Sandbanks Provincial Park
Sandbanks Provincial Park lies tucked away on the southern edge of Prince Edward County, where shifting sand dunes meet the shallow turquoise waters of Lake Ontario. Home to gorgeous beaches, on hot sunny days, Sandbanks feels like a tropical island getaway without the plane ticket. It’s yet another one of the reasons why “the County”—as it is affectionately known—has become one of Ontario’s most popular holiday destinations.
Sandbanks Provincial Park is about 2.5 hours’ drive from Toronto, three hours from Ottawa, four hours from Montreal and 1.5 hours’ drive from Kingston—which is home to the nearest regional airport. You’ll need a car to get to the park, unless you feel like cycling 12-15 kilometres (each way) from Bloomfield or Picton.
A magnet for tourists since the early 19th century, visiting this natural wonder is still one of the most popular things to do in Prince Edward County. In fact, its three beaches—Sandbanks Dune Beach, Lakeshore Beach and Outlet Beach—have long been ranked amongst the best in Canada. Quite the feat for a little island in Lake Ontario!
Managed by Ontario Parks, Sandbanks Provincial Park has over 500 campsites as well as other accommodation options a bit away from the beaches, but it fills up quickly, especially during the peak holiday seasons. There are also day-use areas for visitors, but when the park is full the rangers will close the gates, so make sure you get down early. You can also check online to scope it out before you make the trek down.
It’s easy to spend at least a day exploring Sandbanks Provincial Park, with plenty of activities from walking and cycling to fishing, swimming and camping.
For up-to-date information and details on Sandbanks Provincial Park, we recommend you visit their website. For information about other places of interest to explore nearby, keep scrolling to see what Destination Ontario recommends.
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More about Sandbanks Provincial Park
Formed by glaciers during the last ice age—about 12,500 years ago—Sandbanks Provincial Park is home to the world’s largest freshwater dune and sandbar formation, with the 25 metre-high shifting ridges stretching for 12 km across Lake Ontario.
Things to Do at Sandbanks Provincial Park
Whatever the weather, there’s always something to do at Sandbanks Provincial Park. Most popular as a summer beach destination, the park also has some awesome hiking trails, including the Sandbanks Dune Trail. The gorgeous woodland and wetland trails also offer a nice shady break from the sun.
If you’d prefer something a little more active, you can also choose from plenty of other activities, including swimming, kayaking, canoeing and fishing. You can rent kayaks and canoes on-site and the park even has free fishing lines and tackle you can borrow for the day.
In spring and autumn it’s a great spot for birding. It’s also much quieter then, so the perfect time to visit and escape the crowds. In the winter, Sandbanks is also quite a popular spot with visitors. A magical spot when the snow falls, the park has plenty of other, more wintery activities on offer, including cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
The Power of Nature
When the sun is shining and holidaymakers are soaking up the rays from the beaches it’s hard to imagine this spot blanketed in ice and glaciers, but, if you brave a visit during the chillier winter months then it’s much easier to imagine the huge forces that would have shaped this landscape all those thousands of years ago.
However, nature wasn’t quite done with Sandbanks yet. At the end of the ice age, after the glaciers retreated, the island became home to a series of First Nations Peoples who lived in symbiosis with the natural environment. But when the Europeans arrived, they tried to control it and shape it to their needs, deforesting the dunes to create more farmland and building a village with a hotel, a brick factory and several houses and a road connecting it to the rest of the island.
Unfortunately, they didn’t factor in the natural shifting of the dunes without the trees and vegetation anchoring them into place. By the time they realised what was going to happen, it was too late. The village was buried by the moving sand. After having to move the road three times, the government stepped in in 1921 and organised a massive reforestation program to stabilise Sandbanks and preserve it for many generations to come.
Sandbanks Visitor Centre, Shops & Amenities
Though you’ll probably want to stock up on most of your supplies in the more urban centres of Picton, Bloomfield and Wellington, Sandbanks has a couple of shops and restaurants in case you don’t feel like making the trek back into town.
It’s worth stopping off at the Sandbanks Visitor Centre by Outlet Beach. Fun for the whole family, the Visitor Centre has fun and interactive displays and exhibitions where you can learn about the natural history of Sandbanks. There’s also a mini aquarium, with live reptiles, amphibians and fish.
Next to the Visitor Centre, the Friends of Sandbanks Nature Shoppe has snacks, drinks, souvenirs, clothes, guides and books. It is open all summer, closed in the winter, and open for weekends in spring and fall.
If you’re feeling hungry and didn’t bring a picnic, you can also visit Currah’s Park Store & Grill at the Outlet Beach Day-Use area and Currah’s Dunes Grill & Patio at Dunes Beach.
Know Before You Go
- The park gets very busy in the summer months, so book ahead and arrive early.
- You can rent canoes and kayaks and borrow free fishing equipment at the Woodlot.
- Sandbanks’ campsites are open from May to October, but cabins are available to rent in the winter months.
- The campsites have toilets, showers, water and laundry facilities. Some offer powered sites.