Bruneau Sand Dunes: Ultimate Guide to Idaho’s Amazing State Park

Adina Keeling Avatar
bruneau sand dunes
Bruneau Sand Dunes. Photo credit: Steve Adcock from Pixabay

Camp in the desert, ride down sand dunes, gaze at a starry sky or hike through marshes while visiting the Bruneau Sand Dunes. Located in a 4700-acre state park, it’s a must-see destination in southern Idaho, only about an hour from Boise and 25-minutes from Mountain Home.

The park is best known for housing the tallest single-structured sand dune in North America, with an elevation of 470 feet. Visitors can climb these dunes on foot or on horse-back, and thrill-seekers can sand board down the dunes.

The park is also home to campgrounds, hiking trails and an observatory, perfect for stargazing. Lots of wildlife roams the area, so don’t forget the binoculars! However you’re looking to experience the park, here’s everything you need to know about the Bruneau Sand Dunes.

The Bruneau Sand Dunes are NOT man-made

The Bruneau Sand Dunes are a natural phenomenon, formed over 14,000 years ago as a result of the Bonneville Flood. The flood left a U-shaped basin in the Idaho desert, where sand and sediment began to accumulate. Strong winds from the northwest and the southeast continued to carry sand from the surrounding steppes and deposited them in the middle of the basin, forming the dunes we see today.

These strong winds also help hold the dunes in place. Unlike most sand dunes, which shift frequently, the Bruneau Dunes remain relatively stable. Although there are many smaller sand dunes, there are two large sand dunes that dwarf the rest of the landscape.

Read More: Love Dunes? Visit Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes

When to Visit Bruneau Dunes State Park

Although the park is stunning all year-round, the best time to visit is in the fall, between September and November. Temperatures are slightly cooler this time of year, meaning visitors can take longer hikes and spend more time traversing the dunes.

The park takes on a whole new character in the winter, when visitors can go sledding down the dunes. Just be aware that the park can get very cold this time of year. Alternatively, the summer can be scorching hot, so if you are visiting that time of year, be sure to visit the park early before the midday heat.

8 Best Things to Do at Bruneau Dunes

From hiking and sandboarding to stargazing and birdwatching, Bruneau Sand Dunes offers endless recreational activities. Here are some of the most popular activities in the park:

1. Hiking

Bruneau Sand Dunes is a great place to go hiking. The most popular trail in the park is called the Dunes 6-mile Hiking Trail. The trail begins at the visitor center, and passes by lakes, marshland and the park’s observatory. Hikers will also ascend the 470-foot sand dune. These dunes are off-limits to motorized vehicles, so this is the only way to really experience them.

The 6-mile hike can take between three and six hours and is moderately strenuous. White markers help keep hikers on track, but be sure to bring a map as well. Visitors are advised to carry plenty of water and wear sturdy hiking shoes when visiting the Bruneau Sand Dunes.

Visitors are also welcome to explore the park on their own. Learn more about the park’s hiking opportunities at the visitor center, where you can pick up brochures and maps, and speak with informed park guides.

2. Sandboarding

Sandboarding is a thrilling way to descend the Bruneau Sand Dunes. This sport is similar to snowboarding, but instead of riding on snow, you ride on sand. The visitor center offers sand board rentals.

3. Explore the visitor center

Looking to learn more about the park? Head to the visitor center and explore its small museum, which includes exhibits on the park’s history, geology and the local wildlife, including the birds of prey and insects. Pick up maps and informative brochures to help you explore the park.

The visitor center is also where you’ll pay the park’s entrance fee. There are snacks and souvenirs for sale at the small on-site gift shop.

4. Stargazing

With unpolluted clear skies, Bruneau Dunes State Park is the perfect place to stargaze. Here, visitors can peer at the night sky through telescopes, available at the park’s state-of-the-art public observatory. The Bruneau Dunes Observatory is open from mid-March through mid-October on Friday and Saturday nights.

The observatory also offers tours, solar viewing and a short orientation program. Special stargazing events are hosted throughout the year.

5. See the wildlife

Bruneau Sand Dunes has lots of amazing wildlife. Keep an eye out for muskrats, frogs, coyotes, jackrabbits, lizards and gopher snakes.

The park is also a hotspot for birding. Local bird species include waterfowl, long-billed curlews, sage grouse, black-necked stilts, killdeer, burrowing owls and American kestrels.

And, if you’re interested in creepy crawlies, you can go hunting for scorpions in Bruneau Dunes State Park. It’s a thing. Really.

6. Camping

If you just can’t get enough of the park, stay the night! The park has one of the longest camping seasons in Idaho, although camping is best in the spring or fall, when temperatures are more moderate.

There are three different campgrounds: Broken Wheel Campground, Eagle Cove Campground and the Equestrian Campground. There are also two cabins at Bruneau Dunes State Park, both with electricity and air conditioning.

Eagle Cove Campground is the most modern campground. There are 50 sites, and it has both water and electric hookups for RVs. Visitors are advised to make reservations in advance, especially during peak season, as the standard sites fill up quickly.

Broken Wheel Campground is a bit more rustic. There are 48 campsites and there are no full hookups. Both campgrounds have drinking water, a dump station, restrooms with flush toilets, and picnic tables.

The equestrian campground is the most rustic. There are corrals and hitching posts for horses.

7. Horseback riding

Forget dog-friendly. Bruneau Dunes State Park is horse-friendly! The park boasts an Equestrian Campground, with corrals and water spigots for horses.

There are also designated equestrian trails. These begin at the Equestrian Center and visitors can select between a seven and nine-mile trail. The trails are marked with white posts and form a large circle. The paths take between four and six hours, so be sure to pack food and water.

8. Fishing

There are several small lakes located at the base of the dunes. The largest of these lakes, Dunes Lake, is a popular fishing spot. Fish species include bluegill, channel catfish, largemouth bass and rainbow trout.

The best way to fish here is via a kick-boat or a float tube. Read more about the park’s fishing policies here.

Adina Keeling is a freelance travel writer from San Diego, CA. She worked in local news for a year until her wanderlust drew her to Costa Rica, where she is now based while freelancing and traveling the world. She has lived in three different countries and traveled to 27. An avid solo traveler, Adina wants to empower other women to safely travel alone.
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