The Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park sits a few miles above Arizona, 5 miles down from Mt. Carmel Junction, Utah or 6.5 miles up from Kanab. After turning at the sign for the park, drive 12 miles more to the park itself. It is a great place to stay if visiting the national parks in the area like Zion, Bryce or the Grand Canyon.
A two lane highway through the desert lined with sage brush and juniper takes you to the state park that consists of dunes that have settled between two mountain ranges. There are a few kiosks along the way with maps of the area and information about local flora and fauna. The area is a mix of state park and BLM land, with a small portion designated as conservation area (265 sq miles) out of the 3,370 total sq miles.
There is a day use area (no fee) and 22 site campground with visitor’s center, showers and overlook viewing point within the park itself (for a fee) and primitive camping and hiking trails in the land outside the park. Between the day use area and the campground, you will find a few spots to pullout with picnic tables nestled out of the sun in the juniper and pinion pines.
The area is 90% open to ATVs but all is open to hiking or playing in the sand. In the time we were there, I didn’t see any off road vehicles on the sand even though I could see RVs and families that were there for that purpose. If coming through, plan to get there early in the day when the sand is still cool and the sun is not at full strength in the sky. I was up on the dunes as the sun was coming up and had the place to myself (not one ATV).
The sand dunes are home to a beetle you don’t find anywhere else in the world, the Coral Pink Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle. You are sure to see its tracks in the salmon colored grains of quartz and hematite, especially if you get up early! Give yourself time to wander beyond just a few hundred feet from the car and marvel at what makes a home in the sand.
The dunes are alive with an abundance of grasses, cactus and flowering plants. If you venture far enough across the dunes and into the red sandstone cliffs of the Moquith Mountains that wall them, you will see even more vegetation and rock formations.
You will see where those tiny grains of sand originated, the layers slowly being eroded away. Try and step on durable surfaces so as to not help that process along any faster (the stone breaks off easily).
The view from here back at the sand dunes with the Moccasin Mountains in the background is stunning, particularly in contrast with the blue sky.
If you have even a bit more time and feel comfortable navigating on nothing more than a game trail, there are dry creek beds and gullies to explore that lead out to the edges of the cliffs. I spent about an hour above the sand dunes and could have stayed more! Make sure to take water and other essentials with you and don’t count on cell service while visiting (let someone know where you are going).
So the next time you are in the southwest, make time to stop at this unique geological phenomenon. Whether you simply walk up and take a few steps onto the sand or spend a few hours exploring up into the mountains that border it, you sure are bound to have an amazing time. And did I mention go early in the morning?? You can read more about my hike on the sand dunes in my post: Spring Break Road Trip Day 3: Lyin’ Down At Horseshoe, Tiger Beetles and Bear Right At Wild Cows, Oh My!