Did you know that the tallest free standing sand dunes in North America can be found in southwestern Idaho? Well if you make a stop at Bruneau Dunes State Park and try to hike to the top of one of them, you sure would. Bruneau Dunes is a unique place where you can slide down a giant sand hill and go stargazing, in addition to more common place activities like hiking and fishing.

Bruneau Dunes State Park
When you think giant hill of sand, think Bruneau.

State Park Overview

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Overall, we give this state park five stars.

The reason it gets this high score is because it is so friggin’ unique.

Pros:

  • Unique
  • Awesome stargazing and observatory
  • Proximity to Boise
Bruneau Dunes Visitor Center
The visitor center explains how this much sand stays in one place (even with the massive amount I brought home in my shoes and other areas I won’t mention.)

Cons:

  • It gets really hot in the summer
  • The observatory hours are not great
  • Not a lot of food options (read: not any food options) nearby

What To Do

  • Climb a sand dune
  • Hike around a sand dune
  • Fish next to a sand dune
  • Attempt to slide down a sand dune on a sled
  • Look at stars and learn about the sky
  • Swim in a pond (honestly, the look of the water ruled this one out for me)
  • Camp
  • Go horseback riding
Bruneau Dunes state park
Car picnicking in front of a sand dune while trying not to melt in the sun.

Amenities

The park has all the usual amenities like restrooms, picnic tables, etc. The park is pretty spread out, though, so you might have to walk a while to get to some of the bathrooms. Go to the parks and rec website to learn more.

The visitor’s center was pretty interesting. I learned all about why the sand stays where it does after thousands of years. Due to the shape of this area, wind blows in two opposing directions. So the sand doesn’t ever blow away completely. The wind just keeps everything in one place. I also took snapshots of different flowers that are common in the area that I’ve wondered about the names.

Bruneau Dunes State Park Visitors Center
Awkward looking baby eagles on display

The Crowd Situation

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Other than a freak covid-spring, I haven’t ever been to Bruneau Dunes when there are too many people to be comfortable. It’s a lot of sand, so it would really take a lot of people to fill it up. Even during the weird covid time when the park was following a one-in, one-out policy, it still didn’t feel overcrowded.

Unique to Bruneau Dunes State Park

Well…the sand, obviously.

On top of a sand dune at Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park
On top of a sand dune at Bruneau Dunes State Park

A Little History about Bruneau Dunes State Park

Land around the dunes was purchased in 1967. In the 80s, more land was purchased, bringing the park’s total to almost 5,000 acres.

Explore Nearby

  • Bruneau Canyon
  • That’s it. There’s really not a lot of stuff other than sagebrush in this area.
Bruneau Canyon, Idaho
Bruneau Canyon is an amazing gash in the earth about 40 minutes outside Bruneau Dunes State Park. In the middle of nowhere. With no one around. We highly recommend combining these two destinations on a trip.

Our experience(s) at Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park

Playing on the Dunes

I’ve been to this park several times in my life. Every trip has included a hike up one or both of the dunes. When I visited this spring, the dunes were full of people trying to sled down them. Now, to be perfectly honest, you probably aren’t going to be able to carve down the dunes like a snowboarder on powder snow. Conditions have to be really good (cool, maybe recently rained) to be able to sled well. Some sleds seem to work better than others, but I couldn’t figure out which ones were the best.

When B and I visited the park in the heat of the southwestern Idaho summer, I noticed there was a distinct shortage of people on the dunes. Didn’t take long to figure out why–the sand is dangerously hot during summer months.

Bruneau Dunes State Park - hot sand warning sign
This sign doesn’t joke. My feet burned walking on the sand.

Star gazing at Bruneau Dunes State Park

A few years ago a group of our friends decided to camp at Bruneau Dunes State Park and visit the observatory. Unfortunately, it rained so we weren’t able to look through any of the telescopes. We were treated to a wicked slideshow presented by an adorable volunteer. We vowed to return and actually get to look at the stars, but unfortunately, it isn’t that easy to do. As part time adventurers with full time jobs, we don’t have that many weekends available during the summer months to stargaze.

My nieces and nephews trying to climb to the top of the tallest dune. It was really windy up top. I still am finding sand in my shoes and pockets.

Conclusion

Bruneau Dunes State Park is one of the most unique parks we’ve been to. It is well worth a trip if you live in the southwest Idaho area. Go burn some calories climbing up a giant sand dune; just make sure not to burn yourself if you visit in the summer.

We visited Bruneau Dunes State Park as part of our Idaho State Parks Challenge. The challenge consists of visiting all of Idaho’s state parks in one year. We made up this challenge to see a bit more of our beautiful state and help alleviate the restlessness caused by Covid-19 travel restrictions. Feel free to join the challenge!

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