Bruneau Dunes in southern Idaho contains the tallest single-structured dune in North America. The main dune rises about 470 feet above small lakes that are a nice contrast in this high desert region. It is a tough scramble to get to the top of the tallest dune but it is well-worth the effort. The view from the top of the surrounding Snake River Valley is awesome. The dunes are preserved as part of Bruneau Dunes State Park.
Also an attraction at the 4,800 acre state park is the Bruneau Dunes Observatory where visitors can view the clear night skies through the 25" Obsession telescope. This is largest telescope in the West that's open for the public to use. Park rangers and members of the Boise Astronomical Society offer a multimedia introduction to the stars on weekend evenings from March through November for $3 per person. The telescope is located near the visitor center which has exhibits on birds of prey, other area wildlife, fossils, and sand dunes (of course!)
Other activities at the park include fishing, bird watching, swimming, and horseback riding.
Climbing the Dunes
The tallest dune with the large lake lying at its base
From the visitor center the "5 Mile Trail" circles the park and leads to the tallest dunes. This trail is easy to follow at first but is not clearly defined or signed for the entire route. This is complicated by the constantly shifting sand covering up the trail and criss-crossing rabbit tracks that can confuse you. But most people will find that it's easy enough to see over the desert brush and see where you're going and get to the dunes. The trail skirts the lake lying at the base of the tallest dune then soon enough you are at its base. Hiking up the dunes is not an easy task as you step up and slide part way down for the entire trek. But most hikers in decent shape should be able to get to the top in 30 minutes or so. The winds at the top can be quite strong so go prepared with a wind breaker!
The diversity of the terrain as viewed from the top of the dunes is breathtaking. You can see the high desert landscape of the Snake River Valley, the buttes on the River's far edge, and snow-capped mountain peaks beyond. Gotta love that!
Geologists believe that the dunes started forming around 15,000 years ago. They are also quite unique in that they lay at the center of their basin, while most sand dunes lie at the edge.
There is a hand-drawn map of the trail available for free at the visitor center. Mountain bikes are allowed but I can't imagine the ride would be any fun as the sand is very soft.
Here is my journal entry from the day I climbed Bruneau Dunes, January 7, 1999... "Sitting on top of one of the dunes at Bruneau Dunes State Park in Idaho. Down below are flocks of honking geese on a lake. They're making a racket, and faintly in the distance I can hear several fighter jets. The lake is still frozen and it shimmers in the intense sun. All the geese are congregated around a center portion that is unfrozen. A flock or two will take off and land at intervals; as they do so the honking increases. The dunes are so sharply set against the bright blue sky, only a few clouds float overhead to soften the view. The sand is a soft tan, fine and smooth. More geese are arriving now and a jet is flying overhead."
Bruneau Dunes State Park is located 18 miles SW of Mountain Home. From Interstate 84 take Hwy 78 west to the park. From Bruneau, ID, take Hwy 78 east to the park. Look for Bruneau Dunes Road which leads south from Hwy 78 to the park.
Fees: $5 per vehicle/day; separate camping and observatory fees
Motor vehicles are not allowed on the dunes
Please practice Leave No Trace
Bruneau Dunes as viewed through a silhouette of a desert tree
The campgrounds at Bruneau Dunes are open all year but March through October are the popular seasons.
Broken Wheel Campground
Available Campsites: Standard Campsites and Serviced Campsites/W,E
Amenities include individual sites with or without water and electrical hook-ups, central shower and restroom facilities. Select sites offer sun and wind shelters.
Standard Campsites - $12 per night (plus Idaho State Sales Tax)
Serviced Campsite/W,E - $20 per night (plus Idaho State Sales Tax)
Group Site - $3.00 per person (plus Idaho State Sales Tax and $5 per vehicle overnight fee).
Reservation Season: You may reserve campsites in Broken Wheel Campground at Bruneau Dunes State Park from March 15th through October 15th. Camping on a "first-come, first-served" basis is available year round (weather conditions permitting).
Make a reservation online, or call (866) 634-3246.
Eagle Cove Campground
Available Campsites:Serviced Campsite/W,E - $20 per night (plus Idaho State Sales Tax)
Amenities include individual sites with water and electrical hook-ups, and central shower and restroom facilities.
Reservation Season: You may reserve campsites in Eagle Cove Campground at Bruneau Dunes State Park from March 15th through October 15th. Camping on a "first-come, first-served" basis is available year round (weather conditions permitting).
Make a reservation online, or call (866) 634-3246.
Multiple Site Reservation Considerations
For groups wishing to book multiple sites (seven (7) campsites or more) Eagle Cove Campground is available: multiple site reservations for seven (7) campsites or more must be made through the call center at (866)-634-3246.
Bruneau Dunes and Lake
Cabin Amenities: Units sleep five and are equipped with electricity, lockable windows and doors, heat and A/C.
$45.00 per night (plus Idaho State Sales Tax)
Reservation Season: Reservations for Bruneau Dunes State Park's cabins are available year round.
Make a reservation online, or call (866) 634-3246
External LinksBruneau Dunes State Park Website
Bruneau Dunes Weather Forecast
Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce
For more info, please contact
Bruneau Dunes State Park
27608 Sand Dunes Road
Mountain Home, ID 83647-5084
Phone: (208) 366-7919
Fax: (208) 366-2844
Visitor Center Hours: 9am-5pm, daily