Nobody needs to explain to kids why Kanab’s Coral Pink Sand Dunes are a wonderland. To them, it’s one hundred percent self-explanatory: gigantic sandy hills are a blast to run up and somersault down. You can catch the bug too, of course—add and ATV, mountain bike, or hiking shoes to the mix, along with nice cameras to catch some mind-blowing shots of a glowing desert studded with little wildflowers and determined junipers, and you’re guaranteed to be hooked.
Beyond the normal din of giggling kids and vrooming ATVs bustling over the sand, these dunes bear a special draw for ski and snowboard enthusiasts too. You can bring your own skis or board, or rent a special sandboard from a local company.
If you are a snow-starved skier or boarder, this is serious fun in the summer months. It is a total joy to carve big smooth turns down a balmy-warm desert hill on a July morning. While it’s not exactly the same quality of turns as snow skiing, the activity bears more than a novelty factor—its skiing/boarding in a comfy dry, warm environment, which will deeply appeal to you if you are cold-adverse.
Here’s the down-low on how to do it and what you need. If you’ve never skied or boarded before, this might be a funky way to learn. (But never fear: you can always snag a simple sled instead.) If you’re already a competent skier or boarder, get ready for a total ball.
How to Get to the Park
The Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park lies 30 minutes outside Kanab, UT. The drive to get there is nearly as pretty as the park itself. You’ll drive about seven and a half miles north on highway 89, then turn left onto Hancock Road, which you’ll continue on for nine and a half miles until you get to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes road at the entrance of the park. You’re now just a hop and a skip away from the Arizona border. Toasty territory.
Once you’re inside the park, prepare for your jaw to drop. It contains 3,730 acres of rolling sand dunes that have ammassed over thousands of years. Geographically this spot is perfectly situated to have gathered all these little sand grains blown in the wind from surrounding sandstone formations.
The park contains trails and nature walks aplenty, so if you don’t want to propel yourself down a hill, there are still entertainment options aplenty.
What to Bring for Sand Shredding
For gear, option one is to rent a $20 sandboard at the park; it rides like a snowboard but with simple bindings you can just slip your feet into—no special boots necessary. This is good and bad: it’s highly convenient but if you’re an experienced rider, you’ll notice you’re sacrificing the level of precision and control you’re used to with snowboard boots and bindings.
Option two is to bring your own (old!) skis or board, with bindings and boots you don’t mind getting a lot of sand in. (Let us repeat: bring an old setup that’s ready to be sacrificed to the rock gods.) Sand will trainwreck your bases and get lodged in your bindings, but this approach will give you a fairly normal skiing or snowboarding sensation.
You can even rent a sand sled (also $20) if you don’t feel super confident with your carving skills—also, a great option for kiddos and newbies.
Whatever setup you ride on, you clearly don’t need to bother with snow clothes—but long pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt will feel nicer if you fall. Goggles can be a pleasant touch to keep the wind out of your eyes. (‘Round these parts, wind comes with sand, free of charge.) If you have poles with larger powder baskets, those will feel better in the sand than race-type pole baskets.
Don’t bother with a bunny hill grade; you need a steeper hill to get going, as your ski bases were designed for a snow surface, not sand. You’ll probably find it helps to keep your weight shifted back as you would when powder skiing.
You’ll get a great workout hiking and riding down the dunes, so be sure to wear comfortable clothes and bring tons of water. If you’re riding in proper boots, you might want to strap them on your pack for your walk up the dunes—it’s a little more comfy that way. And obviously, avoiding the hottest part of the day will make the experience about 1,000% more fun.
So hike up, let ‘er rip, and enjoy an incredibly special, unseasonal sensation of carving down a hill, hollering with joy—and soaking in the sun.
Originally written for Utah Office of Tourism.