Bruneau Dunes State Park and southeastern Idaho

We have had a fairly mellow visit here at the Bruneau Dunes State Park.  The weather has been hot, there is hardly any shade to be found, and scant wifi, so we have felt a little like being on a deserted island.  However, we have found some ways to entertain ourselves while here, including sliding down some big dunes! 😃 And, there is a star observatory nearby (albeit closed to the public right now), so on a clear night stargazing can be quite spectacular.

There are a few trails within the park that take you around the Small Lake or Big Lake, across the Big Dune, and to the visitor center around the southern edge and through the middle of the park.  However, most of these trails are filled with loose sand, so it’s slow going.  When you are hiking up the dunes, it’s more like getting on a stair master, in which each step is dragging you down equally as much as it’s getting you up the dune. 🥵 But, we had great views from our trailer on both sides, which was really a nice treat.

We did enjoy a bit of wildlife in the area.  There are small, side-blotched lizards, short-horned lizards, and snakes in the sandy areas as well as many underground sand dwellings that have been taken over by spiders, though you won’t often see the spiders during the day.  There are also a lot of bugs!  The more interesting ones were the beetles and robber flies, which are very odd looking, and an unending supply of flies, moths and gnats.  However, at the lakes there are plenty of birds to enjoy, including blue herons, great white herons, ducks, and geese.

The flora, on the other hand, is quite minimal.  It’s almost the same as we experienced in Dubois…loads of sagebrush, rabbitbrush, saltbush, grasses and Russian thistles, which later dry out and turn into tumbleweeds.  The trees are almost exclusively Russian olive trees, which I first encountered in Montana.  Near the lakes you have reeds, bulrush (cattails) and sedges, but nowhere near the variety I have grown accustomed to in Oregon.

Funny story about the bugs: While visiting the bison farm, Jenny told us how some of their bison ended up in the opening clip for the series Yellowstone, so we decided to watch it when we got to Bruneau Dunes.  While watching the opening episode, which happens to be two hours, we noticed a few moths fluttering back and forth, and then we turned the light on.  The whole trailer was filled with bugs!  Even growing up in Minnesota, I have never seen that many bugs inside.  We had opened the door near the kitchen but left the screen door closed, yet that screen door seemed to do nothing to deter them from getting in.  This is good to know for our future travels to more bug-infested areas…the screen door does not keep out bugs!  We shut off all of the lights except those in the very back and then sucked as many of them up as possible with the vacuum so that we could get some sleep without too much interruption. 😂 Another lesson learned.

Oregon Trail and Snake River

We attempted to do a hike around nearby Glenns Ferry called the Oregon Trail and Snake River, a modest 5.6 mile loop.  Most of the trails we found in the area were short, 2-3 milers, and very exposed, so we thought something that would take us near the river would have some more interesting flora and fauna, but we were misinformed.  Finding a “trailhead” did not happen…there are a few entrances through a fenced area that is designated as Idaho state park land, but we couldn’t even get in there with our truck.  

We later found a road that took us through the middle of this fenced area and parked there, found a sign that discussed how dangerous the river crossings were for the initial travelers along the Oregon Trail, and set off from there on a trail to see if we could make our way to the river.  Eventually, we came across a fence that cut off any access to the river.  Where we found part of the original trail notated in All Trails, we encountered indications that the fence had been cut so that people could travel through where the trail originally took you north to the river, but the fence had been mended.  

There is farmland closer to the river, so we assumed it had been taken over by farmers, and considering how dry and desolate the landscape was that we were exploring, we decided it wasn’t worth it to crawl through the fence and try to get closer to the river front.  We did see quite a few jack rabbits and a short-horned lizard, but the wander we went on through this state land was largely uneventful, so we gave up and headed into town for lunch.  I don’t recommend this hike.

Our day on the dunes

When we arrived, the camping area was fairly sparse in population, but with the Labor Day weekend coming up, we knew it was going to be packed.  Between that and the hot weather, we decided to wait to rent sandboards and slide down the dunes.  After the holiday weekend, we got up early enough to rent boards before the sand was too hot…they stop renting them once the air temperature reaches 80 degrees, because the dunes can reach temperatures of nearly 30 degrees warmer than that. 😮

After acquiring our boards, which we rented at 2 for $25, we set off for the dunes.  We decided to start with the smallest one, and then work our way up to the big dune.  The first two weren’t too bad.  It took about 5-10 minutes to get to the top and then slide down.  You have to wax the board before heading down, similar to treating your board for surfing on water or snowboarding and skiing in the snow.  So, after we get our boards all waxed up, we scooted forward and down we went! I had a successful first run, less so the second time and the same for Matt. He had a sensational ending on his second dune. Wipe out!

My first ride down the little dune. 😀
Matt’s sensational summersault ending on the medium-sized dune 🤣

The last dune took us about a 30 minutes to ascend, and we were greeted by a gopher snake at the top.  I am very curious why a snake would climb all the way to the top of a dune…to catch a meal along the way?  Or perhaps snakes enjoy sliding down the dunes as well?  I know it’s likely not the latter, but let me anthropomorphize the snake and think what I want. 😛 After ogling the snake for a while, we decided it deserved to be left in peace, given it put all that effort into getting up there, so we parted ways and prepared for the ultimate dune slide!

Because the dune was so steep compared to the other two, you may notice in the videos that we snow plowed our way down the first leg. 🤣 And yes, we had sand in pretty much every orifice and it covered every inch of our bodies.  There is no escaping the sand!  You must become one with the sand!. 🧘🏻 Anyway, we re-waxed the boards and tried to descend in another section of the dune, but it was pretty slow-going.  After a few attempts, we resigned ourselves to walking the rest of the way down.

My slide down the Big Dune!
Our dune sliding, in summary plus a nice view of the Big Lake 😊

So, in summary, was it worth the rental?  Yes!  It was the most fun we had while in the Bruneau Dunes State Park, and it was a thrilling way to embrace our sandy environment and also get great views of the lakes and surrounding areas below.  I’d rather slide down sand and get it all over me than struggle through it on flat ground and enjoy none of the thrills.   

Bruneau, Mountain Home, Glenns Ferry and Boise areas

The town of Bruneau is about 10 miles from the state park and the population is less than 1,000 people.  We saw another RV park right before you get into town called Tumbleweed Self Storage RV Park that is pretty basic…it’s a small, dirt parking lot, but does offer the basic hookups you need, so it could be another option for an overnight stay if you are in the area.  Otherwise, we only visited the post office to pick up mail, so I don’t have a lot of personal experiences to share.  The lady at the post office was very nice though. 😊

Mountain Home and Glenns Ferry are both about 30 minutes away from the state park. Glenns Ferry’s population is just about 1300 people and they have another state park nearby with access to the Snake River.  Mountain Home is larger with a population of nearly 15,000. They have made a lot of improvements to the downtown area, including resurfacing the roads and sidewalks.  They have more businesses as well, so this is where we went for food, shopping and cleaning our laundry.  All of these towns are about an hour south of the state capitol Boise, ID, whose metro area population is around 770,000.  We drove into Boise to get some groceries and a few more things at REI, and enjoyed having consistent wifi for a little bit. 😂

The Snake River view from Glenns Ferry, ID. Photo by Matt Walker

The average unemployment is below the national average, cost of living is generally lower than the national average, and all of these towns and the state are strongly conservative politically.  You will get plenty of sun is this fairly exposed part of the state, with over 210 days of sun per year.  The temperatures drops into the 20’s in the winter and tops out in the mid-90’s in the summer, so you can experience a wide variety of climate year-round, but overall the area is quite dry as is evidenced by the open expanses covered in sage and similar arid climate plants.  The areas are somewhat bikeable, though Mountain Home is actually more walkable according to walkscore.com

Personally, this part of Idaho is too dry and exposed for my liking, but it is an area known for its agriculture, so if that is of interest to you, this may be an area for you to consider.  I love a more varied landscape, hiking among the trees and being able to hide from the sun when it’s scorching hot outside.  And that leads me to our next adventure: we are going backpacking in the Wallowa Whitman National Forest.  We went here back in 2018 and I’m excited to return and explore other parts of this beautiful landscape.  Although it has been fun to visit high desert areas, I’m looking forward to being someplace with a little bit more moisture. 💦

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