Ontario’s Provincial Park system boasts of some of the most spectacular places in the country; among the favorites of visitors and locals alike is Sandbanks Provincial Park—a waterfront landscape located on the north shore of Lake Ontario. If you’re looking for a place that embodies Mother Nature’s bounty in a setting that’s surrounded by all the fun both land and water offers, Sandbanks Provincial Park has something for everyone.
This guide will help you plan your trip to one of Ontario’s most desired vacation destinations.
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Sandbanks Provincial Park touts the largest fresh-water sand bar and baymouth barrier dune system in the entire world, providing picturesque images in all directions. It encompasses 1,550.87 hectares (about 6 square miles) of natural environmental space that’s used for camping, bird watching, bicycling, hiking, picnicking, windsurfing, sunbathing, and swimming.
Each of the three beaches at Sandbanks Provincial Parks offers its own personality and recreational enjoyment to visitors. You’ll find an assortment of family-friendly areas and places where you’ll usually only find adults at play.
Thanks to the easily accessible visitors’ centre and plenty of recreational rentals that are intended to ensure your experience is as enjoyable as possible, you’ll have professional provincial park experts available to answer your questions and offer advice at every opportunity.
Three Beaches at Sandbanks Provincial Park
Sandbanks is known its swimming facilities. Each beach is characterized by elements that are often attractive to visitors who are looking for specific things from their experiences. There are no lifeguards at any of the beaches, so it’s important to use caution. Implore the use of arm floaties for your youngest beach-goers, and make sure someone is always watching when people from your party are in the water.
- Outlet Beach is in the East Lake portion of the park. This beach offers a gradual drop-off from the shore, making it a great place to go with kids or people who would prefer to wade in the water. This is the dog-friendly beach, so this is where you’ll want to head if you’re bringing your furry family members along, too.
- Sandbanks Beach lives in the Sandbanks Day-Use area of the park. This beach also offers a gradual integration into the water, enabling visitors to walk into the lake as deeply as they want to go.
- Dunes Beach is also in a day-use-only section of the park, located off of West Lake. The drop-off at Dunes beach is steep and should only be explored by individuals who know how to swim, as the water gets deep very quickly. There’s also a playground at Dunes Beach, making it the perfect place to wear out your little ones’ energies in a fun fashion.
There’s an unofficial section of Sandbanks Provincial Park, which—despite posted warning against public nudity—has long been a place where people bare their uncovered skin to the sun and water. It lives on the western end of the western sector of the beach. If you’re searching for a place where you can let everything hang out without judgment, stares, glares, walk a few metres past the parking lot (to the west). This slightly hidden spot is where like-minded people congregate to enjoy nature as naturists.
If you’re looking for a more family-friendly atmosphere where swimsuits don the bodies of those who are there to imbibe in the experience, stay on the main paths, and you’ll find more than your share of shoreline adventures that are sure to make awesome memories.
Notable Fact: It’s not illegal for anyone to be topless in public in Ontario, unless it’s specified by the town or city bylaws. If you’re a woman who doesn’t want to explore the completely nude side of the beach where naturists enjoy their visits, you can still lawfully go topless on other shores.
Pro Tip: Head to the beaches early, particularly if you’re going on the weekend. The popular spots can fill up pretty quickly; this is especially true of Dunes Beach.
Camping at Sandbanks Provincial Park
There are more than 500 camping sites at Sandbanks, spread across five different campground areas. You’ll find an array of amenities, ranging from flushing toilets to laundry facilities. Depending on the type of camping you’re looking for, there are areas that will fulfill every visitor’s desires.
- Outlet River A is right on the water, making it one of the most highly sought-after camping spots in the park. Because of this, it’s important to know hat you might be situated close to other camping neighbors if you choose this location. Outlet A offers a few sites that provide electrical service.
- Outlet River B is also near the water, but it offers a bit more privacy than its Outlet A counterpart. There are a few campsites along the Outlet River. A loop with electrical pull-through sites provides campers here with heat, entertainment, and creature comforts.
- Cedars in the lake sector is a family-oriented spot that affords campers more privacy than some of the beachfront spots. There are sheltered campsites that are secluded from ongoing traffic, but the water is still very nearby.
- Richardson’s in the west sector provides a mix of sunny spots and shady respites, enabling you to soak up some Vitamin D while still being able to retreat from UV heat when your body and brain need a break. 19 campsites at Richardson’s offer electricity. This site is about 5km away from Outlet Beach, which makes it a great distance if you’ve got your bikes in-tow. There are plenty of kiddo campers spinning their wheels around this family-friendly site, too.
- Woodlands Campground is located to the north-west of the main park entrance. This campground offers 140 campsites, many of which have electrical facilities. You’ll also find showers, running water, and toilets on this side of the park. With a mix of both sunny and shady spots, Woodlands is a great spot for all seasons. Campers tend to appreciate the sunnier sites when temperatures are cooler in the spring and fall; the shadier spots are particularly popular in the summer months.
Group Camping Accommodations
Sandbanks Provincial Park does offer group camping sites for parties of 30 to 50. Make sure you select the “group camping” option when you’re making your reservation.
Some people prefer walls and roofs when they’re exploring the Great Outdoors. Sandbanks features two cottages—Maplerest Heritage House and Jacques Cottage—for campers who don’t want to leave their creature comforts behind. Each cottage includes parking, fully equipped kitchens, satellite TV, indoor plumbing, bed linens, and towels.
No matter which area you’d like to camp in, it’s best to make reservations ahead of time, which can be done directly through the Ontario Parks’ website. The campgrounds of Sandbanks Provincial Park can get pretty busy, and on high-volume days, you’re not likely to find a first-come-first-serve spot. To avoid unexpected frustrations, nail down your camping spot before you head toward Lake Ontario.
Activities at Sandbanks Provincial Park
Sandbanks is a great place to enjoy plenty of activities, whether you just want to sit by the shoreline and relax against the ebbs and flows of Lake Ontario. Here’s a look at some of the most popular fun-in-the-sun stuff enjoyed by visitors of Sandbanks:
Although there aren’t designated bike trails at Sandbanks, you’ll find easy access to exercise between the park’s various campsites and along the beaches themselves.
Perched right at the tip of the land that juts out into Lake Ontario, Sandbanks is right along the migration path for many species of birds in the spring and fall.
There’s a boat launch located in the Outlet River A Campground for power boats that are 18 feet or less. You can also find other boat launches outside of the park. Be sure to stay away from swimming areas; power boats are permitted on the east and west sides of the lake.
Walking & Hiking Trails
A combination of wetlands and traditional types of hiking trails afford you the opportunity to take in the incredible landscape of Sandbanks, no matter which option you choose. Besides the beach and roadways, you’ll find three main walking and hiking trails:
- Cedar Sands Nature Trail. This is a 2-km loop along the shores of the Outlet River, offering photo ops of the marsh at two distinct lookout spots.
- Woodlands Trail. With 3.5 km of linear, easy-to-navigate paths, you can take a stroll or cycle through the Woodland Campground and past old settlements until you arrive at the Dunes Beach entrance.
- Sandbanks Dunes Trail. If you’re looking for an easy-to-moderate adventure, check out this 2.5-km loop that takes you up close and personal with the fragile dune habitat, which supports a variety of rare wetland wildlife and plants.
Windsurfing & Kite-Sailing
The winds that come in from the west, combined with the warm summer waters, make this vacation destination a great place to enjoy a fruitful combination of water and air.
Sandbanks Provincial Park is awaiting your visit. Get excited about your journey to Lake Ontario, and start planning your next shore-inspired adventure today!