Would it surprise you if the picture above was more than a snow drift?. What if I was to tell you that this is a pink sand dune? Yes, it’s pink, it just happens to be covered in snow at the moment. The South West is one of our go-to winter destinations but sometimes we forget how diverse the climate is between the simmering landscape outside of Tucson to the peaks of the Rockies. Coral Pink Pink Sand Dunes State Park may sit on the southern edge of Utah, but this arid rocky region is still high desert and it snows here.
About Coral Pink Sand Dunes
The dunes gain their eponymous coral-pink color from the erosion of Navajo sandstone. While Navajo sandstone is common to this region, we tend to notice what remains: the cliffs of Zion, hoodoos in Bryce Canyon, and arches in Arches. The sand eroded from these formations tends to disperse and go unnoticed.
For that sand to collect in one place and create dunes takes very special conditions. The Coral Pink Sand Dunes are the product of the topography that surrounds them in a phenomenon known as the Venturi Effect. Wind funneled between the Moquith and Moccasin mountains gains enough strength to carry sand eroded from Navajo sandstone. When the wind reaches a valley where it can slow down, the sand is deposited, creating the dune fields that make up Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.
This striking landscape was designated a state park in 1963 for future generations to enjoy. Today the park covers 1,200 acres of dunes interspersed with juniper and pinion pines and flanked by red rock cliffs in southern Utah. And there are so many ways to explore it.
Visiting Coral Pink Sand Dunes
Even in the snow, Coral Pink Sand Dunes is a beautiful visit. After all, it is open year-round. But the pink dunes and red cliffs that rise above them are better viewed in the Spring (March to May) and Fall (September to November) when the snow has melted and the sun hasn’t yet transmuted the delicate sand to blistering mounds. Granted, the dunes are at their busiest in the summer, but that likely has more to do with school breaks than tourists preferring these dunes at between 80 and 100°F. Yes, the weather is extreme here.
Activities at Coral Pink Sand Dunes
Of course, those summer visitors have plenty of reason to sweat it out. When you have a chance to sled down pink sand dunes, why miss it? Yes, sledding is a popular activity here, even in the heat of summer. Coral Pink Sand Dunes is host to a wide range of outdoor activities including sledding, hiking, ATVing, and camping.
Whatever you are visiting to do or whenever you are arriving, it helps to swing by the ranger’s station. Not only do the rangers manage campground reservations and sled rentals, but they are also incredibly helpful with planning out your trip to the sand dunes and beyond. If there are any weather or safety concerns for the area, they will be the first to know and are happy to share pointers on how best to prepare.
A Reminder: Regardless of when you visit and what activities you pursue, some considerations are constant. You are in the desert. Temperatures can swing between extremes from the morning to the afternoon and back into the evening. Even when the weather is cool, the climate is dry. And even when the temperatures are high, they can plummet with the sun. Be sure to bring water, sun protection, and proper layers to handle whatever weather you may encounter.
While we visit the park, we can have engaged in some very conventional snow sledding. But at Coral Pink Sand Dunes, sledding and snowboarding is a year-round activity on the dunes themselves. The ranger station even has sleds and snowboards for rent, if you didn’t bring your own. That said, a saucer sled from your local Walmart will be cheaper than these rentals. And the snowboards are designed to be worn without shoes, which is a pain during extreme weather. So plan ahead if you want to bring your own gear.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes offers a variety of hiking options between the dunes themselves and others among the red bluffs that surround them. While hiking dunes may seem more like a walk at the beach, the same rules of hiking remain: pack water and snacks, bring weather-appropriate clothing, wear sun protection, and appropriate footwear.
It seems wrong to wear shoes while walking on sand. Those delicate particles may claim that they want to be between your toes, but in the long run, your feet will regret it. Sand can heat up to unseasonable degrees compared with other terrain and the rough material may offer soothing microdermabrasion in small amounts but a day on the sand will rub your feet raw. The better option is to allow a bit of time to play barefoot but then thoroughly clean the sand off and wear shoes when traveling any significant distance.
Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs)
Coral Pink Sand Dunes is a particularly popular destination for OHVers. Where many parks like Great Sand Dunes or White Sands do not allow OHVs on their dunes, 90% of Coral Pink Sand Dunes is open to OHVs. And what an amazing place to explore. We can see the tracks of OHVs in the snow over the dunes and OHVs at most of the occupied campsites when we visit.
With all these activities available, one can easily spend days exploring this park. That’s why Coral Pink Sand Dunes also has two campgrounds: an RV park with hookups and a more private campground with tent sights. You can get more details in our post about camping at Coral Pink Sand Dunes.
In case it wasn’t clear yet, we brazenly embarked on our trip to Coral Pink Sand Dunes in the dead of winter. The rangers had kindly notified us that, yes, there is snow on the ground and, yes, the campground is open. Ahd while we are not snow bunnies by any means, the sun was setting and the RV sites have hookups. And so we camped in single-digit temperatures and blasted our electric heater into the night.
While the views are amazing, we resolve to move on the next day for a more temperate setting and resolve to return sometime when there isn’t snow on the ground.