Where Is The Smallest Desert In The World?

The Carcross Desert in Yukon, Canada. Image credit: Anne08/Shutterstock.com
  • Carcross Desert, featuring a series of northern sand dunes, is considered to be the smallest desert on earth.
  • Going by the scientific definition of a desert, however, Carcross is not a true desert.
  • Carcross is famous for its sand dunes that are used for sand boarding in summer.
  • Most of the plants which thrive in the Carcross Desert would not survive in a real desert.

Location Of The Carcross Desert

Sand dune on the Carcross Desert. Image credit: Jef Wodniack/Shutterstock.com

Carcross Desert, featuring a series of northern sand dunes, is considered to be the smallest desert on earth. It occupies an area of about 1 square mile outside the community of Carcross in YukonCanada. There is debate, however, whether Carcross can be regarded as a true desert as the humidity in the surrounding area is too high. By definition, a desert is an area that receives little or no precipitation. Going by that definition, Carcross cannot be a desert on scientific terms.

Formation Of The Carcross Desert

Lake Bennett in Yukon. Sand from the beach of this lake is blown off by the wind and deposited in the nearby Carcross Desert. Image credit: CE Photography/Shutterstock.com

About 11,000 to 24,000 years ago, the area in and around the Carcross was covered in a thick layer of ice. As global temperatures rose, the ice melted and glaciers withdrew leaving behind massive glacial lakes. Gradually, these lakes shrank as well and the silt deposited by them remained to form beaches. Wind picked up the silt and deposited it in the area that is now called Carcross Desert. Since it is located in the rain shadow region of the mountains of Yukon, the sand here remains dry giving people an opportunity to call the area a desert although humidity levels remain significantly high. Even today, sand is deposted in the Carcross by wind blowing in from nearby Lake Bennett.

Climate Of The Carcross Desert

The desert is drier than the surrounding region and receives less than 19.7 inches of precipitation annually. The lack of rainfall is due to the rain-shadow effect which is caused by the neighboring mountains. However, the rainfall is not low enough for the Carcross to be labelled as an arid desert. It also snows in winter when the sandy surface gets covered by a layer of ice.

Vegetation Of The Carcross Desert

The delicate and stunning Jacobs Ladder flower growing among the sand dunes of the Carcross Desert. Image credit: inEthos Design/Shutterstock.com

Most of the plants which thrive in the Carcross Desert would not survive in a real desert. Also, they are quite rare in North America. One of the most interesting Baikal Sedge species, the Carex sabulosa, which thrives here is only found in four different places in North America. Yukon lupine which is distinguished by its silvery appearance also grows in Carcross but is way more common. Other rare plants which grow in the dunes include Nelson’s needle-grass, mutton grass, and the blue-eyed Mary.

Recreational Activities

Snow-covered Carcross Desert in winter provides opportunities for snowboarding. Image credit: Pierre Jean Durieu/Shutterstock.com

The locals use the dunes for sandboarding in summer, and during winter they use the desert for snowboarding and cross-country skiing. Other summer activities which people enjoy in the Carcross include all-terrain vehicles, skydiving, and hiking. Numerous tourist groups use the desert for their off-road scenic visits. The nearby Yukon and White Pass Route is a top-rated tourist attraction which brings many visitors to the area every year.

The Red Desert - Giving Strong Competition

Despite the Carcross Desert's claim, there is another desert in the world that begs to differ. Located in the KwaZulu province of South Africa, the Red Desert claims to be only 200 meters in diameter. Over-grazing was said to lead to the unusual appearance of this desert-like area, which is surrounded by the greenery of a nature reserve. 


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