Where is Bruneau Dunes State Park?
- 27608 Sand Dunes Rd Bruneau, ID 83647
Bruneau Dunes State Park is located in Bruneau, Idaho around 18 miles from the town of Mountain Home and 64 miles from Boise. It can be found right off of ID-78 and ID-51 and is easy to reach.
This state park is surrounded by nature reserves and conservation areas that can be visited alongside the park including the Sawtooth National Forest, the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey Conservation Area, and the Salmon-Challis National Forest.
How Big is Bruneau Dunes State Park?
Bruneau Dunes US State Park has around 4,800 acres of desert, prairie, and lakes. The park sits at an elevation of 2,470 feet above sea level and contains the tallest sand dune in North America. This massive dune rises around 470 feet above the surrounding desert.
While most sand shifts and changes with the wind, the dunes in Bruneau stay in relatively the same place. This is because the area is a natural sand trap where the winds blow from both the southeast and northwest around 30% of the time. Any sand that is blown away one day is often blown back another.
Bruneau Dunes Weather
Bruneau Dunes can be visited year-round and even offers the longest camping season in Idaho. Tent camping is available here from March to October.
January and December are the coldest months in the park with average highs around 40°F and lows around 22°F. July and August are the hottest months with highs around 92°F and lows around 56°F.
Bruneau Dunes has a dry desert climate meaning that the days are hot and nights are cool. The most comfortable times to visit are autumn (September to October) and spring (March to May). During these seasons, the park experiences highs of 70 to 80°F and lows of 40 to 50°F.
The summer is perfect for swimming and boating. Most activities during this time are best done in the early morning before temperatures get too high. On hot summer days, there is a risk that the sand can blister and burn your skin.
When did Bruneau Dunes Become a State Park?
Bruneau Dunes officially became a state park in 1967. The park is thought to have been named by the French explorer Jean-Baptiste Bruneau but could also be named after the French words for “brown water”.
The land originally belonged to the Native Americans but was settled by ranchers and miners starting in 1862 when gold and silver were discovered there. The land was first owned by the Bureau of Land Management before it was bought by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation in 1967.
From there, the Bruneau Dunes were developed into a park with the construction of campgrounds and the visitor’s center. The park officially opened in 1970 and more land was added in 1980 and 1984.
The sand dunes themselves are thought to have been formed around 15,000 years ago during the Bonneville Flood.
Things to do in Bruneau Dunes State Park
There are plenty of things to do in Bruneau State Park and it’s a great place to spend the day or even a few weeks in the spring or autumn. Spend your morning fishing or boating on the lakes then hike up a sand dune and rent a sandboard to slide down. During the cool desert nights, head to the observatory to get amazing views of the stars or just take in the constellations from outside your tent. Our State Park Visitors Guide outlines below some of the exciting activities Bruneau Dunes State Park has to offer.
Hike the Sand Dunes
The most popular thing to do in Bruneau Dunes is hiking up the sand dunes. You can choose to climb the tallest dune to get sweeping views of the desert around you, or just explore the smaller dunes around the park. No areas in the park are off-limits so you can spend the entire day exploring. Night hikes with flashlights are also lots of fun but be on the lookout for scorpions and other creepy crawlies.
The trail to the top of the biggest dune is a 6-mile loop that will take you past the lakes and through the desert before ending in the scramble to the top. The climb to the top is more difficult than it looks and will leave you out of breath because of the steep incline and sliding sand.
Sandboards can be rented from the Visitor Center in the park every day of the week in the summer from 9 am to 5 pm. Summer sand is hot and dry meaning that only the park’s special sandboards will work. Some visitors try to bring their own sleds or cardboard, but they often don’t slide well and end up discarded.
The park routinely stops all sandboarding when the temperatures reach above 80°F.
Sandboarding is also available in the spring and autumn. In winter when the sand is compact and cold, visitors can bring sleds and cardboard to slide down the icy mounds.
Bruneau Dunes has a public observatory that contains a 25-inch Newtonian Reflector telescope called Obsession. Head to the observatory to get a chance to spot incredible distant galaxies and planets. From March through November, you can learn more about astronomy by attending the Introduction to the Stars event that is hosted by park rangers and the Boise Astronomical Society every weekend.
You can also enjoy the stars with your own telescope or with the naked eye from your campsite.
The park has two campgrounds. Cottonwood Campground is best for tents and campers and offers tables, grills, firepits, a dumpster, and vault toilets. The Broken Wheel Campground has electric and water hookups and is a great place for RVs.
Staying overnight in the park is the best way to take advantage of the night sky views and to enjoy a cool and relaxing evening in the desert. The park does get windy so make sure your setup is secure and everything is tied down.
Fishing and Boating
Bruneau Dunes contains two small lakes that are perfect for fishing and boating. Only non-motorized boats are allowed. You can also swim in the lake or float around on an innertube or raft.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks the lakes with largemouth bass, bluegill, carp, and catfish. Fish are usually hungry making for a fun time.
Birdwatching and Wildlife Viewing
Bruneau Dunes is full of interesting desert wildlife including coyotes, antelope, jackrabbits, lizards, scorpions, kestrels, and hawks. This area is a popular spot for birdwatchers who are interested in birds of prey. Here, you can spot Great Horned Owls, nighthawks, and more. Waterfowl and shorebirds can also be seen near the lakes.
Check out the Park Museum
The Visitor Center at the entrance of the park has a small museum with exhibits on the park’s history and wildlife. Stop here to learn about the Bonneville Flood that took place 15,000 years ago and helped create the dunes. You can also check out interesting fossils and learn about the varieties of insects, birds, and wildlife found in the park.
With winds blowing across the park every afternoon and evening, this is a great spot to send up a kite. Kites of any size fly well here in the strong and steady wind and can be bought from the Visitor Center.
Running around on the dunes with your kite is not only fun but also makes for great photos. A colorful kite in the sky adds a whimsical and fun element to any shots of the rolling dunes.
This state park offers both 7-mile and 9-mile equestrian trails that will lead you around the picturesque dunes. Horseback riding here is a truly magical experience where riders can traverse sandy desert trails and rolling dunes as if they were riding through the Sahara. Group moonlight rides are popular with local riding groups.
The park even has an Equestrian Campground where you’ll find a horse corral, plenty of shade, and the access point to the trailheads.
Mountain bikes are allowed in the park. Fat tired bikes are recommended because you’ll be riding through sand. The best time to ride here is after a rain or in the winter when the sands are damp and compact. The bike trail will take you on a loop from the Visitor Center to the dunes and back.
When to go to Bruneau Dunes State Park
Bruneau Dunes can be visited in any season, but the most popular time is from March to October. This is when the park has the best weather for sandboarding, hiking, boating, and horseback riding.
Winter is also a good time to visit if you don’t mind the cold temperatures. During the winter, the observatory is closed but the clear and dry air makes for excellent stargazing with the naked eye or your own telescope. Winter is also a good time for sand sledding as the sand is cold enough for regular sleds and cardboard boxes to work on the dunes.
Camping is here available year-round. Tent camping is only available from March to October but the RV sites stay open during the winter months.
Sandboarding is best experienced in the spring and autumn. You can sandboard in summer but it’s best to go in the early morning to avoid the heat. If temperatures rise above 80°F, the sand becomes too hot to touch and the park rangers stop all sandboarders.
Must-Have Things to Bring to Bruneau Dunes
When visiting Bruneau Dunes, you’ll need to prepare for a windy desert climate. This means hot days and cool nights as well as bringing plenty of water and sun protection.
List of Parks highly advises that water is by far the most important thing to consider when visiting Bruneau Dunes State Park. Although you can buy water in the park, it’s best to come prepared. In this desert climate, you’ll need more water than normal.
It’s recommended to bring 1 to 2 quarts of water per person per day of activity in the park.
The hot and dry climate can make you sweat a lot and lose salts quickly. Bring salty snacks to help replenish your energy after an afternoon hiking, horseback riding, boating, or kite flying.
Park Maps in Physical and on Phone
It’s always a good idea to bring a map to any nature park. You can pick up nice hand-drawn maps for free at the Visitor Center or download detailed trail maps at the Idaho Parks and Recreation website.
Proper Hiking Boots
Sturdy shoes will help when hiking on the dunes. It’s best to avoid hiking sandals or any other opened-toed shoes, especially in the summer because the sand can burn your skin. No matter what shoes you wear, you’ll probably still get sand in them.
High ankle hiking boots can help keep the sand out as much as possible.
Jacket and Cold Weather Attire
This park is windy in the afternoons and cold in the evenings. Bring a windbreaker to keep warm and protect your skin from the blowing sand. If spending the night, pack some warm clothing like sweaters and hoodies to wear after the temperature drop.
Bring sunblock, sunglasses, hats, and long-sleeved shirts to help protect your skin from the desert sun.
Warm Weather Attire
To stay comfortable during midday in Bruneau Dunes State Park, wear clothes made from moisture-wicking materials to keep you cool and dry. Even though the park is often hot, it is best to avoid short-sleeved shirts and shorts. Long and loose clothes will protect your skin better from the sun and keep you cooler.
There are tons of opportunities to spot interesting wildlife here. Bring binoculars to better spot elusive animals like coyotes, owls, and night hawks.
If you get turned around on the dunes, it might be hard to figure out how to get back. Avoid this stressful situation by bringing a compass.
Mosquitos are pretty bad in the park, especially in the summer and near the lakes. Protect yourself and stay comfortable by bringing plenty of insect repellent.
Where to Stay in Bruneau Dunes State Park
The Cottonwood and Broken Wheel campgrounds are great options for tent and RV campers. The cost of camping inside the park ranges from only $8 to $12 per night in the high season and is a great budget option.
The park also has two cabins that can be rented for $50 a night. Cabins are one room and can accommodate a maximum of five people. They also come with heating and AC.
If you are looking for a less rustic experience, Mountain Home (the closest town) has plenty of hotel options including a Best Western and the Mountain Home Inn.
Food Nearby Bruneau Dunes
For food inside the park, the Visitor Center has a small gift shop that sells snacks and drinks.
If you are looking for groceries and a nice meal, you can find everything you need at the Bruneau One Stop restaurant and convenience store.
Good restaurants to try nearby including Cowboy’s Pastime bar and grill and the Apple Barrel Deli and Bakery in Mountain Home.
Airports Near Bruneau Dunes State Park
The closest airport to Bruneau Dunes State Park is the Boise Airport which is an hour away by car.