Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park: Are We in the Sahara?

Tucked into the side of the Utah Highway 89 corridor is an often-ignored gem. Due to its proximity to Zion National Park, the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park exists as a sign that tourists, photographers, and road trippers blow by at 70 mph. This state park serves as a refuge from the hustle and bustle and is a bizarre Sahara-like landscape in the middle of Utah scrub brush.
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Coral Pink what?

When road construction around the Mt. Carmel Junction derailed our Zion National Park plans for the day, the tiny, brown State Park sign was a last-minute turn. With no cell phone service, we wondered if the road would dead end and we’d have to turn around. Instead, we found a scenic cut-through to the western entrance of Zion, and a beautiful crowd-free state park: the Coral Pink Sand Dunes.

Truly Off the Beaten Path

National parks are famous, monumental areas for a reason, but because of their fame they can be pretty crowded. As two Wyomingites, we only have a small capacity for hordes of people. We side-stepped the highway corridor and headed down a gorgeous road filled with sagebrush, red rock, and surprisingly decent radio stations. We rolled along until suddenly, massive orange sand dunes appeared off to our left. They were so surprising—genuine desert sands that appeared from nowhere.

Visiting Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

We hiked around and took some photos, bewildered at the sudden change in landscape. According to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park website, the shifting sands can move up to 50 feet per year due to the wind. Originating from Navajo sandstone, the same chemical components like iron oxide that make up the Southwest’s famous red rock created the sand dunes. The park’s unique position between two mountains forms a unique wind funnel that crafts the ever-changing landscape.

The Magic of Shifting Winds on the Coral Pink Sand Dunes

The sand dunes had this wild effect where, depending on the shifting clouds, they would seem to change color right before our eyes. We could easily understand where they got their ‘Coral Pink’ name, but they also appeared orange and bright yellow at times. The area is also super popular for recreation. ‘Sand-boarders’ and ATVers come to the park to slide down and speed up the dunes.

Where are we?

The ripples in the sand made us feel like we were nowhere near Utah or Zion National Park. It would be hard to tell, looking at the photo below, exactly where in the world we were. If you’re searching for something to do before or after visiting Zion National Park, or just want a break from the crowds, the Coral Pink Sand Dunes might be exactly what you’re looking for.

Looking for more to do in Utah? Check out our Utah National Parks Itinerary!

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