About 45 miles SE of Zion National Park
Long a favorite of dune-buggy enthusiasts, Coral Pink Sand Dunes (which has an entry separate from Zion's) attracts an increasing number of campers, hikers, photographers, and all-around nature lovers as well. While big boys—and some big girls—play with their expensive motorized toys, others hike; hunt for wildflowers, scorpions, and lizards; or just sit and wiggle their toes in the smooth, cool sand. The colors are especially rich at sunrise and sunset. Early-morning visitors will find the tracks of yesterday's dune buggies gone, replaced by the tracks of lizards, kangaroo rats, snakes, and the rest of the park's animal kingdom, who venture out in the coolness of night, once all the people have departed.
At about 6,000 feet of elevation, the park gets warm in summer, with temperatures easily reaching the mid-90s Fahrenheit (in the neighborhood of 35°C). Winters are usually relatively mild, although snow and bitterly cold temperatures are not unheard of. Our choice for a visit is May, June, September, or October, when it's delightfully cool at night but warm enough during the day to enjoy burying your toes in the cooling sand. There are also fewer people there at those times.
Getting There -- From Zion National Park, take Utah 9 east to U.S. 89, turn right (south) and continue to the park entrance road. From downtown Kanab, go about 8 miles north on U.S. 89, then southwest (left) on Hancock Road for about 12 miles to get to the park.
Information & Visitor Center -- For copies of the park brochure and off-highway-vehicle regulations, contact the park office at P.O. Box 95, Kanab, UT 84741-0095 (tel. 435/648-2800). Information is also available online at www.stateparks.utah.gov. At the park entry station, which also serves as a visitor center, you'll see a small display area with sand from around the world, fossils from the area, and live scorpions, lizards, and tadpoles. This is the place to find out about ranger programs.
Fees & Regulations -- There is a per-vehicle day use fee. The standard state park regulations apply, with the addition of a few extra rules due to the park's popularity with off-road-vehicle users. Quiet hours last from 10pm to 9am. The dunes are open to motor vehicles between 9am and 10pm and to hikers at any time. Vehicles going onto the dunes must have safety flags, available at the entry station; while on the dunes, they must stay at least 10 feet from vegetation and at least 100 feet from hikers. Dogs are permitted on the dunes but must be leashed.
The spacious and mostly shady 22-site campground, open year-round, offers hot showers, modern restrooms, and an RV dump station, but no hookups. Camping costs $16 and sites can be reserved (tel. 800/322-3770 or 801/322-3770; www.reserveamerica.com), with an $8 nonrefundable reservation fee.
Regularly scheduled ranger talks explain the geology, plants, and animals of the dunes. For a real thrill, take a guided evening Scorpion Walk, using a black light to find the luminescent scorpions that make the park their home. You'll definitely want to wear shoes for this activity! Call to find out if there's a Scorpion Walk scheduled during your visit.
The best time for hiking the dunes is early morning, for several reasons: It's cooler, the lighting at and just after sunrise produces beautiful shadows and colors, and there are no noisy dune buggies until after 9am. Sunset is also very pretty, but you'll be sharing the dunes with off-road vehicles. Keep in mind that hiking through fine sand can be very tiring, especially for those who go barefoot. A self-guided .5-mile loop nature trail has numbered signs through some of the dunes; allow a half-hour.
Several other hikes of various lengths are possible within and just outside the park, but because there are few signs -- and because landmarks change with the shifting sands -- it's best to check with park rangers before setting out. Those spending more than a few hours in the dunes will discover that even their own tracks disappear in the wind, leaving few clues to the route back to park headquarters.
This giant sandbox offers plenty of space for off-road-vehicle enthusiasts. Because the sand here is quite fine, extra-wide flotation tires are needed, and lightweight dune buggies are usually the vehicle of choice. If exploring the park itself isn't enough for you, adjacent to the park, on Bureau of Land Management property, you'll find hundreds of miles of trails and roads for off-highway vehicles.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.