Whether you’re looking for a quiet spot to relax and soak up the sun or you’re ready to hit one (or maybe even all, depending on your level of ambition) of the park’s six trails for a day of hiking and biking, Sandbanks has something for everyone.
The only question is: what will you do first?
An Introduction to Sandbanks
Home to the world’s largest baymouth barrier dune formation, the park welcomes about 750,000 people on quests for much-needed time in paradise during the summer months alone, speaking to its massive popularity.
Most of them come for the park’s three expansive beaches, which some say are among the best in Canada. While the soft, golden sand warming the bottom of your feet, epic sunsets and rolling waves may trick you into thinking you’re in the Caribbean, your GPS will prove you’re right here in Prince Edward County. And we promise: you’ll see there’s no place you’d rather be.
Where is Sandbanks Provincial Park
Situated on a narrow strip of land between Lake Ontario and West Lake, Sandbanks Provincial Park is just a hop, skip and jump away from several major metropolitan areas.
Pack your bags, hit the road, and you can get here in a little more than two hours if you’re coming from Toronto or about three hours if you’re traveling from Ottawa.
What Lake is Sandbanks Provincial Park On?
Bordered on the south by New York and by the province of Ontario on the north, you’ll find Lake Ontario – one of the five great lakes of North America.
Home to the second-oldest Great Lakes shipwreck, an abandoned U.S. Air Force C-45 aircraft and more than 100 beaches – including Sandbanks Provincial Park – Lake Ontario boasts incredible opportunities for all kinds of watersports, including boating, paddle boarding and more.
When Does Sandbanks Provincial Park Open?
From April 28 until October 31, 2023, guests are able to take advantage of Sandbanks’ overnight camping.
Day use, however, is encouraged all year-round! Throughout the chillier winter months in particular, the dunes are a sight to behold. Pack snowshoes and warm winter gear and make the most of the season on the park’s many trails. Added bonus: the photo opps are incredible and there’s a chance you’ll have the whole area to yourself.
How to Book Sandbanks Provincial Park
It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. Sandbanks Provincial Park is busy. In fact, it’s one of the busiest parks in Ontario.
Oftentimes, the park reaches capacity during the summer months, so it pays to plan well in advance to make sure that you’re able to enjoy the park when you want to.
Competition is fierce, however, so you’ll want to be ready. The park’s online reservation system opens at 7 a.m. five months in advance before the first date of your trip. The park advises that if you want your best chance of getting your dream site, pick your campsite in advance, prep your device, and book as soon as the window opens.
If you feel like playing camping roulette, you can also give booking late a try. We’re not going to guarantee it’ll work, but it’s worth a shot. Sandbanks Provincial Park gets tons of cancellations every year, so if you’re quick, you can snatch up a site at the last minute.
If you’re not having any luck, you may need to compromise a little and take a look at booking your trip during the week or shoulder seasons. Admittedly, you may not want to take a dip in Lake Ontario come October, but there are plenty of other activities to try out during your stay. You can check them out here or just keep reading!
Just want to come for the day? Sandbanks offers day passes, as well. There is, however, a small caveat. You’ll need to book in advance, simply because the park fills up so quickly.
Good news is: you can get your permit up to five days in advance and they last for an entire day so you can make the most of your time there. Get your permit here.
What to do at Sandbanks
When one thinks of the Sandbanks, swimming is perhaps the first thing that comes to mind. The park is, after all, famous for its beaches.
And there are three to choose from: Outlet Beach, which is located in the East Lake sector of the park, Sandbanks Beach, in the Sandbanks day use area off Lake Ontario and Dunes Beach, which is in the Dunes day use area off West Lake.
Traveling with kiddos in tow? Outlet and Sandbanks beaches have gradual drop-offs, but the Dunes Beach has a steep drop-off so swimmers should be extra-careful.
Also good to know: there are no lifeguards posted at the beaches and pets are not permitted except in the designated pet area.
Sandbanks Dunes Beach
Dunes Beach Day Use Area – Sandbanks Provincial Park
Sandbanks Provincial Park is a virtual playground for those who like savouring all that the outdoors has to offer. And for some, that means cycling.
While there are no dedicated cycling trails at Sandbanks, bikers will love exploring the park along the campground’s road. If you feel like going beyond the park, the areas surrounding Sandbanks in Prince Edward County offer plenty of opportunities to take your wheels on an unforgettable adventure.
Try a wineries cycling tour between the Wineries in Prince Edward County. Just bring a backpack so you can bring some of your favorite bottles back to the campground to enjoy beside the cracking fire.
Fun fact: Sandbanks’ location, jutting out into Lake Ontario, means the park is a bird migration hotspot in the spring and fall.
If you’re into birdwatching, go to the Visitor’s Centre at Sandbanks and grab your very own bird checklist so you can identify all the waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds and rare and endangered birds that call the park home.
Don’t forget your binoculars and a notebook so you can track everything you spot.
There’s nothing quite like being on the water. It allows you to disconnect from the stresses of everyday life and enjoy the beauty of nature.
And if you’re after an adventure, this is where you’ll find it.
Powerboating is permitted on Lake Ontario and East and West Lake, but not near the swimming areas or on the beach.
If you lack a boat of your own, there are rentals available. Check out West Lake Watersports Prince Edward County if you’re looking for a pontoon boat, jet ski or fishing boat. Or if you’re feeling really adventurous, check out their flyboard rentals. (If you’re wondering what a “flyboard’ is, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a board that is fitted with a water jetpack, which sends you flying into the air.) Hope you’re not afraid of heights!
Canoeing, Kayaking and Stand-Up Paddleboarding
Those who aren’t into being shot into the air on a stream of water may be more inclined to stick to more traditional watersports, such as canoeing. And at Sandbanks, there’s plenty of opportunities to do it.
The park has canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards available for rent at the wood yard. Bear in mind that rentals go quickly during the summer months, so get there early to avoid disappointment.
If you’re into fishing, you’re in luck. This lake is known for its incredible fishing opportunities. Its vast size and diverse ecosystem is home to numerous fish species, including Atlantic salmon, the Bluegill sunfish, Brook trout, Channel catfish and more. The area attracts anglers from all over the world.
The fishing season in Lake Ontario is year-round, but there are fishing regulations to keep in mind before you drop a line. Learn more about possession limits, size limits and fishing licenses by visiting the Government of Ontario’s website.
It’s been said that the world reveals itself to people to travel on foot, and we have to say that we agree. At the Sandbanks, you’ll find six trails that are ready and waiting for you to explore them.
They all vary in length, difficulty and vistas, so do some research before lacing up your boots.
The Cedar Sands Nature Trail is a 2 km loop that takes you along the shores of Lake Ontario and has two lookouts providing scenic lookouts.
Those seeking a more moderate hike will enjoy the Sandbanks Dunes Trail. At 2.5 km, this loop travels through a dune habitat and along the edge of several pannes.
Where to Stay Near Sandbanks Provincial Park
Pitching a tent? Rolling in with an RV? You’ll love the campground’s 500-plus campsites in five campground areas with both electrical and non-electrical sites. They offer ample privacy and plenty of natural shelter, and swimming, boating and hiking opportunities are never too far away.
But while the great outdoors can indeed be great, we understand there are some that are more inclined towards modern-day creature comforts come nightfall. Pillowy mattresses and climate control will never do you wrong, after all.
If that’s the case with you, this is a judgment-free zone and we encourage you to hit the snooze button on your room’s alarm clock as you burrow back under the down-filled duvet before hitting the beach.
Start by checking out our range of very own vacation rentals, which have every type of traveler in mind. Find incredible views of the lake, or pick something more suitable to your needs.
Whether you’re looking for something that’s pet-friendly, on the water, centrally located, or family-friendly, we’ve got you covered. Even better, we do all the hard work for you, so all you need to do is relax. And isn’t that what all vacations should be about?
If a vacation rental isn’t quite what you have in mind, there are other options to explore.
Hotels Near Sandbanks Beach
Sandbanks Provincial Park may very well be one of Ontario’s most popular tourist destinations, but that doesn’t mean all those tourists are born to be campers.
As a resort and banquet centre, isaiah tubbs also has a range of options when traveling as a couple, with family or with a group of friends. Their beach houses have incredible views of the lake that we know you’ll want to share with your followers on Instagram.
Added bonus: you’ll love how close the resort is to Sandbanks. The travel time clocks in at a whopping five minutes. So the beach, sand and sun are never too far away.
If you’re looking for a more central location that’s within walking distance to shopping and dining options, check out the Picton Harbour Inn, which is right in the heart of Picton. The recently-renovated rooms are cozy and come with everything you need for a comfortable stay, including WiFi and a coffee maker. (We know your priorities!).
Feeling fancy? Check out the Drake Devonshire, which was touted as being “Part gallery, part luxury retreat and part grownup playground” by Condé Nast Traveler. Those looking to sleep in style should consider staying in the Owner’s Suite, which is the Devonshire’s award-winning room. It boasts jaw-dropping views of Lake Ontario, a large, private balcony, fireplace and custom designed furniture by +tongtong studio.
Also in the heart of Prince Edward County is Wander. A resort like none other, where “Nordic design meets County comfort”, this spectacularly stylish retreat made Travel & Leisure’s 2020 “It List” for best new hotels, and it’s easy to see why.
Check out the resort’s 10 dreamy cabins, which sleep up to six in “understated luxury.”
Choose from poolside cabins or lakeside cabins, which come with private outdoor dining and living areas, full kitchens with European appliances, and air conditioning for hot summer evenings and heated floors when things cool off outside.
Sandbanks Pet-Friendly Hotels
If you own a pet, it’s only natural that they’d want to tag along for your vacation to Sandbanks.
While there are a few rules to keep in mind during your stay at the park (keep them leashed, keep them quiet and keep them off the beach!), you can make some amazing memories as a pet parent in Prince Edward County.
There are a range of pet-friendly hotels to choose from, ranging from classic and simple to elegant and sophisticated for the fancier Fidos out there. Our very own vacation rentals also have a number of pet-friendly properties to choose from.
If your pet is in the later category, take a look at The Lakeside Motel.
Located in Wellington, the motel boasts two acres of property with everything from standard rooms to more secluded accommodations.
Those traveling with a group will love the Lakeside Bungalow, which has two bedrooms with a queen-size bed, full kitchen and living room. It also has ample private outdoor space with a firepit (so bring your marshmallows), a private deck and dining area.
If your pet likes wine (we’re kidding), the inn at Huff Estates is another option to consider. Located in Bloomfield, there’s a range of rooms to choose from, from deluxe suites with private garden patios, to premiere suites themed to reflect the natural elements of the county.
But the Winemaker’s Suite is truly something to behold. With an intimate wrap-around porch that overlooks the vineyard, and fireplace and whirlpool tub, it’s a true retreat that you’ll love calling home during your trip to the Sandbanks.
And finally, pet owners will also want to check out Jackson’s Falls Country Inn in Milford. Originally built in 1870 as a one-room public school house, this inn supports and celebrates local artists by featuring their work in each of its rooms.
The Janx Suite, which is ideal for larger groups, has two beds and a games room with a pool table. There’s also a private firepit and large lounge area so you can sip on the county-made beverages in style during your stay.
Our advice? When you’re choosing your digs, take the time to check out the diverse collection of communities that surround Sandbanks. From energetic and eclectic, to charming and picturesque, each community has a flavour all its own.
Here’s a peek into a few of them. Choose your adventure and go!
It’s no surprise that Sandbanks Provincial Park has been rated on TripAdvisor as the No. 1 thing to do in Picton (a great beach’ll do that!), but if you’re looking to take a bit of a break from the great outdoors, there are number of ways to accomplish this with aplomb.
And we think you might as well tempt your tastebuds while you’re at it. Lucky for you, one of the main attractions in Picton is the food and drink scene.
Tip back a cold one at one of the many breweries in Picton, including Barley Days Brewing, the oldest craft brewery in Prince Edward County. There’s also Parson’s Brewing Company, a family-owned and operated brewery that has a range of beers to choose from. No matter how you raise a glass, you’ll love every sip.
Prefer wine? You ought to know the area has that well-covered, too, so raise a toast at one of Picton’s many vineyards. If you don’t know where to get started (we have more than 40 wineries to choose from!), check out our County Wine Essentials Tour, which leaves the planning, tasting fees and driving to us.
If you’re into the live music scene, this small Ontario town has you covered. Check out the Acoustic Grill, located right on Picton’s Main Street. Here, food is perfectly paired with music and you can enjoy talented local and traveling musicians who take on “the smallest but coolest stage” in PEC.
Also on Main Street is Slickers, which has been creating all-natural artisan ice cream for more than 20 years. All the ice cream is made fresh daily in its licenced dairy, and takes fresh, local and delicious to a new level.
Whether you’re into the classics like butterscotch ripple and chocolate peanut butter, or want to step outside of your comfort zone with flavours like rhubarb ginger and lemon chiffon, we know you’ll want to opt for a double scoop. And you absolutely should.
Known for its charming downtown area, Wellington is home to a movie-set-worthy collection of historic buildings that house shops, restaurants and art galleries you’ll love getting lost in.
Be sure to check out Armstrong Glassworks, located in a former feedmill dating back to the early 1900s, which showcases fine hand-crafted blown glass and even offers in-person demonstrations. (Just make sure you call ahead to make sure the in-house artist is blowing glass that day.)
The Sybil Frank Gallery, a small eclectic space that features the work of both local and Canadian talent, is another option for art aficionados. Here, you’ll find fine pieces ranging from contemporary modern to landscapes and bold sculptural pieces.
If you’re looking for a bite, head over to East & Main Bistro, which boasts a mouthwatering menu that features fresh, local ingredients. Our take: the charcuterie board pairs exceedingly well with local wine.
Just down the road (or up the road, depending on where you’re coming from!), you’ll find the Midtown Brewing Co. Here, you’ll find everything from pale ales and dry irish stout to pilsner. Pair your sipper with some of the brewery’s wood-fired pizza, and you’ll be all set for a day of adventuring.
If you’re in the mood to savour some local vine flavours, you’re in luck. This area is part of the Prince Edward County wine region, which has gained recognition for its high-quality wines. Visitors can take tours and tastings at many of the local wineries, and there are also several breweries and cideries in the area.
Karlo Estates, with its four-season heated/air-conditioned wine lounge is a must-see, so take advantage of their in-house tastings.
Or you can head over to Rosehall Run Vineyards, one of the County’s original wineries. The 150-acre farm is home to a range of wines that are “balanced and elegant,” and are a reflection of the terroir and the vintage. Be sure to ask about the winery’s robust French barrel program.
Just a 14-minute drive from Sandbanks Provincial Park, this quaint and peaceful destination has many buildings that date back to the 1800s, which are now home to art galleries, antique shops and boutiques.
Consider exploring Prince Edward County on an electric bike from Pedego PEC. You can see more in less time, get power when you want it, and feel like a kid again.
Another must-visit attraction in Bloomfield is the Bloomfield Public House. This historic building has been converted into a cozy restaurant and bar that serves up delicious pub fare and craft beer. From charred octopus and smoked hen, to flat iron steak and gnocchi, the menu has a little something for everyone.
In the summertime, visitors to Bloomfield can enjoy the Bloomfield Farmers’ Market, which takes place every Saturday morning from May to October at the Eddie Hotel and Farm. Here, local vendors sell fresh produce, baked goods, artisanal cheeses, and handmade crafts.
Rest assured that no matter where you choose to stay during your visit to the area, you’ll be enchanted by the scenery, wowed by the natural wonders and amazed by the wide range of experiences.
Enjoy Your Visit!
Sandbanks Provincial Park is an exceptional natural wonder you can’t miss. If you’re looking for a destination that offers an unparalleled natural beauty and a wealth of recreational opportunities, look no further.
We can’t wait to welcome you to this beautiful part of Ontario.