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Hiking the Spirit Sands & Devils Punch Bowl Trails near Brandon, MB

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.

"Spirit Sands Trail, Manitoba"

Spirit Sands Trail

"Poison ivy is everywhere"

Poison ivy is everywhere

"Looking through the berries"

Looking through the berries

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.

"Stairs provide a scenic overlook over Spirit Sands, Manitoba"

Stairs provide a scenic overlook over Spirit Sands

"Manitoba sand dunes"

Sand dunes are a magnet for kids

"Stairs are easier to climb up than down"

Stairs are easier to climb up than down

"Yellow flowers (name?) are found in abundance in the sand"

Yellow flowers (name?) are found in abundance in the sand

"Interpretive signs are scattered around the trail - Spirit Sands Park"

Interpretive signs are scattered around the trail

"Shelter in the distance with a location map"

Shelter in the distance with a location map

"Heading off to explore one of the spur trails"

Heading off to explore one of the spur trails

"These flowers have to be hardy to endure intense summer heat"

These flowers have to be hardy to endure intense summer heat- it can get up to 55C at sand level

"We almost have the whole park to ourselves on a weekday"

We almost have the whole park to ourselves on a weekday

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.

"The Devil's Punch Bowl, Manitoba"

The Devil’s Punch Bowl

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.

"Looking through the trees to the Assiniboine River"

Looking through the trees to the Assiniboine River

You can paddle the Assiniboine River - but there's a lot of debris from earlier floods along its banks

You can paddle the Assiniboine River – but there’s a lot of debris from earlier floods along its banks

"A palette of green near the Devil's Punch Bowl"

A palette of green near the Devil’s Punch Bowl

"Woody trail in Spruce Woods Provincial Park"

Beautiful woods – but stray off the path at your peril as they are loaded with poison ivy

Did you know that there were sand dunes in Manitoba?

Hiking the Spirit Sands & Devil's Punchbowl near Brandon, Manitoba

Thank you to Travel Manitoba for their help with this trip. All opinions as always are my own.

Leigh McAdam

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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure – & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project – a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • Your post has well captured the beauty of this region, Leigh. It’s been quite a few years since I was to Spirit Sands, but I certainly did enjoy our visit. It was an extremely hot day on our visit. But that didn’t stop me from enthusiastically scampering thru those sand dunes!

  • I had no idea that there were sand dunes in Manitoba! I love the contrast between the two trails – interesting that two vastly different ecosystems could be so close together geographically.Love the little yellow wildflowers – don’t think I have ever seen flowers growing in sand before either!

  • Freya says:

    What a stunning area, I wouldn’t have expected to see sand dunes in such a green area. I would love to explore this region

    • @Freya We don’t have many sand dunes in Canada so to see a fairly extensive area was very interesting.

      • June Bates says:

        Hi! There are sand dunes in Saskatchewan also. The Great Sandhills near Leader are supposed to be pretty interesting to see and slide down on crazy carpets!! I am going in a couple of weeks so will see for myself before taking a tour group there soon.
        Also, The Boreal Forest Trail in Meadow Lake Provincial Park is on my bucket list for next year! Check it out!

      • @June I did hike the Boreal Trail for three days last May – and included it in my book. Here’s the link – truly a lovely hike. And in two weeks I’m off to check out the Great Sandhills and looking forward to it.
        Thanks for visiting and commenting.

  • Lee says:

    The yellow flowers are prairie sunflowers – Helianthus petiolaris. They love the sandy soil which the Spirit Sands are happy to provide

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