dune grass and sandy beach under blue sky

How to beat the crowds at Sandbanks

Sandbanks Provincial Park is one of the busiest parks in the province, welcoming over 800,000 visitors in 2020!

Sandbanks full parking lot signsMany summer days — especially weekends — Sandbanks hits capacity and can’t welcome any more visitors. This year, you need to book your day use permit in advance to guarantee entry.

We really hate to turn away visitors, especially knowing many have driven several hours to get here.

Planning a trip to Sandbanks? Check out our top tips for a fun and frustration-free visit:

  1. Do I need a day-use reservation?
  2. How do I know if the park is already at capacity?
  3. When is the best/worst time to visit?
  4. I made a camping reservation — do I wait in the same line?
  5. The park’s already full / the line’s too long…now what?
  6. Can you recommend a good beach other than Sandbanks?
  7. The beach is really busy. What else can I do at the park?
  8. Where can I get lunch?
  9. What are the park hours?
  10. How much does it cost to get in?
  11. Can I stay overnight?
  12. Where can I park?
  13. What kind of accessibility does the park provide?
  14. Can I rent a canoe or other watercraft?
  15. Can I rent a picnic shelter?
  16. Can I bring my dog?
  17. Can I bring a barbecue?
  18. What should / shouldn’t I pack?
  19. Is your beach safe to swim in?
  20. Does Sandbanks have ticks or poison ivy?

1. Do I need a reservation?

Yes. This year, you need to book your permit in advance to guarantee entry.

Our park is getting more and more popular, but we only have room for a limited number of visitors each day.

Daily vehicle permits will become available at 7:00 a.m., five days in advance of your arrival date. Reservations can be made:

  • online (here’s a walkthrough of how to book, including how to use your seasonal permit)
  • by phone: 1-888-ONT-PARK (1-888-668-7275)

Please note: Beach parking is subject to capacity limits and while your DVP provides you with a parking spot, you may not find a spot at your desired beach and may need to park at a different lot.

2. How do I know if the park is already at capacity?

Follow Sandbanks on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)!

On busy days, weekends, and when advance permits are fully reserved, park staff will provide capacity updates on Twitter.

You can also visit our reservation website to check whether space is available on the date of your visit.

3. When is the best/worst time to visit?

Sandbanks often reaches capacity on summer days. To avoid disappointment, book your permit in advance.

Got your permit booked? Your access is guaranteed no matter what time you arrive, but if you’d like to secure a spot in your favourite area of the park or beach, we recommend arriving early. The park is busiest between 11:00 am – 3:00 pm on hot summer days.

Sandbanks no parking
Didn’t book your permit in advance? You are likely out of luck during busy summer months

One of the best times to visit Sandbanks is during the spring and fall shoulder seasons. Beat the crowds by visiting in May/June or after Labour Day.

Please visit our Alerts page or social media accounts for updates to park and beach conditions.

4. I made a camping reservation — do I wait in the same line?

Please note: Sandbanks is no longer able to accommodate early camping arrivals due to increased visitation and traffic. Please arrive after 2:00 pm as noted in your confirmation letter.

In an effort to minimize traffic congestion, visitors with camping reservations are reminded that check-in time on your arrival date is after 2:00 pm. A campsite permit is valid upon check-in after 2:00 pm on the day of arrival and until 10:00 pm on the day of departure.

To help disperse volume of arrivals, visitors with camping reservations in West Lake, Woodlands and Richardson’s are encouraged to check in at the West Lake Campground office. This office is located at 2109 County Road 12 across from the Dunes day use area.

Be aware: on busy days, all roads going into the park can be backed up, so campers arriving at peak times may still face long waits times.

5. Looking to make the most of your visit to the area?

If you’ve soaked up enough sun at the beach and want to make the most of your trip, take the opportunity to explore Prince Edward County and downtown Belleville.

NOTE: please confirm each attraction is available in this unusual season.

You could:

6. Can you recommend a good beach other than Sandbanks?

Absolutely, but please note that these parks also require you to reserve your daily vehicle permit in advance to guarantee access.

Nearby North Beach Provincial Park boasts the same soft sands and rolling waves.

lawnchairs on beach under tree
North Beach Provincial Park

If you’re coming from the GTA, consider stopping at Presqu’ile or Darlington provincial parks.

family with kite on Darlington beach
Darlington Provincial Park

7. The beach is really busy. What else can I do at the park?

steps in sand leading up hill on hiking trailTry another beach. Outlet Beach is the busiest, so try Dunes or Lakeshore.

Take a hike. Sandbanks’ walking trails let you experience the park’s dune and wetland habitats.

Go for a paddle. Bring your own watercraft, or rent a canoe, kayak or SUP (rental details below).

Visit the Discovery Centre. Note: Visitor Centres are currently closed at Ontario Parks. Located at the West Lake Campground gatehouse across from the Dunes Beach. The Centre has brand new displays, as well as staff to answer all your questions about the park, it’s habitats, history, plants and animals.

8. Where can I get lunch?

Grab lunch at the restaurant in Sandbanks’ park store on main Outlet Beach, or stop by the Canteen at Dunes Beach.

Feeling crowded? Head into town for lunch and enjoy the rich tastes of the county or enjoy a local patio.

Looking to cool down and enjoy a meal after a long day at the beach? Discover the delicious variety of cafes, restaurants, and patios downtown Belleville has to offer.

9. What are the park hours?

During the summer, Sandbanks is open from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm.

10. How much does it cost to get in?

Day use costs $21.00 per vehicle or $125.00 for buses

In 2021, we’re making it easier for Ontarians to enjoy the outdoors by providing free weekday daily vehicle permits from May 1 to September 2, for all provincial parks Mondays through Thursdays. Remember: you still need to book your permit in advance to guarantee access.

11. Can I stay overnight?

Yes, but Sandbanks is an extremely popular summer camping destination and fills up very quickly. Book early or plan a midweek/ shoulder season trip.

Did you know Sandbanks has two roofed accommodations available and are often under-booked during the spring and fall seasons?

Maple Rest Heritage House

Maple Rest Heritage House - exterior

Jacques Cottage

jacques cottage

12. Where can I park?

All three beach areas have parking. When it’s busy, we recommend snagging the first spot you can find.

Please obey all signage. Visitors who park along the county roads outside of the park could receive a fine and have their vehicles towed.

13. What kind of accessibility does the park provide?

During the summer, Mobi Mats create an accessible path through the sand, starting at the Park Store and heading out onto the beach. These help make the beach more accessible to anyone using assistive devices like wheelchairs, walkers, and canes.

Beach mats placed along the sand leading to the water.

14. Can I rent a canoe or kayak?

Yes, but please note that our rental program is operating at a reduced capacity this year, so rentals may go quickly or may not be available every day, especially early in the season.

canoe rental at Sandbanks

Watercrafts can launch from Woodyard or Outlet River boat launch, and paddle the river outside of designated swimming areas. They can also be launched on the far edge of the Dunes Beach away from swimmers and then paddle freely outside of the watercraft buoys.

PFDs (personal flotation devices) are also available for loan at the West Lake gatehouse and the Woodyard.

15. Can I rent a picnic shelter?

Sorry, picnic shelters are not available this season.

picnic shelter

16. Can I bring my dog?

For sure! Just keep your pup on a leash (no longer than 2 m).

Dogs aren’t allowed to splash in most beach areas, but we have two special sections for pups: the mouth of Outlet River and on Lakeshore Beach near the Lakeshore Lodge site.

17. Can I bring a barbecue?

Barbecues are permitted, but they must be self-contained.

  • propane BBQs are permitted
  • charcoal BBQs are NOT permitted on the beach or day use area (they are permitted on registered campsites)

18. What should / shouldn’t I pack?

What you should definitely pack: sunscreen, hat, water, snacks, swimwear, lifejackets for kids, change of clothes, towels, bug spray (DEET), reusable picnic items

What you shouldn’t pack: alcohol (only permitted on your campsite, not on the beach), firewood (no campfires on beach), drones

We don’t recommend packing: large pieces of beach shelter (including volleyball nets, oversized umbrellas or sun shelters –> these can be hard to place on busy days), radios, single-use plastics (such as water bottles, cups, plates, and cutlery)

*You can find garbage cans located throughout the park, and we encourage visitors to practice the “pack it in, pack it out” method. Please be prepared to bring larger items of garbage (such as broken chairs or beach umbrellas) home with you.

19. Is the beach safe to swim in?

Yes, unless otherwise posted. The beach’s water quality is tested every week. Any advisories will be posted on the Ontario Parks Alerts page.

Beach at Sanbanks

Please be aware of undertow conditions on Lake Ontario during windy days.

Visitors are reminded there are no lifeguards; water safety your responsibility. Please monitor the weather and exercise caution.

Personal flotation devices are available for loan at the park.

20. Does Sandbanks have ticks or poison ivy?

Tick safety: Ticks are common throughout Ontario, including at Sandbanks. To protect yourself from Lyme Disease, follow these safety tips.

Poison Ivy plant with white berries turning red

Poison ivy: We remove poison ivy from campsites and designated park trails, but it’s still prevalent in park, especially on the dunes between parking lots and beach.

Poison Ivy is an important dune stabilizer, helping to protect our dunes and beaches, as well as being a food source for wildlife. Avoid it by staying on trails and keeping a close eye on kids.