If you’ve ever wanted to experience the desert from Edmonton or Calgary without a passport nor driving to Yukon, then the Great Sand Hills of Saskatchewan is the place to visit!
Located in southwest Saskatchewan, the Great Sand Hills are located within an ecological ranch owned by the the Sandhills Stockmen’s Association. They have opened up this land to visitors free of charge to help draw tourism for those visiting nearby Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, or making the cross-country journey along the Trans-Canada Highway.
Below the video, we discuss planning your trip to the Great Sand Hills.
If you’re planning on visiting the Great Sand Hills, be sure to go early in the day just after sunrise to before noon, as the sand gets got from the sun in this arid environment. In fact, Southern Alberta and Southern Saskatchewan are known as the sunbelt of Canada. Nearby Medicine Hat receives 2544 hours of sunlight per year, the sunniest city in the country.
In order to arrive at the Great Sand Hills early in the day, we suggest camping nearby. Prelate has A & C Campground on the south side of the village where the open fields will allow you to truly see why Saskatchewan is the Land of Living Skies. With views as far south into the Montana, you’ll be able to see distant thunderstorms blow by while still being silent enough to hear a cow moo a kilometre away. The view of the stars in this area straddling the two provinces is absolutely stunning. Seeing the Milky Way from our own backyard really speaks of how far and wide our prairie scape is.
Also to note is that there are not a lot of gas stations in the area. The only ones are in Leader, Sceptre, Fox Valley, and Maple Creek so be sure to check daily hours before your visit as you may find it closed if you’re heading to a campsite to stay overnight.
Once you arrive
When you arrive at the Great Sand Hills parking lot, you will see a sand mound after getting out of the car. If you don’t have much time, that’s the one to check out. But for the Great Sand Hills, go up to the top of the hill behind the information board, and you’ll find boots of ranchers and past caretakers hung on a wooden post. Follow the trail about 15-20 minutes and you will reach several large sand dunes. All trails lead to the same place, so it’s whether you want to climb the small hills or go around them.
Despite being open free to the public, that the Great Sand Hills are still privately owned. Like any ecologically sensitive area, leave nothing behind except footsteps, and take nothing with you except photos and memories.
Southern Alberta, including here in this part of Saskatchewan can get very hot in the summer months. And like any arid location and desert, the sandhills are no exception. Be sure to bring water with you, wear sunscreen, and a hat to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke. As mentioned, it’s best to go early in the day as the sand becomes hot to the touch from the sun.
Of course, the best way to maximize your road trip experience is to explore other attractions in the area. Here’s a few suggestions:
Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park – Centre Block
This park has a $10 fee to access, but is the most well-maintained part of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park because of that. The entire park is small, so all the sites are drivable within 5-10 minutes. Enjoy the hiking trails, check out Loch Leven, and the two viewpoints in the northwest part of the park. Have some ice cream or food at Dar’s Little Dipper as it’s excellent. If you’re here on a daytrip, you can see all the sites within an hour.
Maple Creek is a quaint little town to stop at for lunch or dinner while you’re refilling gas. Don’t fill up on Highway 1. Instead, pick up a free Cowtown Dollar from the highway visitors centre, then head into town to spend it in their historic downtown.
While Fort Walsh was barely a footnote in the Canadian education system, the fort plays quite an historic role in the formation of the RCMP and relations between early European settlers and local First Nations on the prairies.
The sunniest city in Canada is also one of the most consistent hot spots in the country. It’s a small but mighty food and tourist stop, and the closest shopping mall to the Great Sand Hills.
Larger Than Life Wildlife Sculptures
Leader, SK is the closest major gas station if you’re visiting the Great Sand Hills directly from Edmonton. If you’re taking a break, why not take a short walk around town to find the 9 Larger than Life Wildlife Sculptures?