Sandbanks Provincial Park

The worlds largest freshwater dune system
also contains arguably Ontario's best beach



dunes at sandbanks Most people who venture to Quinte's Isle usually have one destination in mind: Sandbanks Provincial Park. Situated on Lake Ontario near the small town of Picton it contains the world's largest fresh water dune and sand bar system.

With nearly 20 kilometers (12 miles) of golden sand beaches, which many people consider the best in the province, it is visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists annually. Whilst not only the most popular attraction in Prince Edward County, it annually ranks as one of the most popular and visited of all Ontario provincial parks.

Originally two separate provincial parks:
  • Outlet Beach Provincial Park: founded in 1959 and encompassing the dunes between Lake Ontario and East Lake

  • Sandbanks Provincial Park: founded in 1962 and encompassing the dunes between Lake Ontario and West lake
In 1971 the provincial government began a land acquisition program to buy private lands that were situated between the two parks (a program that continues to this day), and in 1979 the two parks were merged into the 1600-hectare (3954 acre) natural environment park that exists today.

With a multitude of activities, its unique ecosystem, magnificent beaches and calm, warm waters, Sandbanks Provincial Park makes for a great family outing and is one of the best-kept "secrets" in the province.


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Location of Sandbanks Provincial Park




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Getting to Sandbanks Provincial Park:

By Car:

Located about 2.5 hours east of Toronto the park is very easy to get to by following Highway 401, the main east-west transportation corridor across Southern Ontario.

From Western Ontario

  • Navigate to Highway 401 East
  • Take exit 522 (County Road 40/Wooler Road) and head south
  • After about an hour merge onto the Loyalist Parkway (County Road 33/County Road 12)
  • Follow this route to Highway #62 South and turn right.
  • Pass through the small town of Bloomfield and turn right on County Road 12 (Stanley Street)
  • Turn left on County Road 18
  • Follow to the parks entrance


From Eastern Ontario

  • Navigate to Highway 401 West
  • Take exit 522 (County Road 40/Wooler Road) and head south
  • After about an hour merge onto the Loyalist Parkway (County Road 33/County Road 12)
  • Follow this route to Highway #62 South and turn right.
  • Pass through the small town of Bloomfield and turn right on County Road 12 (Stanley Street)
  • Turn left on County Road 18M\
  • Follow to the parks entrance


From Northern Ontario:

Depending upon exactly where your starting point is you will travel along one of the major north-south axis's such as Highway 400, Highway #11/12, #41, #62 until you reach Highway 401. Once on Highway 401 follow one of the directions listed above.

One notable exception is highway#62 that leads you directly through Belleville into Prince Edward County.

  • Follow Highway #62 South right through the small town of Bloomfield and turn right on County Road 12 (Stanley Street)
  • Turn left on County Road 18
  • Follow to the parks entrance


By Boat:

Many visitors to Sandbanks Provincial Park arrive by boat as there are numerous marinas located close or very near to the park and the entire Quinte's Isle region is a very popular boating destination. Visit some of the various pages within my Quinte's Isle pages to find out more information about a specific region or town.


By Public Transport:

By Bus:

There is no direct public bus transportation to Sandbanks Provincial Park but the following companies offer regular service to Belleville:

Coach Canada
Greyhound

Passengers will have to find their own way to Sandbanks Provincial Park once dropped off at one of the above listed small towns.

By Rail:

There is no direct rail transport to Sandbanks Provincial Park but you can take Via Rail to nearby Belleville and from they're, take a taxi or a public bus as listed above. Visit: viarail.ca for more information.

By Plane:

Air travel to Sandbanks Provincial Park is not really an option as large passenger airports are not to be found on Quinte's Isle.


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Sandbanks Provincial Park attractions and activities



Beaches:

sandbanks beach Without a doubt the greatest attraction of Sandbanks Provincial Park are the miles of golden sand beaches that stretch along the southwestern shoreline of Prince Edward County, in fact many people consider these the best beaches in the Province.

With beaches located on both the Lake Ontario side and the inland lake side of the huge baymouth sandbar and dune complex they all are unique in the own right and well worth a visit.

There are 4 beaches situated amongst two distinct coastal areas:


West Lake Baymouth Dune Complex

The world's largest freshwater baymouth dune complex separates Lake Ontario from West Lake. Here the wind forms an ever-changing landscape with dunes that can reach heights of up to 25 metres (76 feet).


Dunes Beach

Stretching for 8 kilometres (4.8 miles) this beautiful beach is situated on the West Lake side of the sandbar and is comprised of huge white sand dunes. The encircled sandy bar provides for calmer and warmer waters that are great for swimming. The shallow water near the shoreline drops off quickly however and care should be taken if venturing out too far. For many the huge dunes of Dunes Beach are main reason for visiting the park as their beauty and uniqueness is unmatched. For any visitor to Sandbanks Provincial Park a visit to Dunes Beach is a must.

Facilities at the beach include:

  • Flush toilets
  • Vending machines
  • Playground
  • Fast-food counter
  • Picnic Tables
  • Plenty of parking

Sandbanks Beach

Located on the Lake Ontario side of the sandbar it is narrower, more remote and not as sandy as Dunes Beach as it is comprised of small pebbles. The waters of Lake Ontario are also colder and rougher so the swimming is not quite as good but for many it has the most tropical feel of all the parks beaches. The drop off is very gradual and its remoteness means it never seems very crowded.

It also has no facilities other than outhouses and plenty of parking so make sure you take everything you need with you as it is quite a hike to the nearest amenities.


East Lake Baymouth Dune Complex

Outlet Beach

Named for the Outlet River that joins East Lake to Lake Ontario this is the most popular beach amongst swimmers as the long sandy beach is not very deep and only gets deeper very gradually. This provides for warmer, calm waters making it an excellent place for swimming. For many visitors it is very reminiscent of a Caribbean beach if not for the difference in surrounding vegetation but to me it is like many other beaches found on lake Ontario and not as visually interesting as the beaches listed above.

Closest of all the beaches to the entrance of Sandbaks Provincial Park it is usually crowded on hot summer days and parking can be an issue. It also has the following facilities:

  • General Store
  • Fast-food restaurant
  • Flush Toilets
  • Change rooms

West Point Beach

Between Outlet Beach and Sandbanks Beach lies West Point Beach. Not really a beach at all the shoreline here consists of steep limestone cliffs formed by the pounding of the waves and winds over the millennia. The water is rougher, colder and has heavy currents thus swimming is not allowed. The area is beautiful however and is very popular for photo enthusiasts, what really impress's me is the beautiful turquoise waters closer to the shoreline.


Swimming

As noted in my beaches section above swimming is one of the most popular activities in Sandbanks Provincial Park and the beaches and swimming have been drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors to the park annually.

A couple of the beaches are very family friendly as the waters gradually drop off from the shore providing clean, shallow, calm and warm bathing conditions favourable to small children. There are also a couple of dog beaches where your four legged friends can dive in for a refreshing cool splash.

Please note that lifeguards do not monitor any of the beaches so care should always be undertaken.


Camping

In addition to the natural attractions of the magnificent beaches one of the main reasons Sandbanks Provincial Park is extremely popular amongst tourists is its excellent camping facilities. In fact the park provides the only public camping facilities in Prince Edward County and is one of the main draws on Quinte's Isle.

In total there are 5 campgrounds providing 549 campsites with varying amenities and 2 additional group campgrounds.

Sandbanks Provincial Park is open for camping from late April to mid October each year (visit: http://www.ontarioparks.com/park/sandbanks for the exact dates each year), but you are advised to book early as the park is extremely popular with occupancy rates over 90% annually each night and most spots are booked by early February for the prime summer months of June through August.

Note that only the Woodlands and Outlet River campgrounds are open the entire season, the other campgrounds are only open during the peak season. No winter camping is available at Sandbanks Provincial Park.

Each site allows for parking of 1 vehicle and includes a picnic table and fire grill. If you would like to have more than one vehicle per site and additional permit is required and the vehicle may have to be parked in designated parking areas.

For more information call: 1-888-ONT-PARK. (888 -668-7275).

Insiders Tip: 15% of all campsites are left un-booked and available for random visitors on a first come first serve basis but you should expect long delays and the possibility that the park will be sold out upon arrival, don't take a chance and book early! Booking early also allows you the opportunity of selecting a prime campsite suited to your particular desires.


East Lake camping


Outlet River Campground "A"

The campground has a total of 177 campsites with 30 of these considered to be the best in the entire park for beach access. The rest are located somewhat back from the beach in shaded areas but most sites are fairly private and generally flat and most can accommodate either tents or trailers. Only a few of the sites have electrical hookups. Amenities include:

  • Two comfort stations (with flush toilets, showers, running water and a small laundry)
  • Water taps conveniently located throughout the campground
  • Portable outhouses conveniently located throughout the campground
  • Boat launch near the campgrounds entrance with parking for trailers

Outlet River Campground "B"

The campground has a total of 98 campsites with many situated close to the Outlet River thus making them ideal for kayaking and canoeing enthusiasts. Not quite as shady as campground "A", many are also unlevel and thus are mainly utilized by tents only. Many of the sites have electrical hookups available. Amenities include:

  • One comfort station (with flush toilets, showers, running water and a small laundry)

Cedars Campground

Located near the park office the campground has 89 campsites that are mainly private, shaded and level. While all can accommodate tents a few of the larger sites are suitable for trailers although low hanging branches and tight access roads make it somewhat difficult to maneuver larger trailers into position. Note that none of the sites have electrical hookups. Amenities include:

  • One comfort station (with flush toilets, showers, running water and a small laundry)
  • Water taps conveniently located throughout the campground
  • Portable outhouses conveniently located throughout the campground
  • Near the campground entrance is the park store and restaurant

West Lake Camping


Richardson's Campground

This campground caters to those wishing for a more authentic "roughing it" experience. The 50 campsites are shaded and for the most part level which makes them suitable for both tents and trailers although their smaller size makes them generally unsuitable for larger trailers.

Located close to Sandbanks Beach, Richardson's campground is the farthest from the Outlet beaches area. Amenities are limited and include:
  • Water taps conveniently located throughout the campground
  • Portable outhouses conveniently located throughout the campground

Woodlands Campground

Located close to the woodlands area that separates the two baymouth sandbars is the appropriately named Woodlands Campground.

This campground has 149 campsites and all have electrical hookups making them particularly suitable for trailers and RV's. Campsites are available in either the woods (for those wishing shade) or in open fields that allow for more sun. The sites in the open areas are level and larger making these ideal for large trailers and RV's. Another important feature of this campground is that two cars can be parked at a campsite unlike most other sites in the park.

Woodlands Trail runs through the campground providing for quick and easy access to nearby Dunes Beach. Amenities include:

  • Two comfort stations (with flush toilets, showers, running water and a small laundry)
  • Water taps conveniently located throughout the campground

Group Campground

Located far from the beaches in the East Lake area are two campsites for large groups. One site can accommodate up to 50 people while the other max's out at 30 people.

Both sites are shaded and have private access to the water at Outlet Beach, about a 1 kiiometre (0.6 mile) 10-minute walk away, but amenities are limited to portable outhouses and running water only.

The group campsites can and should be booked in advance beginning in early March and fees are on a per person per night basis with additional charges being levied per vehicle at the site.


Other Accomodations

Jacques Cottage

For those visitors looking for a more "upscale" experience Sandbanks Provincial Park does offer the opportunity to book this small cottage located inside the park's boundaries right on Lake Ontario between Sandbanks and Outlet beaches. Booking is available year round.

In all 6 people can be accommodated, as there is a master bedroom with a double bed, two single beds in the loft and a pull out couch in the living room. Amenities include:

  • A fully equipped kitchen
  • A propane-fueled barbeque (with a full tank)
  • Wood fireplace
  • Satellite television service
  • Parking for two vehicles
To book Jacques Cottage in advance (recommended) call 1-888-ONT-PARK (1-888-668-7275).

Please note that smoking or pets are not permitted in the cottage.


Maple Rest Heritage House

This is very nice four-bedroom historic Victorian home that has been restored to accommodate guests located near the beach and other facilities. Booking is available year round.

Completely furnished with antiques from the period it can accommodate up to eight people (2 per bedroom). Amenities include:
  • Fully equipped kitchen
  • Whirlpool bathtub in the master bedroom
  • Laundry facilities
  • Satellite television service
  • Gas fireplace
  • A propane-fueled barbeque (with a full tank)
  • Stereo system
  • Wheelchair accessible
To book Maple Rest Heritage House in advance (recommended) call 1-888-ONT-PARK (1-888-668-7275).

Please note that smoking or pets are not permitted in the home.


Hiking

Hiking the dunes at Sandbanks Provincial Park has long been a popular activity for visitors and the park provides 3 easy to complete hiking trails within its boundaries that are open year round. Please note that pets are not allowed on the trails.

Woodlands Trail

At 5 kilometres (3 miles) in length this is the longest trail in Sandbanks Provincial Park but is very easy to complete. Available to hikers, cyclists and snowshoe enthusiasts in winter it begins near Outlet Beach, passes through the Woodlands Campground, and ends beside West Lake at Dunes Beach.

Cedar Sands Trail

This easy to complete 2 kilometre (1.2 mile) interpretive trail runs along the shore of the Outlet River and offers a boardwalk and two lookouts that gives hikers, cyclists and snowshoer's excellent views of the marsh, river and baymouth dune complex.

Along the way there are 12 stops with interpretive signs explaining the importance and ecology of the sand dunes region.

Sandbanks Dunes Trail

For me this 2.5 kilometre (1.8 mile) trail is a definite must do for any visitor to Sandbanks Provincial Park. While the hardest of the 3 trails to complete it is still only of moderate difficulty and it passes through some incredible sand dune formations and travels along the edge of some unique marsh habitats. Staircases take hikers up and down the steepest dunes so this trail is more suitable to hikers only.

Hikers should stay on the trail so as not to damage the sensitive sand dune formations and to stay clear of the Poison Ivy that is prevalent in the area. Along the way expect to see some wildlife and unusual flora not readily found elsewhere in the Province.


Fishing

The fishing in and around Sandbanks Provincial Park is excellent and the following bodies of water support ample angling opportunities:

East and West Lake, Outlet River

Large populations of:

  • Northern Pike
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Pickerel (Walleye)
  • Perch
  • Various other Panfish
Bay of Quinte

This world-renowned fishing destination is within 15 minutes of the park and many fishermen use the camping facilities inside the park as a base for this pickerel Mecca.

Lake Ontario

The waters of this huge lake are especially clear in and around the park and depending upon the season many different species are available to be caught. Salmon and Trout are the big draws and a thriving sports fishery exists with many local operators available to be chartered. Chinook Salmon in the area have been known to grow to huge sizes allowing the possibility of an angler to land a trophy sized fish.

Insider's Tip: For visitors of the park who may not have planned to do some fishing or may not have known of the abundant fishing opportunities in the area the park makes fishing equipment available free of charge through a Tackle Share Program. Visit the Woodyard inside the park to find out more and pick up your free of charge loaned gear.


Wildlife Viewing

The marshes, wetlands, woodlands and baymouth dunes inside Sandbanks Provincial Park make for some interesting habitats that are home to a variety of indigenous species. Expect to see some or all of the following species:

  • White-tailed deer
  • Raccoons
  • Skunks
  • Turtles
  • Wild Turkeys
  • Rabbits
  • Butterflies
  • Dragonflies

Birding

The peninsula of Quintes Isle falls along a natural migratory path for birds wishing to cross Lake Ontario. While not as important or as large as Point Pelee National Park in this respect Sandbanks Provincial Park is still of national importance in the preservation of migratory habitats and bird checklists are available at the visitor centre. Each spring and fall thousands of birding enthusiasts flock to the park to watch this natural wonder and over 200 species have been identified as either living or passing through the various habitats within the parks boundaries including:

  • Red-headed woodpeckers
  • Herons
  • Marsh Wrens
  • Swamp Sparrows
  • White-rumped Sandpipers
  • Pelicans
  • Geese
  • Ducks
  • Hawks
  • Eagles
  • Falcons
  • Sandhill Cranes
  • Terns
  • Jaegers
  • Gulls
  • Owls
  • Hummingbirds
  • Crows
  • Jays
  • Thrushes
  • Warblers
  • And many, many, more
Insider's Tip: One of the best spots for bird watching inside the park is at West Point located at the end of the Lakeshore Lodge Road. This is the western most part of the park and its seclusion makes for some excellent viewing opportunities.


Cycling

Bringing a bike to traverse the various trails is a great way to see the park although the trails themselves are not dedicated bicycle trails in themselves.

Quinte's Isle and Prince Edward County itself is somewhat of a biking destination for avid cyclists as its minimal vehicular traffic and extensive cycling trail system draws people from across Southern Ontario and beyond. On any given summer weekend you will see what seems like thousands of cyclist pedaling the various trails and roadways throughout the county.


Canoeing/Kayaking

Canoeing or kayaking through East Lake, West Lake or the Outlet River gives one a unique perspective into the diverse ecosystems inside Sandbanks Provincial Park. While there are no designated canoe routes as such the three waters listed above are calm and perfect for paddlers wishing to explore the park and its marsh habitats.

For more experience and adventurous paddlers the waters of Lake Ontario have been utilized by canoes for centuries. Please note however that the water here will be colder, choppier and rougher and can definitely be more dangerous so care should always be taken and you are advised to not venture too far from the shoreline.

Both canoes and kayaks are available to be rented at the woodlot inside the park.

Although there are no formal canoe routes in Sandbanks Provincial Park, the Outlet River is ideal for those just learning to canoe and who wish to explore the marsh habitat.


Boating

Sandbanks Provincial Park has two boat launches within its boundaries and more are to be found in neighboring Prince Edward County. The maximum length for craft to be launched from the park's facilities is 5.5 metres (18 feet).

The waters of both East Lake and West Lake are fantastic for smaller pleasure craft and both bodies of water have outlets into Lake Ontario. Lake Ontario itself is a favoured destination for pleasure boats of all sizes and attracts boaters from across North America. There are many marinas in the Quinte's Isle area to put in for a few hours to a few weeks.


Wind Surfing (Sailboarding)

The waters in and around Sandbanks Provincial Park are considered by some to be the best in the Province for windsurfing participants and on a nice summer day you will likely see hundreds of boarders skirting along the surface.

In the fall the winds tend to pick up even more and the boarders flock to the waters off the park in droves. Please note that all surfers must remain at least 400 metres (1225 feet) from all marked swimming areas at all times.


Kite Flying

The heavy winds that this peninsula jutting out into Lake Ontario attracts also provides favourable conditions for those that wish to remain on land and participate in recreational kite flying. Visitors will see craft of all shapes, colours and sizes flying high in the sky riding the invisible currents.


Beach Volleyball

The soft golden and white sands of the miles of beautiful beaches at sandbanks Provincial Park also make for great places to grab a ball and participate in the ever increasingly popular sport of beach volleyball. Nets are set up in various places and there always seems to be a game or two going on especially during a busy summer weekend. For those wishing to join in on the action, simply ask and most times your participation will be welcomed.


Winter Activities

While not open for camping and most other activities during the winter months Sandbanks Provincial Park is open year round and does offer some facilities for those wishing to participate in the following winter sports:

Cross-Country Skiing/Snowshoeing

In total 11 kilometres (6.6 miles) of groomed trails are maintained during the winter and most are easy to navigate even by beginning skiers/snowshoers. The longest of the trails is the yellow trail at 6 kilomteres (3.6 miles) but most can be combined to form a longer loop so as to allow skiers to continue for as long as they want.

The Friends of Sandbanks group also maintains a chalet all winter and all skiers and snowshoe participants are welcome to drop in, warm up and enjoy a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. Visit their site at: http://friendsofsandbanks.org for more information.


Historic sites

The area where the park is situated has long been an important region and there are a couple of archaeological sites that date back over 1000 years. In addition to these ancient fishing communities several more recent important historical sites also exist within the boundaries of Sandbanks Provincial park

Lakeshore Lodge

Located on Wellington Bay near where the high sand dunes begin this large hotel founded by the Hyatt family in 1868 was one of Ontario's premier resorts in the late 1800's. As other holiday destinations in the province were developed the lodge declined in popularity and eventually closed in 1973. Acquired by the Ministry of Natural Resources it was torn down in 1983. All that remains today are ruins of its foundations and entry gates but the site itself remains a popular day use area.

Barrett House

This beautiful Victorian home is scheduled for restoration and will present visitors a unique insight into a bygone era. it is scheduled to be eventually utilized as a bed and breakfast.

MacDonald Farm

This farm was originally established by United Empire Loyalists and the MacDonald house itself dates from 1878. The site also includes outbuildings, barns and the historic MacDonald/Hyatt Wharf named after the two prominent early families of the region. Preservation of the site is continuous, as the historical significance of the site has been identified.



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sandbanks provincial park Whilst little known outside of Southern Ontario, Sandbanks Provincial Park nevertheless is a destination that ever increasingly is finding its way to visitor's itineraries. While a little off the beaten path it is still not far from the main east-west transportation corridor of Highway 401.

It makes for a great place to spend a warm summer day as its beaches are marvelous and some of the best (if not the best) in the province. It is easy to see why some visitors liken then to tropical Caribbean beaches.

The incredible dunes are a definite must see and the park makes for a great place for those wishing to spend more than a day as it offers nice clean camping facilities. It also makes for a good place to explore the Quinte's Isle/Prince Edward County region that is well known for its fishing, wineries, cycling and marvelous sunsets.

I would highly recommend that if you have the time to spend at least a half a day and are traveling past the area, make a detour to Sandbanks Provincial Park and visit one of the true natural gems of the Province. For those seeking more information visit: http://www.ontarioparks.com/park/sandbanks or call (613) 393-3319.



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