For some outside-of-the-box fun this year, head to Bruneau Dunes State Park in southern Idaho by Mountain Home. The sand dunes have become a popular attraction for sandboarding in recent years, and the park's visitor center rents out the boards seven days a week to an eager crowd of adventurers each morning. There are two small lakes for swimming and fishing, and hiking and horseback riding have always been popular. There is also a public observatory telescope in the park.
Bruneau Dunes is in striking contrast to today's modern parks and attractions filled with fences and "Do Not Enter" signs. Here you will have free reign over the entire park, and it is quite expected that everyone will climb all over the dunes and perhaps even take a deliberate tumble off of the ridge - just for fun. Once you've worn yourself out hiking in the sand, you can plunge into the lake at the base of the dunes and cool off for the rest of the day.
Bruneau Dunes SP has a large campground divided into two sections for large vs. small camping equipment. There is power, water, and a dump station for RVs, and the recently planted trees are starting to provide meaningful summer shade to campers in the heat.
A museum at the park entrance has exhibits on insects, reptiles and the Bonneville flood, which is believed to have triggered the formation of the dunes about 15,000 years ago. There is a small gift shop with souvenirs, snacks, drinks, and sunscreen.
Winter is actually a great time to visit the park. The campground is still open with power for RVs, but without the noise from kids so typical the rest of the year. The sledding is faster because of the moist (or frozen) sand, and you'll be able to use regular snow sleds and discs. The hikes to the top are much easier when it's not so hot out. Though the observatory is closed the air is clearer, so the stargazing is best when it's frozen outside.
Idaho is a great place for trailers and RVs. The roads are roomy and the parks have plenty of space for both day use visits and overnight stays. The only concern is that southern Idaho can be incredibly windy. This can cause blowing sand, snow, and damage roof vents, awnings, and doors if you're not careful.
There are 98 campsites and 82 have power and water. There are no full hook-up sites, but there is a dump station. The water is also shut off at the end of fall for freezing temps. There are full restrooms, showers, and a small concession shop for snacks and drinks. There is some shade in the campground from large trees, but it may not be as much as you want if it's 100 degrees out. Those trees don't provide too much in the way of privacy either. Still, you'll be so tired out from all the fun you've been having that you may end up going straight to bed when you get back to the campsite.
The Bruneau Dunes State Park Observatory is open to the public and hosts star viewings every Friday and Saturday evening from March to October. Enjoy the 25-inch Newtonian Reflector telescope called "Obsession", and check out distant nebulae, galaxies, and planets like never before. The Boise Astronomical Society plans star parties and other meetups throughout the year. Dark skies galore.
Come sandboard the largest single-structured sand dune in North America. Towering 470 feet, this bad boy will get you in shape fast! The park's visitor center rents boards seven days a week, and it's a very affordable way to spend the day. The sand gets too hot by mid summer, so it's best to try in the spring and fall, and don't bother using cardboard. It doesn't work, and you'll just end up spreading garbage in the wind.
A large dock provides easy fishing access for the whole family, even without a boat. There is a ramp for small electric motor craft as well. Large mouth bass and bluegill have been stocked in the lake as well as catfish and carp. They don't have a lot of natural food in a lake surrounded by sand, so the fishing is incredibly easy. These guys are hungry! Do come prepared with repellent. Flies, mosquitoes, and ticks can live in the vegetation around the lake. Check with IDFW for regulations.
Though it's not the cleanest water to dive in, it's still incredibly inviting after the workout of hiking around the sand for a few hours in the desert heat. Lots of people lounging around in inflatable toys and tubes, as if they were at the hotel pool. There are showers in the restrooms at the parking area, and additional supplies like drinks, sunscreen, and toys at the visitor center gift shop.
With steady wind nearly every afternoon, Bruneau Dunes is just like being at the coast, without the 500 mile drive to the ocean. Winds are often strong enough that larger kites will pull you around in the soft dunes. If you forget to bring your own, or they break, the State Park Visitor Center sells kites in the park. Be sure to drink lots of water. The wind and sun strip the moisture right out of you!
Since there is so little vegetation around, the fire rings at Bruneau Dunes SP are nearly always allowed for use. Even if you can't spend the night, this is a great place to make a meal over a fire, even if it's just for the day use. The sand dunes tend to bring out the kid in everyone, so after playing in the sand you're bound to be excited for a cook out and a campfire. Be sure to clean up after yourself and don't let anything blow away in those afternoon winds.