Dune de Pinhey

The unique sand dunes of Pinhey Forest in Ottawa

With the grayness and the cold of November, I admit that I would like to find myself in a warmer climate these days. But since going to the beach is not an option right now, I decided that going for a walk in a place where there are dunes of sand might allow me to pretend, for a moment, that I was under the Caribbean sun and not in cold Canada.

Well, okay it was not the idea of ​​the century, but I had never visited the Pinhey Forest in Ottawa before and I was particularly interested to see its famous sand dunes for the first time. So my partner and I braved the late fall cold to go for a short hike on Trail 32 of the Ottawa Greenbelt.

Trail 32 in Pinhey Forest
Exploring Pinhey Forest for the first time

The Greenbelt is a network of protected natural areas that surround the city of Ottawa. It has some of the most pleasant places to hike in the region, but it also protects unique natural places, such as the Mer Bleue bog or the Stony Swamp.


Located southwest of Ottawa, Pinhey Forest is part of the Greenbelt and has more than six kilometres of hiking trails. It also protects a special ecosystem: Ottawa’s only inland sand dune complex.

What are these dunes of fine white sand doing in a forest in cold Ottawa? The sand was deposited there thousands of years ago by the Champlain Sea (which covered the entire region after the retreat of the glaciers). Over the centuries, they have been sculpted by the wind and organisms have evolved and adapted to this particular ecosystem.

Sand dunes in Pinhey Forest
Sand dunes in the forest

Tree planting projects in the surrounding area have almost led to the disappearance of the dunes, while the red pine forest has gradually taken more and more space around and on the dunes. It is only in recent years that dune restoration projects have been put in place to protect this fragile and unique ecosystem in Ottawa.

The sand dunes looked a bit dull on this dreary November day, but in the summer it seems the sand surface is so hot that only a few species of plants and organisms can survive on it.

Sand dunes in Pinhey Forest
We could almost believe we are in the desert

Beyond its dunes, Pinhey Forest also allows you to take a pleasant walk under its tall pines, on either Trail 31 or Trail 32. Unfortunately, the forest was quite impacted by the massive windstorm last spring. We were quite shocked to see the extent of the damage. A reminder of how devastating nature can be.

Damage from the derecho in Ottawa
Months later, it’s still shocking to see the extent of the damage

Pinhey Forest can be accessed via parking lots P14 and P15. And remember that the dune ecosystem is fragile, so please respect the enclosed protected areas and stay on the trails.


    1. Thank you for your comment! Yes, the wind storm was quite something, we were a few days without power and it caused a lot of damage (which can sadly still be seen today).

  1. Such a beautiful forest and sand dunes! I have read about what happened in that area as the glaciers retreated, very interesting. ❤️

  2. Very interesting place! Being from the Southwestern part of the US, we see dunes around, but definitely not surrounded by pine trees. Nature can be devastating, but it also renews if we let it. Thanks for sharing.

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