I first heard about Bruneau Dunes State Park in a National Geographic Traveler article about attractions that physically challenge their visitors. “Balloon over the Atacama” one invited. “Snuba in Aruba” another suggested. In Bruneau Dunes, Mary Anne Potts recommended renting a sand board and sliding down North America’s tallest free-standing sand dune. This actually is allowed and quite a thrill. Bruneau Dunes State Park is south of Mountain Home, ID, and close enough to I-84 to make a short visit possible. But you’ll be tempted to linger longer.
Bruneau Dunes State Park has an excellent visitor center where I asked about this impressive sand deposit. “It’s the largest free-standing sand dune in North America,” I was told. “What does that mean?” I inquired. It’s free-standing. Nothing is holding it. I still didn’t understand, so the man behind the desk confided, “California has a bigger dune but it’s not free-standing like ours”. I looked around the center for more info to learn that this park, the largest expanse of sand dunes in Idaho, is also “Where coyotes prowl and eagles soar”. I asked about sand boarding and learned that it’s similar to snow sledding, but no vehicles are allowed on the dunes that rise impressively to 470 feet tall.
These dunes are unique. Other dunes in North America form at the edge of natural basins, but these form near the center. “Wind does affect them, and the nearby roads have to be plowed, or swept, periodically. But these dunes do not drift like some others. Wind is fairly constant here in this basin called Eagle Cove near the Snake River where sand has been collecting for about 15,000 years, or since the Bonneville Flood.
Along with sand boarding and dune walking, star-gazing is another popular activity here. The Steele-Reese Education Center in the park contains a rotating, night sky viewing telescope. This is opened to the public on Friday and Saturday nights from April to October. Expect a crowd. This park has camping facilities, hiking trails, lakes, a human sundial, etc. Its brochure promises, “….you and your family will enjoy a getaway like no other”. I trust this is true because Bruneau Dunes is a challenging and somewhat unknown 5 Compass kind of a place.