by Susie Wall
The tallest single-structure sand dune in North America rises 470 feet above the stark desert of southwestern Idaho. A visit to Bruneau Dunes State Park, 64 miles south of Boise, allows you to explore this natural wonder within the 4,800-acre park. Those willing to make the effort can scale the tallest dune, but climbing to the top of the shorter dunes is still a fun feat and affords you stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
As your feet sink into the soft, shifting sand on the trek up the dunes, keep an eye out for the tracks of slinking sagebrush lizards and bounding kangaroo rats. Once at the top, savor your victory and walk along the narrow spine. Slide back down to the dessert floor in one straight shot or create your own switchbacks, savoring the moment. Be sure to dress appropriately for your climb. It’s tempting to wiggle your toes in the sand, but that can quickly lead to burned feet on hot days. Wear sturdy shoes, a hat, and sunglasses. For an extra thrill, zoom down the dunes on a sled or stand-up board which can be rented at the visitor center.
There are many other activities to enjoy in the large park. Make the visitor center your first stop for maps and to learn about the formation of the dunes and the animals and plants that call this area home. A 6-mile hiking trail circles the entire park and the 1.3-mile Little Dune Lake nature trail leads you through the trees along the lush lakeshore. There is also an equestrian trail for those traveling with horses.
Visitors can take advantage of the park’s remote location with incredible views of the starry night sky at the Bruneau Dunes Observatory. Tickets go on sale Friday and Saturday nights during the summer at the Steele-Reese Education Center. Times differ depending on the sunset schedule and reservations are not accepted so be sure to get there early. A park ranger will begin by giving a talk on the history of the observatory along with a basic lesson in astronomy. Once it’s dark, move outside and join the line forming in the domed observatory where you’ll climb a small ladder and gaze through the giant telescope. Rangers are also set up around the observatory with smaller telescopes for a more intimate view of the sky above.
Visit parksandrecreation.idaho.gov/parks/bruneau-dunes.com for more information. Plan your trip to Southwest Idaho at visitsouthwestidaho.org.