Amy Kidd of Coeur d’Alene surfs, snowboards and wakeboards — but she’d never sandboarded until last week when she visited Bruneau Dunes State Park with her family.
“It’s on my bucket list,” Kidd said while her five children played on Small Dune. “I’m 38 and I’m here to start knocking those off.”
The Kidds visited Bruneau Dunes as part of a spring break exploration of their state. They tried hot springs near McCall, the zoo and a sunset hike to Table Rock in Boise and had plans to hit Shoshone Falls and City of Rocks later in the trip.
They visited Bruneau Dunes specifically for the sandboarding — the latest variation of one of the most popular activities at the park, sand sledding.
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“We’ve had the boards for two seasons prior to this,” Assistant Park Manager Bryce Bealba said. “It just took off. It’s been incredibly popular.”
The wooden sandboards come in two models — sit-down or stand-up — and rent for $15 a day or $25 for two boards (the visitor center offers rentals from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). The sit-down version includes a padded seat and handles. The stand-up version is like a snowboard, with straps for both feet.
For best results, renters are told to rub some wax onto the bottom of the boards after every run.
“They fly,” Bealba said. “I think the sleds go quicker than the stand-up boards do.”
Amy and her husband, Jared, took turns riding a stand-up board down the hill. Their kids — most notably 6-year-old Tayah, who might have been the best sledder on the hill that day — used a stand-up board as a sled because the sit-down versions were all gone by the time they arrived.
The Kidds snowboard, so they were able to ride top to bottom without incident. But they said a newcomer to sandboarding likely would experience the same awkwardness of a newcomer to snowboarding (and, watching others try, that seemed a fair assessment).
“The snow,” Amy said, “you hit and it’s hard. But the sand, it gets everywhere if you face-plant. You’re chewing on it for the next couple days.”
And, Jared pointed out, there’s no lift to get you back to the top.
“It’s a tough hike up and I don’t like all the sand,” he said, “but it’s fun going down.”
Amy practiced a couple of turns as she developed more feel for the sandboard, though Small Dune doesn’t leave much time for that. She intended to hike up Big Dune later in the day and sandboard it. Big Dune is 470 feet high, the tallest single-structure dune in North America.
“I’ve got to do it at least once,” she said.
The boards have become so popular that Bealba ordered about a dozen more for this season. He hopes to get more, too. He recommends arriving before noon if you want to get a board, particularly during school breaks and weekends.
Or, you can bring your own sled and try your luck. Visitors tried snowboards, plastic toboggan sleds, saucers and even a pool float with mixed results one day last week. The snowboard produced the results closest to the sandboards.
One tradition Bealba hopes to end: sliding on cardboard. It doesn’t work, he said, and people tend to leave the cardboard behind for his staff to clean up.
Snowboarders, Bealba said, fare well on stand-up sandboards.
“They pick that up real quick,” he said, “but we get a lot of people who are pretty intimidated to get out there on a snowboard and go down something that steep. For those folks, the sit-down boards are perfect.”
About Bruneau Dunes State Park
- Where: 27608 Sand Dunes Road, Mountain Home.
- Getting there: It’s about an hour from Boise. Take I-84 east to exit 90. Follow Old U.S. 30 into downtown Mountain Home, then continue on Idaho 51 south of town. Turn left on Idaho 78 just after crossing the Snake River and turn right on Bruneau Sand Dunes Road. There are lots of signs.
- When to go: Spring and fall. The sand is dangerously hot in the summer and the cold/wind combo is miserable in winter. It’s usually a popular destination for spring break.
- Cost: $5 per vehicle (or buy the $10 annual Idaho State Parks Passport)
- Camping: Two campgrounds, an equestrian camp and cabins offer a variety of options. Camping fees range from $12 to $29 (with RV services) per night and cabins are $50-$55.
- More info: parksandrecreation. idaho.gov/parks/bruneau-dunes
Climb the nation’s tallest dune — and other fun at Bruneau Dunes
Here are a few more ways to enjoy Bruneau Dunes State Park:
▪ Climb Big Dune. The mountain of sand is the tallest single-structure sand dune in North America at 470 feet. The climb to the top isn’t long — about a mile one way depending on your route — but it can be challenging. The terrain is steep, the sand at times is deep and leg-sapping and the wind often gets fierce. My 8-year-old son and I took the advice of Assistant Park Manager Bryce Bealba, who told us to start at the Big Lake boat ramp, follow the trail that parallels the dune for a while to the right (west) and then work up the less-steep side of the dune. The ridge line at the top of Big Dune is bizarre — it’s only wide enough to walk single file, with a steep, sandy drop-off on both sides — and wind gusts try to knock you back down the hill. You can walk along the ridge all the way to the other end of Big Lake, but with a storm coming we decided to take the shortest route back. The best part was running down the dune. “This is what success feels like!” my son shouted on the way down.
▪ One of the state park’s top attractions is the Bruneau Dunes Observatory. Unfortunately, it was closed while we were there last week. It generally is open from early April through mid-October on Friday and Saturday nights only. For info, call (208) 366-7919.
▪ Small Lake by the observatory has “excellent bass and bluegill fishing,” Bealba said. Big Lake was recently treated to deal with a carp problem and won’t have keeper-sized fish this year, he said.
▪ If you want to hike without a big climb, there’s a 1.3-mile loop around Small Lake. It cuts across Small Dune.
▪ Bealba hopes to turn the two lakes into attractions for people who like to kayak, canoe and stand-up paddleboard. A rental program could be added soon. “The two lakes are fairly small,” he said. “Other than the wind that we get, they’re pretty calm. We don’t allow motorized boats out there. It would be perfect for a family.”