Athabasca Sand Dunes
In the northwest corner of Saskatchewan, along the south shore of Lake Athabasca is an area unique to North America. The Athabasca Sand Dunes boasts the largest area of sand dunes in North America and the biggest sand dunes in North America. You'll think you've somehow ended up in northern Africa.
Because this area is so unique and so fragile, the Saskatchewan Government preserved it as a Wilderness Park. On this wilderness trip you'll get to hike and canoe through an area that is pretty amazing! You'll get to stand on top of the biggest sand dunes on the continent. You'll see plants that only grow here. You'll understand why the Athabasca Sand Dunes Wilderness Area is being protected.
Trip at a Glance
Length: 8 days
Skill Level: Intermediate
Dates: July 11 to 18, 2022
Trip Fees: $4995 CAD
Trip Rendezvous: Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan
The Athabasca Sand Dunes is an area unique to North America. Because its sand, most assume it is a desert. This is not the case. The area is quite wet. There are rivers flowing out from under the sand into the south shore of Lake Athabasca. When it rains the water percolates through the sand into ancient river beds and flows out to the lake. Because this is a wet area of sand there are species of plants that grow no where else on earth. The challenge is to identify all these indigenous plants.
On this trip you will hike to many of the best scenic spots in the region. You’ll get to be on top of the largest sand dunes in North America. You’ll see an ancient forest being uncovered and current forest being covered up. You’ll see trees where the root system is above the ground level. You’ll watch the sun set over the sand causing the sand to appear red.
We will set up a base camp on the south shore of Lake Athabasca. Then, after a few days, move the base camp to the William River—a hike of about 7 km. And then back to Lake Athabasca as we await our float plane rendezvous.
Day 0 Sunday, July 10, 2022 - Travel to Stony Rapids , SK
- Flights from Saskatoon to Stony Rapids
- Pre trip meeting, gear check, dinner, overnight at Stony Rapids (own expense)
Day 1 Monday, July 11
- Breakfast, charter flight to Tompson Bay on Lake Athabasca
- Set up camp, a short evening hike
Day 2 to Day 7—hike and explore the various ’best spots’ typical of the sand dune area.
Day 8 Monday, July 18th, 2022
- Charter Flights from Tompson Bay back to Stony Rapids
- Optional Group Dinner and overnight in Stony Rapids (own expense) or mid-afternoon departure from Stony Rapids to Saskatoon
- Overnight in Saskatoon (own expense) or flights home
What is Included in the Trip Price
•Guides - 5:1 ratio
• Excellent meals from Day 1 supper to Day 8 breakfast
• Camping Equipment:
• Tents - free standing custom expedition dome tents - 2 per tent
• ‘Kitchen’ - tarp, fire box, cooking stoves, utensils, dishes, etc
• First aid and repair kits, communications equipment (satellite phone)
• Rescue gear
• Return charter flight to and from Tompson Bay on Lake Athabasca from Stony Rapids Saskatchewan
• Transportation of guides, group gear, etc to and from trip
What is not Included in the Trip Price
• Saskatchewan tax: 11% of the trip fee
• Personal clothing and gear - a recommended clothing & equipment list will be provided
• Travel between your home and the trip rendezvous - Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan
• Accommodation in Stony Rapids, SK (approx $150 per person based on double occupancy)
• Any meals in Stony Rapids before or after the trip
• Any additional expenses or costs incurred as a result of delays to the trip caused by factors beyond our control - i.e. wind, waves, unsafe paddling conditions, forest fire, pandemic, etc
• Any costs associated with your emergency evacuation from the trip - please contact us at CRCO for more information
• Gratuities - we recommend $10-$15 per day per guide
The Athabasca Sand Dunes is in a very secluded area. There is no easy or inexpensive way to get here. Because of that, there is very little human history to talk about. The First Nations people have several legends explaining how this region came to be. You’ll have to ask your guide to tell you these stories.
Before the last ice age, this area was sand stone. The ice ground up the sand stone creating this fine sand. The sand blows quite easily in the wind. This blowing sand covers and uncovers forests, rivers and marshes. It creates huge dunes in same areas a cobblestone desert like terrain in others.
The province of Saskatchewan set aside this area as a provincial park in 1992. They recognized the uniqueness of the area and are attempting to preserve it for future generations. The park provides no services other than information. Robin and Arlene Karpan put together a photo book about the region. The book is called Northern Sandscapes. That is still the best information available. Visiting this region is indeed special.
Overall there are few species reflecting the harsh climate and lack of diversity in the vegetation. In spite of that is is surprising what you do see. It seems every morning there are fresh bear tracks in the sand. We often see wolf tracks. And there are many tracks that are somewhat more difficult to identify. Like the photo at the bottom of this page. That is a frog.
In the trees that are along the edge of the sand are various species of birds. And we do hear loons calling in the evening while we are cooking our dinner. Fishing is poor in the area. There seems to be too much sand in the water.
Our menus are delicious and nutritious. Everyone helps out cooking meals over a wood fire or camping stove from a combination of fresh, dried and freeze-dried products. Breakfasts consist of cereal, fruit and a main course such as blueberry pancakes or eggs and bacon. At lunch you will enjoy a selection of breads (rye bread, bagels, tortillas) with cheeses, sliced meats or veggies ... and of course, good old peanut butter and jam, followed up by cookies or fruit. Dinner consists of hors d’oeuvers, a main course then dessert. Entrees include chicken stir fry and pesto / pine nut / red pepper pasta. Perhaps we’ll have a salad and finish up with brownies or a lemon desert. On cooler days, a hearty mug of steaming soup is always available, along with tea, coffee, hot chocolate or cold drinks. If you have food allergies or dietary restrictions you should contact our office. You will be required to assist in your menu preparation. We don’t want anyone going hungry or reduced to eating boring food!
Churchill River Canoe Outfitter guides are exceptionally qualified. Each principal guide has an extensive outdoor background, formal training and leadership experience. On most expeditions there will be an assistant guide. The guides are always ready to provide coaching and helpful advice on any aspect of the trip and will attempt to maximize the spirit of adventure for each individual. Your safety is their prime concern and your guide will make decisions with this in mind. We must stress that listening carefully to instructions given by the guide is your responsibility and in the best interest of you and the group. Each group member is encouraged to contribute to the tasks of the canoe trip and your guides will act as helpful resource people. Lastly, as this is your holiday, the CRCO guides have a real sense of fun and excitement, and will help to make this your trip of a lifetime!
Even though the Lake Athabasca region is cooler than most of northern Saskatchewan we are getting there in the height of summer. The area gets much of its annual precipitation in July so a good rain suit is recommended. Expect temperatures to range from 10 C to 30C, but averaging from 20- 25 C. Water temperatures in early July tend to be around 18 C. Bring along some warm clothing for cool evenings.
The Athabasca Sand Dune trip meets in the ‘community’ of Stony Rapids, Saskatchewan (YSF). There are daily flights from Saskatoon (YXE) to Stony Rapids via Transwest Air. You should arrive in Points North on Thursday, July 11th and can depart on or after Sunday, July 18th, 2021. It has a small ‘hotel’, restaurant, small convenience store and float plane base. We will reserve a bed for you for Night 1 - the cost will be approximately $150.00 per person and the price includes dinner and breakfast.
This Trip is rated Intermediate Skill Level.
This has more to do with conditioning than skill level. The hiking is not always easy. The sand is soft and shifts under your feet. Even though the longest distance you will likely hike in a day is 10 km. These are not easy 10 kilometers.
You should be prepared to carry your share of the group’s load. The pace will be fairly relaxed. There will be plenty of time for stories, instruction and coaching along the way. At the campsite everyone pitches in with setting up tents, collecting firewood, preparing meals, telling stories etc. The guides coordinate things and are always ready to assist you in any tasks.
YES, we highly recommend you to purchase 1) Emergency Medical/Evacuation Insurance, 2) Trip Interruption Insurance and 3) Trip Cancellation Insurance. Many credit card companies offer limited interruption/cancellation insurance, so please consult with yours before you book your trip to ensure you are adequately covered. Please also note that some types of insurance are only valid if they are purchased within a short time of making a non-refundable payment towards a trip. More information about these can be obtained through your preferred insurance provider. Prior to confirming your trip’s departure, we will ask you to sign a waiver stating you have either purchased adequate insurance or that you will be personally responsible and financially liable for any costs incurred as the result of any delays/cancellations/evacuations to you on your trip.