athabasca sand dunes

These exotic sand dunes are actually found in the middle of Canada

Canada is known for a few things, geographically: mountain ranges to ski on. Lakes to cottage on. Thousands of kilometres of lush forests, rocky coasts and prairie farmland.

One thing that certainly doesn't often come to mind when one thinks of Canada is a 100 km-wide stretch of sandy desert. But, Northern Saskatchewan has just that, and it's surreal.

The Athabasca Sand Dunes, which border the southern edge of the lake of the same name within an eponymous provincial park, have their own ecosystem and plant life unique to the rest of Canada. Across the water from Uranium City, the park covers an astounding 1,925 km² of land.

With the once-in-a-lifetime scenery comes a once-in-a-lifetime mode of getting there: by boat or float plane only, which means a more exclusive, uninterrupted look at the endless landscape. (But also, more commitment to the trip.)

The 8,000-year-old dunes range from 400 to 1,500 metres long and can reach 30 metres (nine storeys) high.

The park also has natural phenomena like ridges formed by wind and water, as well as desert pavement — hard-packed ground comprised of miniature, natural cobblestones.

Though the area is one of the most northerly active deserts of its kind in the world, visitors will be surprised to find a river snaking through its western side, which — along with the lake — offer beautiful grounds for fishing.

Camping in one of Athabasca Sand Dunes Provincial Park's designated camping areas is free of charge, but whether you make the trek on your own or as part of an organized tour is up to you.

There are no on-site services like the ones guests may be accustomed to in other provincial parks, which means the park is only recommended for "experienced wilderness users" who must check-in with a conservation officer before their arrival.

Because it is an ecologically sensitive area, just make sure to treat a trip to Athabasca like a weekend at Burning Man: take nothing and leave nothing.

With its unmistakably exotic feel, views that feel otherworldly (or at least other-continent-ly), and distinctive variety of flora and fauna, it's no wonder that thrillseekers continue to make the trek to Canada's most epic dunes.

Lead photo by

Tourism Saskatchewan


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