For some outside-of-the-box fun this year and 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 State Park has a large campground divided into two sections for large and 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.
Only 64 miles from Boise, Bruneau Dunes State Park is a fantastic place to spend a night or even a week or two. Just off of ID-78 and ID-51, you can reach the park from I-84 coming from the north or east, I-80 from the south, or I-5 from the west. The area is surrounded by the Sawtooth National Forest, Salmon-Challis National Forest, and Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area.
Just 78 miles from the park, there is a town called Nampa, which is a great place to stop in for a visit. The city boasts 24 parks including Lakeview Park and a recreation center that has six pools and three gyms. There are also several state parks including Eagle Island State Park, Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge, and Lucky Peak State Park.
Idaho is a great place for trailers and RVs to enjoy road trips. 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. Park your RV in the campsite and head out on foot or bike to explore the nooks and crannies of the park.
The Equestrian Campground has 19 spacious campsites with extra-large parking pads that can accommodate motorhomes and trailers from 90 to 101 feet in length. You won’t have any trouble fitting in these spots. Although there are no utilities at these sites, there is a central water spigot with potable water as well as vault toilets. Each site also has a picnic table and campfire rings with grills to cook on. Be sure to book your site as early as possible. Reservations can be made up to nine months before your planned visit.
For your equestrian friends, there are two horse corrals for everyone to use. One of these is divided into four stalls. There are also three community hitching posts outside the corrals. The equestrian trails begin here, so it is easy to jump on your pony and head out for a ride at any time. This campground is located in the northwestern section of the park, at the end of Bruneau Sand Dunes Road. Dogs are welcome here as well, but they must be restrained and accompanied at all times.
With 50 large sites spread out over two loops near the Dunes Lakes, the Eagle Cove Campground has the most campsites of all the campgrounds. These sites all have 30- to 50-amp electric and water hookups and can handle rigs from 41 to 61 feet in length. Being this close to the water and having utilities means these sites are popular, so book your site as early as possible. You are allowed to reserve sites up to nine months prior to your expected visit.
Each of these sites has a fire ring with a grill to cook on, a picnic table that seats you and seven others, and a large cleared area to sit around the fire. These sites do not have any shade, so make sure your awning is in good working condition or bring a portable sunshade. Stock up on the sunscreen as well. Pups are welcome here too so bring your furbaby but make sure you keep him restrained and accompany him at all times.
Broken Wheel Campground is located in the northeastern section of the park to the north of the Eagle Cove Campground on Sand Dunes Road. This campground has 48 campsites and 32 of these have power and water and can accommodate RVs and trailers up to 50 feet in length. The other 16 have no utilities and the length limits vary from 28 to 35 feet long. There are no full hookup sites, but there is a dump station where you can dump your black tank when needed. The water is also shut off at the end of the fall for freezing temps. Reservations are needed and can be made from one day to nine months in advance.
You’ll find full restrooms, showers, and a small concession shop for snacks and drinks nearby. 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 anyway. Go ahead and bring Fido too but make sure he is supervised and restrained at all times.
Come sandboard the largest single-structured sand dune in North America in Bruneau Dunes State Park. 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 midsummer, 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. Largemouth 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 the Idaho Department of Fish and Wildlife (IDFW) for regulations.
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. You can also bring your own telescope and enjoy the stars from your campsite. With the darkness and clear skies here, you should be able to see thousands of stars.
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. You’ll find 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. However, it is more cost-efficient to purchase these items beforehand and bring them with you.
With steady wind nearly every afternoon, Bruneau Dunes State Park 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 State Park 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 cookout and a campfire. Be sure to clean up after yourself and don't let anything blow away in those afternoon winds.