A few weeks ago I dodged the epic one in a hundred years rainstorm in Winnipeg and drove west to Spruce Woods Provincial Park where the weather threatened, but did no more than that. John and I were there to hike the Spirit Sands and Devil’s Punch Bowl Trails.
The park is located about 180 kilometers west of Winnipeg, close to the city of Brandon. The park offers a real mix of environments – mixed grass prairie, forest, parkland and the Spirit Sands – Manitoba’s only sand dunes. Within the park there are campsites and extensive hiking trails including a portion of the Trans-Canada Trail.
We spent three to four hours exploring all the trails that make up the Spirit Sands – Devil’s Punch Bowl combination. The differences in ecosystems can easily be seen in the photos below.
A note of caution before you head to these trails; beware of the poison ivy as it’s everywhere. Long pants are a good idea and if you do touch the poison ivy, wash the area thoroughly with soap and water. At the beginning of the trail, there is a sign advising you not to touch suspicious objects. The area was a former military testing ground so there is the remote chance of finding explosives.
We started with the Spirit Sands Trail. It offers easy hiking but it can get seriously hot by noon on a summer day so try to avoid that time. All the trails could be done in as little as 90 minutes but at a meandering pace it could easily take three hours.
According to a sign at the top of the stairs pictured below, the circular appearance of the Spirit Sands when viewed from above is reminiscent of a medicine wheel. Each orientation is full of significance. We were entering the Spirit Sands from the East Gate, which is referred to as the Place of Beginnings. The South is called the Place of Plenty, the North – the Place of Wisdom and the West – the Place of Endings. Native people hold great respect for this area.
The sand dunes are beautiful, especially when covered with wildflowers. They are home to Manitoba’s only lizard called a Northern prairie skink which we unfortunately did not see. The Western hognose snake also lives here – and surprisingly since I seem to be a snake caller, we never saw one of these either.
Devil’s Punch Bowl Area
The Devils Punch Bowl area is adjacent to the Spirit Sands trail. Access is via an easy 1.9 kilometer connector trail through fields. The Punch Bowl from appearances looks like an innocuous pond, one where birds from all over appear to hang out. But it’s is formed by an underground stream and in fact sand slides into the 45 meter depression and disappears into what has been called eerie blue-green water.
Nearby is the Assiniboine River. There is an Assiniboine River canoe route that starts in Brandon. Maps are available showing the location of access points, drinking water and camping spots.
Did you know that there were sand dunes in Manitoba?
Thank you to Travel Manitoba for their help with this trip. All opinions as always are my own.