Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: 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