It’s hard to believe this exists in Manitoba!
The unique topography mystifies and impresses all visitors to Spruce Woods Provincial Park! Sand dunes, forests, grass prairies, unlikely plants including cactus, and wildlife like hognose snakes and northern prairie skink across the impressive 269 square kilometres! This park is also home to 11 oxbow lakes.
While not a true desert, it is one of the very few natural sand dunesin Canada. The park gets its unique name from the spruce trees growing in the area. It was also once the home of Fort des Epinettes, a 1700s Northwest Company trading provisioning post.
Things to Do at Spruce Woods Provincial Park
There are a number of hiking trails that can be enjoyed at the Park with distances ranging from 2 km to 40 km. Interpretive signs, water pumps and washrooms are available along the trail. Go prepared with proper walking shoes, a hat, sunscreen and drinking water.
Spirit Sands and Devil’s Punch BowlHiking Trail
The most fascinating and fragile feature of the park are the moving sand dunes, called the Spirit Sands. Some of the sand dunes are as tall as 30 m. The large stretches of open sand look like a desert, and yet it is not a true one as this area receives twice as much rainfall. Devil’s Punch Bowl is a bowl-shaped depression 45 metres deep with a pool of blue-green water (fed by underground streams).
The Spirit Sands were formed many years ago. When the last great glacier melted, the Assiniboine River created an enormous delta with sand and other sediments (from the melting glaciers). As the Assiniboine River drained into the ancient Lake Agassiz, and the Lake Agassiz drained to the south, the sands of the delta were exposed. This delta sand-covered 6,500 km square kilometres. Of this, only 4 square kilometres remain as the rest is now covered with rich plant life. The sand dunes of this area are moved along by northwesterly winds. In earlier days, these dunes were called Montagne du Diable (Devil’s Mountain). However, the aboriginal people considered this place close to the Great Spirit or Kiche Manitou. The dunes present name, “Spirit Sands”, recognizes the religious significance of the dunes to these early inhabitants.
The trail loops are accessible on the north side of the Assiniboine River at PTH 5. The return hike through the sand dunes can take about 2 to 3 hours, while that from the Devils Punch Bowl takes about 2 hours. Along the way, you can see trail signs describing the land, the plant and wildlife, and the history of Spirit Sands. Trail Map and Hiking Guide
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🌾SPIRIT SANDS🌾 My mom and I hiked the 9 km Spirit Sands Trail to the Devil’s Punch Bowl today. This is one of my favourite trails to do in the spring season before the bugs and heat. The Punch Bowl is a bowl-shaped depression in the sandy landscape with beautiful, calm, blue-green waters. Parks Manitoba’s website says that underground streams have eroded and collapsed the hills to create this unusual site. It’s so pretty and unique! 👏🥰
Dust of your hiking boots, as one of the best ways to enjoy Spruce Woods Provincial Park is by exploring the backcountry trails. These trails also have backcountry campsites – tenting area, picnic tables, fire pits and emergency shelters. Trail Maps
- Epinette Creek Trails – These trails will take you over different terrains. The routes are named after local conifers – Spruce (3.5 km), Juniper (2.2 km), Tamarack (10.5 km) and the Newfoundland Route (40 km). The Newfoundland Route winds around through to the Jackfish Lake Cabin named after the Newfoundland Ravine and you can book the cabin for overnight use during the winter season! The Newfoundland ravine is named so because this part of the park resembles the landscapes of Newfoundland!
- Seton Trails – Named after the renowned naturalist, artist and father of the Boy Scout, Ernest Thompson Seton, this trail consists of four trails which features steep inclines and sandhills, named after Seton’s artworks and stories – Snowy Owl (2.9 km), Chaska (3.6 km), Sleeping Wolf (5.8 km) and Sandhill Stag (4.2 km). These routes are more challenging and are recommended for exploration by experienced hikers, bikers and skiers, in the winter.
- Yellow Quill Trails – These trails are named after Yellow Quill, a renowned First Nations chief. The routes in this trail system are named after local first peoples – Ojibwa (1.8 km), Cree (5.1 km) and Assiniboine (5.8 km). These trails are perfect for beginner and experienced skiers and hikers.
Located in the Kiche Manitou day use area, this 1.4-km (45 minute) loop leads up the southern wall of the ancient Assiniboine River’s shoreline, passing from a lush, damp habitat to an arid ridge. The trail starts off with a small boardwalk. You can find Interpretive brochures at the trailhead. Trail Map
This is a short trail from the Hogsback viewpoint that moves along a narrow sand ridge to a steep sandy sloop to a beaver-dammed pool. The trail will give you an unobstructed view of the Assiniboine River valley.
Marshs Lake Trail
Marshs Lake is an oxbow lake of the ancient Assiniboine River. This short trail explores this oxbow lake and the life around it. The trail is wide, flat and grassy. You can access the trail off PTH 5, 2 km north of Assiniboine River. Length 1.5 km (1 hour) loop.
Spring Ridge Trail
This is a short 1.2-km (35 min) loop, located next to Steels Ferry Overlook (4 km east of campground). Read the signs along the trail to know how the Assiniboine River and underground springs shaped the land. Located next to the trail is the Steel Ferry Overlook from where you can enjoy scenic views of the Assiniboine river. Trailhead
The trails at Spruce Woods offer excellent cycing trails. The roads around the Kiche Manitou area provides easy riding. For more vigorous biking experiences, hit the backcountry trails. Please note that the Spirit Sands/Devils Punch Bowl, Isputinaw, Marshs Lake and Springridge self-guiding trails are not open to bicycles. The park offices will provide more information on cycling trails.
Bird watching has become a popular past time for visitors at Spruce Woods Provincial Park. Be sure to stay calm and distant and you never know what you may see!
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I was lucky to see this Hawk in Spruce Woods Provincial Park. #birdsofinstagram #bird #birds #birdsofprey #birdwatching #hiking #sprucewoodsprovincialpark #sprucewoods #nuts_about_birds #wildlife #wildlifephotography #nuts_about_nature #sharecangeo #best_birds_of_world #elite_raptors #bestbirdshots
Night Sky Watching
While Manitoba does not have any official Dark Sky areas, The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Winnipeg Chapter holds the annual Star Party here. Next time, you hear about a meteor shower and want to capture the image without light pollution, you can head out to Spruce Woods Provincial Park.
One can find hognose snake and the northern prairie skink here.
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There are over 200 campsites available across the park, which feature either electric or basic camping spots. The park also offers 13 yurts! These large, fabric-sided, domed shelters offer an authentic camping experience. Amenities in the park include modern washrooms, central shower building and laundromat. To accommodate larger groups or families, there are large, family sites available. Both groceries and fast foods are available at the concession stand, too. Please remember that camping is allowed only at designated areas in the park. Kiche Manitou Campground Map
Hike-in camping is offered at five designated sites on the Epinette Creek Hiking Trails. Backcountry users can also use the Jackfish Lake Cabin. Campers must self-register at the trailhead. All sites have firepits with wood, picnic tables and primitive toilets.
Other Summer activities
Summer sees people flocking to explore Spruce Woods. Summer Recreation Map
- Horseback Riding Trails – You can find information on the horseback trails at the park offices. Staging areas are at the equestrian campground (9 km east of Kiche Manitou campground) and at Canoe Campground #2. Corrals, water, firepits, fuelwood, and primitive toilets are available at these sites. Reservations are required for equestrian camping.
- Canoeing – As the historic Assiniboine River canoe route traverses the Spruce Woods Provincial Park, you can access the routes along the river. These routes range and some of them are long enough that you can cover them in a few days, stopping for rest at one of the campsites. The Assiniboine River Canoe Route Maps are sold at the bookshop. You can camp at the Canoe Campground #1 (1 km east and 1 km north of Kiche Manitou campground) and #2 (13 km north of the village of Cypress River). These sites are for overnight excursions to, or from, other designated canoe launches only.
- Paddle boating – A relaxing and fun excursion, you can rent a paddleboat at the concession stand and hit the waters of Kiche Manitou Lake, also located in the beautiful park for fun exploration.
- Swimming – Hit the waters of Kiche Manitou Lake, which is accessible from the day-use parking lot and the campground. There are changing rooms at the day-use parking lot. The Kiche Manitou Lake next to the footbridge along the southeast shoreline is a dog-friendly swim area.
- Mini-Golf – There is a mini-golf course located in the day-use area of the Park.
- Interpretation Programs – Many interpretation programs on the natural and cultural history of the park are offered at the centres during the summer months.
- Horse-drawn Wagon rides – In July & August, you can enjoy horse-drawn wagon rides with Spirit Sands Wagon Outfitters. This interpretive tour is taken through the Spirit Sands. Rides are offered during May long weekend too.
Spruce Woods also offers activities to enjoy during the winter months. Winter Map and Trail Map
- You can explore easy or challenging cross country ski trails (Yellow Quill, Seton, and Épinette Creek Trails).
- There are also skating ovals, hockey rinks, and toboggan hills (unsupervised) to enjoy with your whole family.
- Explore the Yellow Quill & Seton Trails on a Fat bike. Do note that Fat bikes must yield to walkers and skiers, and do not ride on the ski tracks.
- Skate ski at the Yellow Quill & Seton Trails.
- Kick-sledding, skijoring, dog sledding is allowed along Yellow Quill trail system, including Cree, Assiniboine and Ojibwa.
- Designated snowmobile trails will allow you to visit many parts of the park. Please remember that all snowmobile trails in provincial parks are a part of SNOMAN‘s Snofund Trail System; therefore, a valid Snopass is required.
- The Epinette, Seton and Yellow Quill trails offer several hike or ski-in campsites, including the Jackfish Lake cabin. There are no fees for backcountry winter camping, but registration is required for any overnight use. Winter camping is by tent only. For backcountry overnight use, contact Carberry District Office at 204-834-8800.
- Love fishing? Try your hand at ice fishing. There are several fishing huts, complete with wood stoves, on the lake.
- Marshs Lake and Parsons Hill are groomed solely for hiking or snowshoeing!
When to Visit Spruce Woods Provincial Park
The park is open year-round, with camping from May to October.
The Interpretive Centre with the Spirit Sands Museum and Bookshop is located in the day-use area and is open May to September.
Check the trail conditionsbefore starting.
How to Get to Spruce Woods Provincial Park
From Winnipeg: travel west on Highway 1, turn south on P.T.H. 5 for 29 kilometres. From P.T.H. 2 west turn north on P.T.H. 5 for 13 kilometres.
Kiche Manitou is approximately 180 kilometres from Winnipeg.
Carberry District Office 204-834-8800
Backcountry travel permits are required for overnight use. Canoeists, horseback riders and backcountry campers should call the Carberry office, the Interpretive Centre, or the campground office beforehand to check on travel restrictions and fire hazards.
For more information call 1-800-214-6497 (204-945-6784 in Winnipeg)
How much to visit
From Spring 2020, you can purchase and print your vehicle permits online at manitobaelicensing.ca.
2020 Entrance Fees
Base permit fees remain unchanged from last year. An additional $4.50 administration fee has been added to all permits to provide the new elicensing service.
- Annual $44.50 (valid until April 30, 2021)
- Casual $16.50 (valid for three consecutive days)
- Daily $9.50 (valid until midnight on the date of purchase)
Free Park Entry Dates for 2020 (Vehicle permits are not required)
- February 1-29, free for the entire month
- Family Fishing Weekend (June 12-14)
- Canada’s Parks Day Weekend (July 17-19)
- Labour Day Weekend (September 4-7)
Nightly Camping Fees
- Basic Services $11.55 to $23.10
- Electrical Services $15.75 to $27.30
- Electrical/Water Services $18.90 to $26.25
- Full Service $23.10 to $28.35
- Yurts $56.50