Are there deserts in Canada?

Canada is well-known for having a cold climate, so you may be surprised to find out that there are deserts in Canada, albeit slighly “unconventional”.

As a matter of fact, many of the desert-like regions you’ll find in the country are not dry enough to qualify as “true” deserts, but you will still be able to find characteristics sand dunes and iconic cacti. The Okanagan / Osoyoos desert, Carcross desert and Great Saskatchewan Sand Hills fall into this category of “pseudo-deserts“.

The only true desert in Canada is the Arctic tundra, a cold polar desert, which actually covers a large part of the country and is always covered in thick layers of ice rather than sand.

Below, a list of (pseudo) deserts in Canada and all you need to know about them.

Deserts of Canada: Okanagan Desert / Ocoyoos Desert
Okanagan / Osoyoos Desert. British Columbia, Canada.

Deserts of Canada

Okanagan Desert – Osoyoos, British Columbia

Sometimes referred to as “Canada’s only desert”, the Okanagan Desert is really a shrub-steppe area located in the Okanagan Valley in southern British Columbia. The area is also known as Nk’mip Desert or Osoyoos Desert, or “BC desert” for short. Parts of the area is located near the city of Kamloops and is also named Kamloops Desert.

The climate is semi-arid and characterized by very hot, dry weather in the summer and mild winters. Because precipitation is not as rare is in traditional deserts, its sand dunes are filled with bushes, cacti and wildlife.

Recommended Okanagan Valley Tours

Carcross Desert – Yukon

The Carcross Desert is known for being the smallest desert in the world, although it does not qualify as a true desert: it is really what remains of an ancient glacial lake, which left sand dunes behind upon drying up.

It has an area of only 2.6 square kilometers (1 square miles) with dunes that are suitable for sandboarding.

“Affectionately known as the smallest desert in the world, this area was originally covered by a large glacial lake. As the glaciers retreated, causing lower water levels, sandy lake bottom material was left behind. Strong prevailing winds from Lake Bennett have constantly worked this sand, making it difficult for vegetation to become established. Species of plants that have survived include lodgepole pine and kinnikinnick.”

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Recommended Yukon Desert Tours

Great Saskatchewan Sand Hills – Saskatchewan

The Great Saskatchewan Sand Hills are a unique set of desert-like sand dunes covering an area of 1,900 square kilometers in southwestern Saskatchewan near the remote village of Sceptre.

As with the Carcross desert, the Great Sandhills are leftovers from ancient glaciers that existed more than 12,000 years ago.

Recommended Saskatchewan Tours

Canadian Arctic Tundra

There actually is one true desert in Canada, although it is not a hot desert. The polar desert of the Arctic in fact comprises a large part of northern Canada where temperatures rarely go above freezing.

The Canadian Arctic Tundra is located across the country’s northern mainland and the islands of the Arctic Archipelago such as Baffin Island.

Recommended Canadian Arctic Tundra Tours

Read also: List of North American Deserts in the US

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