its sandy beaches and sand dunes. It was such a lovely day to spend time outside and get excited that spring is finally here.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Sandbanks is such a beautiful park. How lucky that you were able to visit last summer. It’s become fiercely competitive to book anything over the weekend during the summer. We’ve camped here a couple times throughout the years largely to enjoy the beach. This was my first time exploring all the various trails in the park. Too bad the water is still cold, otherwise it would have been nice to go for a swim after all that hiking.

  6. Lynette d'Arty-Cross says:

    It looks like you had a sort of summer day – warm and comfortable. What a lovely park and one I hope to visit when I can easily come out your way again. It’s going to be so nice when this pandemic is over!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      We had such lovely weather over the Easter long weekend. It definitely felt like spring (and summer in some ways). It’s hard to believe that there are beautiful sandy beaches and dunes in Ontario. We’ll have to wait a few months for the water to warm-up to go swimming though. I would highly recommend a visit to Sandbanks. And yes, can’t wait for this pandemic to be over too, especially given the surge of cases. Ontario reported the highest number of new cases yesterday since the pandemic started. Yikes. Looks like we won’t be travelling anytime soon. At least we still have our parks though.

      • Lynette d'Arty-Cross says:

        It’s amazing that an entire year has passed and for the most part, nothing has changed except that more people have become sick and/or have died. When I see the great job some areas have done (also countries – Australia and NZ are having completely normal lives, just no visitors), it makes me realise how poorly our politicians have handled this, no matter what stripe they are. The provinces from NB west keep trying to shift the blame solely to the feds but as I see it, they all made bad decisions and they are all responsible, feds included. So sorry to hear about your case load – I saw that on the news. That’s heartbreaking. Yes – good that the parks are still open. Now, if only our snow would melt!

      • WanderingCanadians says:

        I couldn’t agree more. In some ways it feels like we’re doing an even worse job one year later. It is incredibly frustrating to see that some areas have it figured out and we’re not even trying to mimic their success. Instead it seems like we’re stumbling in the dark and learning nothing from our neighbours or the past. This week has been a stark reminder that we’re nowhere close to being in the clear. For now we’ll continue to find enjoyment in the small things in life, like going for a walk or exploring a new park. Hope your snow melts soon and brings way to lots of spring flowers.

      • Lynette d'Arty-Cross says:

        It’s interesting how the northern territories and eastern provinces have done a much better job while the “big guys” fumble, stumble, complain, whine and either try to pass the responsibility or pretend that Covid is nothing much. What a bunch!

        There have been hopeful signs that NWT may lift travel restrictions for those who have been vaccinated – fingers crossed!

  7. Live Laugh Dis says:

    I really enjoy reading about your hikes through the trails. Keep adding things to my bucket list. That photo when you reach the lake is beautiful. I don’t know why I am always surprised when I see how beautifully blue lake water can be. Looking forward to reading about more of your adventures. -Andrea

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words. I feel so fortunate that we have access to so many parks and green spaces and that we’re able to still visit them during the pandemic. It’s certainly given us something to do during our weekends. This park in particular is one of my favourites. It’s hard to believe such crystal clear water exists here in Ontario. Too bad it’s too cold to go swimming in. We’ll have to wait a few months for the lake to warm up. And I hear yah, my bucket list only seems to keep growing! Take care.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Sandbanks is such a lovely park. It’s hard to believe that it’s in Ontario with its sandy beaches and clear blue water. While it was way too cold to go swimming when we visited, in a few months the beach will be packed. Agreed, sand dunes are pretty neat. It’s also amazing how some plants are able to grow through all that sand.

  8. Island Traveler says:

    Wonderful nature hike with an added beach treat. Went hiking last Saturday myself at lands end with my son and a friend. Great thing we started early because by the time we return, just so many people. Thank God for nature, hiking, friends and family.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s incredible that we live so close to such a beautiful beach. Who would have thought this was even in Ontario, especially with that crystal clear water. Sounds like you had a wonderful time hiking on the weekend. And agreed, it’s always a good call to get an early start to find a parking spot and beat the crowds. If it weren’t for hiking or being able to spend time outdoors, I’d probably go crazy from this pandemic!

  9. Lookoom says:

    I went to Sandbanks when I visited Prince Edward County, although I didn’t hike all the trails. Being on an island and then a sandbar, makes the lake shore seem far away and you are out in the open. It was summer with beautiful sunshine on a hot day, far from the usual image of Canada.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      It’s sometimes hard to believe that this exists here in Ontario. I’ve been to Sandbanks before too, largely to enjoy the beach. Hiking when it’s 30C+ isn’t that appealing. It was nice to return during the offseason to check out the trails.

  10. Meg says:

    What a delightful day for a hike! The sky and lake look beautiful and it was good to have the boardwalks for walking on the sand. Lovely pictures!

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks, it really was such a beautiful day to spend outside. It was nice to visit during the off-season when it wasn’t too crowded to check out the trails. Hiking through the sand dunes was easily my favourite trail (even though my shoes were covered in sand afterwards). It’s too bad the water was still way too cold for swimming though.

    • WanderingCanadians says:

      Thanks for your kind words and for commenting. Sandbanks is such a beautiful park. I’ve camped here before a couple of times, but it was nice to return in the off-season when it wasn’t too crowded and to see a different side of the park.

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