Coral Pink Sand Dunes Park - A Desert Experience in Utah

A Great Little State Park in the Shadow of Zion National Park

Among other things, the American Southwest is famous for its popular national parks.

Arizona’s Grand Canyon and neighboring Utah’s Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks are geological wonders that are famous for their spectacular scenery.

However, spectacular as they are, these world famous national parks are not the only geological and scenic marvels the American Southwest has to offer. There are also many other national parks, monuments, wilderness areas and forests that are available for tourists to enjoy.

As if that were not enough, there are also some spectacular state parks with Utah’s Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park being one of them.

Sand dunes in Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah
Sand dunes in Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah | Source

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Visitors to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks are informed that a couple of hundred million years ago the area that is now the American Southwest was a vast, Sahara like, desert covered with shifting sand dunes.

In time the sand was compacted into the rock known as sandstone, and rivers began carving out canyons including the spectacular Zion, Bryce and Grand Canyons.

Today this area is mostly a high desert plateau supporting cacti and other plants that have adapted to the harsh climate, and dotted with mountains and canyons.

The Sahara like sea of sand and shifting dunes is gone. Well, almost gone, as 20 miles southeast of Zion National Park lies a 1,200 acre sea of sand complete with shifting sand dunes.

Known as Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, this little place in Utah gives those who learn about it and make the twenty-some mile journey from Zion to visit it a chance to get a glimpse of what Utah and surrounding states looked like 200 million years ago.

My wife in a sea of sand.  Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.
My wife in a sea of sand. Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. | Source

The Sand Dunes are Not Ancient

Despite its similarities to the shifting sands of the ancient desert that covered this part of the world millions of years ago, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is, geologically speaking, of more recent origin.

Sandwiched between the Moquith and Moccasin mountains, this narrow patch of shifting sand exists as the result of a phenomenon known as the Venturi Effect.

As the prevailing winds pass between the mountains they are funnelled through a narrow gap northeast of the park that separates the two mountain ranges.

The Venturi Effect here is the increase in the speed or velocity of the wind as it is forced through this narrow gap between the mountains.

This increased speed enables the passing wind to pick up and carry with it grains of the reddish pink Navajo sandstone that are continually being eroded from the sides of the two mountains.

After passing through the gap, the topography widens into the valley where the park is located. Once in the wider area the wind speed slows and the grains of sand dropped over the valley.

Routes to the Park

According to the sign in Zion National Park, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is twenty miles southeast of the park. I assume this refers to the actual distance and not the driving distance.

Tunnel along Utah State Hwy 9 in Zion National Park
Tunnel along Utah State Hwy 9 in Zion National Park | Source

From the west entrance of Zion by Springdale, Utah the driving distance, using paved public roads, is about a 40 mile.

The trip includes traveling through the park on Utah State Highway 9 (a day pass for the park costs $25 per car, while the fee for simply passing through on State Highway 9 is $15).

This route through Zion offers spectacular scenery as the highway climbs and winds through the mountains that makeup the park. The trip includes passing through a tunnel that connects the east and west sides of the park and descending to the flat, high desert plateau outside the park.

An alternative route would be to exit Utah State Highway 9 at Hurricane, UT, (approximately 22 miles east of Springdale and the entrance to Zion) turning south onto State Highway 59 toward the Arizona border.

At the border the name changes to Arizona State Highway 389. The name changing again as the road re-approaches Utah, with it first merging into U.S. Highway 89A and then, at Kanab, UT, U.S. 89.

This route is about 82 miles long and takes about two hours for the trip. The road is a paved, two-lane highway with few curves and no mountains to traverse.

Zion National Pk to Coral Pink Sand Dunes via State Hwy 9 from Zion

show route and directions
A markerSpringdale, Utah -
Springdale, UT, USA
[get directions]

West entrance to Zion National Park at Springdale, Utah

B markerCoral Sand Dunes State Park, UT -
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, 12500 Sand dunes, Kanab, UT 84741, USA
[get directions]

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Park Fees and Amenities

This is a state park and Federal national park and Federal recreation area passes, including the lifetime Senior Passes are NOT recognized in Utah State Parks.

Fee sign at entrance to Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Fee sign at entrance to Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park | Source

Instead there is a $6 per non-commercial vehicle (with up to 8 passengers) day pass. This fee is charged year round; however, during the off season there is generally no park personnel available to collect the fee.

Not to worry, as there are envelopes with a tear-off window receipt and locked container for the envelope with your $6 in it. I presume that during the summer tourist season you can pay with a credit card.

However, if you arrive during the off season, especially on a weak day, have six dollars in cash ready to put into the envelope as there is no place to swipe a credit card.

Despite the fact that there are no rangers on regularly on duty during off times, it is a good idea to pay the fee and put the receipt on your car’s dash board where it is visible through the window.

Not only does this $6 fee help to defray the costs of maintaining the park but I am sure state park personnel make periodic checks of the area and, in the process ticket, or worse, cars without a receipt in the window and $6 in the corresponding envelope in the metal payment receptacle.

Receptacle for depositing fee envelopes at Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dune State Park
Receptacle for depositing fee envelopes at Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dune State Park | Source

Campsites are available for $16 per night.

Picnic facilities are available along the edge of the dune area. There is a visitor center at the entrance to the park along with modern restroom facilities. This and other similar restrooms are maintained and open all year.

ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) tours can be purchased from a site adjacent to the parking area. This place also advertises sand sleds and sand boards.

We did not check to see if this place was open and, while we were visiting there the only people were a few other visitors exploring the dunes on foot like us.

Off the highway vehicles (OHV) are allowed in the dunes area. There are a number of hiking and OHV trails in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management areas adjacent to the state park. Since our purpose was a short visit to the dunes we did not explore these other areas.

Length of Visit

The sand dunes themselves can be easily viewed and experienced within a couple of hours.

Walking in the sand, especially walking up a sand dune, requires extra effort and can be tiring.

Families sledding on the sand dune at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.
Families sledding on the sand dune at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. | Source

Despite the shifting dunes, there is some plant and small animal/insect life. A number of plants that can thrive in the sand can be found along the edge of the dune area parallel to the road.

Metal markers identify and describe the plants and this makes for an interesting and educational short hike.

Sledding on the dunes is an additional fun pastime for both children and adults.

No one was doing this at the time of our visit although my wife and I observed a number of families enjoying this activity on the sand dunes in New Mexico's White Sands National Monument which we visited a few years ago

White Sands is similar Coral Pink Sand Dunes in that the shifting sand is the result of a similar Venturi effect due to wind being forced through a narrow gap between two mountain ranges.

However, the white sand at the White Sands National Monument is composed of fine grains of gypsum rather than grains of pink sandstone.

For us, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park was simply an unplanned a side trip while visiting Zion National Park.

It sounded interesting, so we made the trip to the park, viewed it, walked around the dunes and were impressed. Our visit lasted about two hours and the entire visit, including time, consumed about four hours.

The park can be a nice day outing and picnic for a family or an overnight stay at the campground (be sure to make advance camping reservations during peak periods).

Photography enthusiasts could easily spend a day exploring and photographing the dunes and its flora and fauna.

The changing colors of the landscape as the angle of the sun changes as the day progresses from sunrise to sunset are another reason photographers might want to plan on spending the entire day here.

Finally, those who love the outdoors and want to explore and experience the park and surrounding areas should plan on as many days as they can afford to spend here.

The American Southwest has an abundance of natural wonders. Utah’s Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is one of the lesser known natural wonders but it is well worth visiting if only because it is so different from the canyons and mountains for which the American Southwest is famous.

Rate Coral Pink Sands State Park

5 out of 5 stars from 2 ratings of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Satellite Shows Park's Pink Sand Dunes in Valley Between the Mountains

A markerCoral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Utah -
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, 12500 Sand dunes, Kanab, UT 84741, USA
[get directions]

Visitor Center at entrance to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah
Visitor Center at entrance to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah | Source
Equipment for rent to use at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah.
Equipment for rent to use at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah. | Source
Lonely figure in middle of Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Lonely figure in middle of Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park | Source
My wife and brother-in-law making their way up a dune in Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
My wife and brother-in-law making their way up a dune in Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park | Source
A yellow daisy survives on a dune in  Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
A yellow daisy survives on a dune in Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park | Source
My wife making her way up a large sand dune in  Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Pk
My wife making her way up a large sand dune in Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Pk | Source
My wife and brother-in-law on top of a dune in Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
My wife and brother-in-law on top of a dune in Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park | Source
Visitor center at  Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park as seen from one of the sand dunes.
Visitor center at Utah's Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park as seen from one of the sand dunes. | Source

Long Route to Coral Pink Sand Dunes Pk from Hurricane, UT

show route and directions
A markerHurricane, Utah -
Hurricane, UT, USA
[get directions]

B markerCoral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Utah -
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, 12500 Sand dunes, Kanab, UT 84741, USA
[get directions]

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Comments 16 comments

Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina

Interesting information and beautiful photos, Chuck. Congratulations on your HOTD award. Well deserved. Rated up/U/I


carolynkaye profile image

carolynkaye 3 years ago from USA

I've never heard of this place before, but it looks really beautiful. Great job on the Hub and gorgeous photos :)


brandrocker profile image

brandrocker 3 years ago

Such a beautiful place!!! Wish I could be there someday! Thanks for giving detailed description!


starstream profile image

starstream 3 years ago from Northern California

You have written a nice article here which is informative and helpful in planning a trip.


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 3 years ago from Western New York

What a beautiful place to visit! We almost stopped at Zion National Park on our way back from Yellowstone once, but the nighttime temperature was 110 degrees and we were camping... so we continued on to Vegas. I am sad we didn't get to see the amazing scenery there!


carter06 profile image

carter06 3 years ago from Cronulla NSW

Gosh Chuck, this is a beautifully laid out hub, with exceptional photos...congrats on a well earned HOTD award...cheers


wabash annie profile image

wabash annie 3 years ago from Colorado Front Range

What an excellent hub ... so very informative with the details, maps, and images. Thanks so much!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

Hi Chuck,

We have been there and I have written a similar hub. Have also been to the White Sands National Monument. Both are amazing places! Congratulations on getting the HOTD award. Isn't traveling fun! Up, useful and interesting votes.


flash167 profile image

flash167 3 years ago from Richfield, Utah

Congratulations on HOD. I used to live in Cane Beds, AZ only a few miles from the dunes. Last time I was there we found a Sidewinder Rattlesnake. They are really neat looking up close.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

A wonderful share and thank you so very much for sharing. I now look forward to many more by you.

Eddy.


lalithaprakash profile image

lalithaprakash 3 years ago from Bangalore

Felt as if I myself took part in the journey. Wonderful writing.


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

I have never traveled to Utah but this would be a good reason to do so. I have only experienced the sands along the coasts of the waters but never desert sand...this would be a whole new experience. Thank you for sharing this treasure with us. Sending Angels to you :) ps


Chuck profile image

Chuck 4 years ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

lipnancy - thanks for the comment. I haven't tried sand sledding yet either. In another year my granddaughter should be old enough to enjoy this so we will have to make the trip again and that is when I will get a chance to try sand sledding and compare it to my memories of sledding down the snow covered hills at Mendon Ponds in WNY as a child.


Lipnancy profile image

Lipnancy 4 years ago from Hamburg, New York

When I was a kid, my family and I visited this site and we tried the sledding. I was not quite the same as sledding in the snow. I too grew up in WNY.


Chuck profile image

Chuck 4 years ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

shiningirisheyes - glad you enjoyed the Hub. The park is very interesting and beautiful. I haven't tried sand dune sledding (I grew up in Western New Your and did a lot of snow sledding) yet but in a couple of years our granddaughter should be old enough for a trip to White Sands or Coral Pink Sand Dunes and we will go sand dune sledding.


shiningirisheyes profile image

shiningirisheyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

I actually wrote an article about the activity of sand dune sledding and it was fascinating. This was a wonderful journey you brought me on through the Coral Pink Sand Dunes region and I thank you.

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