Camping in Idaho – Bruneau Sand Dunes#PNW . Hiking . Idaho . Outdoor Recreation . Trailer Camping . Travel . United States
Recommendations for RV Camping in Idaho
Whether you’ve never been camping in Idaho or have lived here your entire life, the state park system is one of the most convenient and comfortable ways to get out and explore Idaho’s natural beauty and extensive natural resources. The wilderness in Idaho is one of the big draws that keeps us coming back, and the state has endless recreational opportunities for the adventurous.
Visit the Tallest Sand Dunes in North America
One of the state parks along the Snake River basin is Bruneau Sand Dunes, the surprising location of North America’s tallest free-standing sand dunes, kept in place by near-constant opposing winds. We found a spot to camp here when Three Islands Crossing and other nearby parks had already filled up. The Dunes state park also has a thorough interpretive center and day-use area if you’re not planning to stay overnight.
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Camping in Idaho: Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park
The campground itself is open and not as densely covered with trees and vegetation as some of the other Snake River parks. The landscape is dry and sparse; it is the high desert, after all! A dusty trail leads from the campground past the interpretive center toward the dunes. Several smaller dunes sit below the largest two dunes, and a marshy wetland lies between them all. If you’re feeling ambitious, it’s worth the climb to the very top for the views of the Snake River basin and surrounding plateaus. You can also rent boards or bring your own to sand surf the dunes.
Distance to Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park
- Boise, Idaho to Bruneau Sand Dunes via I-84: 64 miles (103 km)
- Ogden, Utah to Bruneau Sand Dunes via I-84: 259 miles (417 km)
Elevation & Difficulty
- Elevation: 2,470 feet
- Park Acreage: 4,800 acres
- Hiking difficulty: Moderate to difficult, with some steep, sandy dunes that can be hot in the direct sun during the summer months
- Warnings: Sand board rentals are suspended when temperatures exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit, due to increased risk of burns
Fees & Amenities
|Motor Vehicle Entry Fee||$5 per vehicle|
|Standard campsites||$12-$21 per night|
|Serviced campsites||$24-$29 per night|
|Equestrian campsites||$12-$21 per night|
|Cabin||$50-$55 per night|
- Amenities at the Campground: Showers, flush toilets, dump stations, equestrian campgrounds & trails, electricity in campgrounds
- Boating Access: Electric motor boats only; ramps from day-use area only
- Activities: Hiking, bird watching, sand surfing, horseback riding, boating, and other outdoor activities around the dunes. Activities and interpretive center provides information and observatory activities seasonally at night
Contact & Updates
- Closures and Updates: Check the Idaho State Park Bruneau Dunes website for closures and updates; closures and access announcements are regularly posted on the State Park website
- Contact: Call the visitor center direct at (208) 366-7919. Contact reservations at 1-888-9-CAMPID or 1-888-922-6743.
Camping in Idaho: Bruneau Sand Dunes
Trailers, Tents, and Bivy-Sacks Welcome!
We first visited Bruneau Sand Dunes State Park last summer, when the girls were not quite 3 and 9. Our friends Ben and Amelia joined us in our trailer, and sisters Sandy and Susan, owners of Boise’s own Tin Roof Tacos, joined us in Sandy’s RV with her dog, Dexter. When we weren’t traipsing up the hot sand dunes, we relaxed back at camp, enjoying a warm fire at night and great conversation with friends long after the girls fell asleep.
Bruneau Dunes Observatory & Visitor Center
There’s not much nearby the state park; it’s a few miles to the nearby towns of Bruneau and Hammett, and the larger town of Mountain Home and the Mountain Home Air Force Base are a good 20-25 minutes away by car. But that’s kind of the point of camping and “getting away,” at any rate. Despite their proximity to the air force base, the dunes below the surrounding plateaus make a great location for the Bruneau Dunes Observatory. Regularly-scheduled activities and events at the interpretive center and observatory make this a popular spot for stargazers and photographers looking for minimal noise for those perfect star shots under the dark sky, either with or without a telescope.
The Tallest Dunes in North America: 500 Feet Tall
We ran up and down the dunes, despite the extra effort it takes to trudge through deep, dry sand that is also hot to the touch from the summer sun. The tallest dune reaches nearly 500 feet from top to bottom. Technically, it is the largest single-structured dune in all of North America. Step aside, Sahara! The Bruneau Sand Dunes can hold their own in terms of desert beauty and sandy spectacles of nature.
Bruneau Sand Dunes: Remnant of the Bonneville Flood
These dunes started with sands left behind by the Bonneville Flood 15,000 years ago. Eagle Cove, an abandoned cut-off meander of the Snake River, was a natural sand trap for over 12,000 years while the dunes formed. The dunes are situated in the center of their natural basin, which is unique to the Western hemisphere because most dunes lie at the edge. Today, the 470-foot Big Dune is the tallest single-structured sand dune in North America.– Idaho State Parks Descriptive Sign
Wind speeds from all sides are fairly even and prevailing winds blow from the southeast approximately 28 percent of the time and from the northwest approximately 32 percent of the time. This keeps the dunes fairly stable and they do not drift far.
Not so many years ago, NASA scientists studied Bruneau sand dunes for clues to the dunescape on Mars. Bring your toboggans, skis, sleds and discs and take a ride!
The Best Camping Views in Idaho
High Desert Dunes and the Snake River
I’m more of a mountain view kind of guy, and I love the sweeping views of forested mountains, rocky peaks, and plunging valleys between alpine lakes. But there’s something equally inspiring about high desert plateaus and wide open country like the dry landscapes around Bruneau Dunes. Once you climb up the dunes – even part way – you can survey the surrounding farmland and the occasional hedge or stand of trees near a homestead or farm operation.
The dunes themselves impress the mountain-loving skeptic: broad, sweeping lines crisscross the horizon as blowing sand forms ridges and slides on the tops of the dunes. The 45-degree incline of sand contrasts with the jagged, stony ridge in the background. Everything about the dunes and the surrounding landscape inspires, from the sheer scale of the dunes to the picturesque lake and grassy reeds at the base and the gently sloping farmland in the distance.
Run, Surf, or Roll Your Way Down the Dunes
But more than anything, the dunes are just plain fun. It’s exhilarating to run, skip, tumble, and fall down the steep side of a 500-foot sand dune. The climb up (and back up, over and over again) is worth the fast fall down. And with each step and tumble, the sand gives way and cushions your descent.