Did you know the tallest sand dune in all of North America is only an hour out of Boise?
This distinctive destination resides in an environment so drastically different from the Idaho you know and love, it will make you question whether or not you boarded a plane prior to your arrival. Bruneau Sand Dunes is the Sahara Desert of the Gem State, minus the camels.
The 4,800-acre state park possesses multiple freestanding sand dunes with a wide range of hiking difficulty levels. The highest peak in the park comes in at 470 feet high, while the lowest peak only stands around 80 feet. Whether you’re an experienced outdoor enthusiast or just looking for somewhere to take your kids for the day, Bruneau Dunes State Park has something for everyone.
This natural phenomenon is the perfect place to spend a fall weekend. During your stay, you can enjoy bass and bluegill fishing, hiking, stargazing and sandboarding!
Bruneau Dunes also has one of the longest camping seasons in the Idaho Parks system, with booking starting in March and going halfway through October. From mid-October on, camping is weather permitting and done on a first come, first served basis.
While I haven’t had the chance to camp here yet, it’s definitely on my bucket list. I spent my day at the dunes sandboarding, something that I will admit, was nothing like I expected.
In my head, this experience was going to be similar to sledding in the snow. In reality, it was much more awkward, and much more hilarious.
As I looked over my first dune, I was horrified at the idea of shooting down full speed. I imagined sand pelting me in the face, trying to balance myself on an uneven and unforgiving terrain. It took about five minutes for my fiancé to convince me to tackle what can only be described as the bunny hill of Bruneau Dunes State Park.
I remember seeing a group of friends, who had to be under the age of seven, make their way up and down the hill several times while I waited at the top. “They can’t fall as far or as hard as I can,” I thought, attempting to justify this embarrassingly irrational fear.
After watching a toddler and her mother take on this ever so daunting dune, I finally mustered up enough courage to try it. I launched myself from my board, only to realize I was moving without it.
The slippery surface of my $2 sled was much slicker than the ground below me. It suddenly dawned on me how difficult it is to pick up speed while sandboarding, and I busted out laughing. I felt so stupid, but in the best way possible.
I picked up my sled from a local grocery store, but there are actual sandboards you can rent from the visitors center, just be sure to call ahead of time to confirm. You will go much faster on boards actually made for sand instead of snow. Even then, you won’t have to worry about picking up too much speed.
After rocking myself back and forth, moving an inch or so at a time, constantly slipping to the front of my sled, I finally made it to the bottom of my first dune. I looked absolutely ridiculous. It was time for a steeper slope.
Even harder than going down the dunes, is going up them. Not only are they steep, but you’ll be sinking into the sand every step of the way. It’s exhausting and extremely time consuming. The views at the top however, make it all worthwhile.
This natural phenomenon was established as a state park in 1967, but it’s speculated that the dunes themselves started forming around 15,000 years ago. This spectacular deposition of sand followed the Bonneville Flood, the second largest flood known to have occurred on our planet. In a matter of weeks, the Bonneville Flood also carved out the Snake River Canyon.
If you’d like to visit Bruneau Dunes for the day, be sure to bring $7 to pay your motor vehicle entry fee. If you’d like to reserve a camping spot, click here.
I was pleasantly surprised by my time at the dunes. I got to spend a day in what felt like a foreign land, laughing with my fiancé about how silly we looked trying to navigate such a monumental amount of sand. It was a unique experience I’d recommend to anyone living in the area.
The video below details our time at Bruneau Dunes State Park. You’ll get to see my epic fail while sandboarding and get the full picture of exactly what to expect if you decide to spend the day here! Have fun, stay safe and enjoy your weekend!