A destination every dune fanatic needs to visit
When most people talk about riding a UTV in the big dunes, chances are pretty good they’re talking about the sand toy capital of the world – Glamis. While Glamis certainly offers the largest open area for dune riding, St. Anthony Sand Dunes just north of Idaho Falls are without question the largest dunes in North America.
Located approximately 250 miles north of Salt Lake City (or just over 900 miles for those southern California readers), the dunes are nestled right outside of St Anthony, Idaho, a sleepy little town of about 3,500 people. According to some of the locals we met, many are completely unaware of the UTV paradise that lies just outside their back door.
While much of the surrounding area consists of potato farms, a number of businesses cater to the thousands off-road vehicle users who frequent the dunes every year. While hanging out at the Idaho UTV Invasion recently, we thought we’d take a closer look at the dunes themselves and find out just what makes this unique riding area so special.
For starters, the dunes sit at over 5,000 feet in elevation. This became very apparent as we trudged through the sand taking pictures and quickly found ourselves sucking wind. Higher elevation means thinner air, which ultimately robs horsepower. You may consider making some fuel adjustments to keep your vehicle running at peak performance. You’re going to need every bit of available horsepower to make it up and around these incredibly massive dunes.
While the area itself is not quite as big as Glamis, the dunes themselves are significantly taller and steeper than most of what you would find in the Imperial Valley of southern California. At 10,000 acres, the area is significantly smaller, but the dunes in Idaho rise almost 400 feet. That might not sound like a lot, but imagine turning a football field on end and trying to climb it. That’s about what it’s like trying to climb Choke Cherry Hill, one of the crown jewels of the area. Horsepower and a lot of torque is what it takes to make it up the massive ascent, as there isn’t much room to build your momentum at the bottom. We witnessed the new Polaris XP Turbo EPS climb to the top, but other vehicles and a lot of ATVs really struggled.
Just to the south of Choke Cherry Hill is a massive wall of sand known as Dead Horse bowl. We’d liken it more to a wall than a bowl, as it pops straight up in the middle of the dunes and parallels Choke Cherry hill for a few hundred yards. Regardless, it’s a steep incline that provides plenty of room to test the forces of physics and see how long you can maintain your trajectory before gravity takes control.
Because we were there participating in the UTV Invasion event, much of our time was consumed by the various activities that organizers had planned for attendees. We certainly had plenty of time in the sand, but we weren’t able to get way out into the dunes until the last day of our trip. Having been here before, we knew we had to make it out to Devils Dune at least once during our trip. This massive bowl is at the western most point of the dunes, almost 12 miles away from our camp at Idaho Dunes RV Park. Pictures don’t begin to do it justice, but hopefully you can get an idea of the size from the photos. For reference, the little spec at the top is an ATV rider for reference.
Our mode of transportation on this particular ride was a big bore 1132cc XP 1000 four-seat built by Muzzys Performance. While we made it up and around the bowl, the engine was definitely working hard.
The dunes themselves offer a wide variety of terrain, from tall horsepower sapping bowls to tight trails through the high desert terrain. While there is plenty of vegetation throughout the dunes, you still get the desert feel as there are large sections of rock made visible by the blowing sand. It’s never a good idea to careen off a dune without knowing what’s at the bottom, but it’s increasingly important here to look before you leap just to make sure you don’t end up in a rock field. Most of the big dunes are in the central and western half of the dune range, while the eastern end is made up of smaller bowls and open sand, littered with sagebrush and other vegetation.
The main access points are on the southeastern portion of the dunes. Egin Lake makes for a good reference point, as well as a spectacular view. From east to west, Egin Lake is just shy of the halfway point, although don’t quote us on that. Apparently the dunes are slowly shifting further east and we heard that one area resident lost a swimming pool due to the shifting sand.
Three campgrounds offer full hookups and two of them feature a long list of amenities, ranging from hot showers to RV dumps, onsite general stores, and even WiFi. Pricing is relatively competitive between the three campgrounds, although Egin Lakes Campground does not offer an advanced reservation system, so if you’re coming in from a distance you might want to consider locking in a space at Idaho Dunes RV or Sand Hills RV Resort.
One unique option that helped simplify our travel plans was to have a travel trailer delivered onsite, stocked and ready to go. Luv 2 Camp and Great Outdoors RV Rentals both supply rental trailers to the area and can really save the stress (and expense) of bringing your own RV.
If you prefer the comfort of a hotel room and more dining options, you can trailer your ATVs or UTVs to a day use area offered by all three campgrounds. Rexburg has a number of hotel options and is a mere 15-20 minute drive from the dunes.
Because the dunes are a part of a wilderness study area, the big dunes west of Thunder Mountain are closed from January 1st through April 1st as an Elk refuge. Other western areas on the outskirts of the big dunes are closed January 1st through May 1st.
Whether you aim for an event like the UTV Invasion or you decide to pack up the family and hit the dunes on your own, we firmly believe every sand dune enthusiast needs to make it to St Anthony at least once. It may be a bit of a haul, but you’ll forget all about the long drive the moment you’re 300 feet up the side of a massive sand dune. That we can assure you!
Below are some details on the individual camping areas and the amenities they offer. We also found this table from Idaho Dunes RV useful as a sort of quick reference guide to how far the dunes are from some major US cities.
|Idaho||Idaho Falls||40 miles||0.5 hrs|
|Idaho||Pocatello||90 miles||1.2 hrs|
|Utah||Salt Lake City||250 miles||3.5 hrs|
|Montana||Helena||275 miles||3.9 hrs|
|Montana||Billings||300 miles||4.2 hrs|
|Idaho||Boise||325 miles||4.6 hrs|
|Wyoming||Casper||350 miles||5.0 hrs|
|Washington||Spokane||500 miles||7.1 hrs|
|Utah||St. George||550 miles||7.8 hrs|
|Colorado||Denver||60 miles||8.5 hrs|
|South Dakota||Rapid City||600 miles||8.5 hrs|
|Nevada||Las Vegas||675 miles||9.6 hrs|
|North Dakota||Bismark||725 miles||10.3 hrs|
|Oregon||Portland||750 miles||10.7 hrs|
|Washington||Seattle||800 miles||11.4 hrs|
|California||San Francisco||875 miles||12.5 hrs|
|California||Riverside||900 miles||12.8 hrs|
|Arizona||Phoenix||900 miles||12.8 hrs|
|California||Los Angeles||940 miles||13.5 hrs|
|California||San Diego||100 miles||14.2 hrs|
Idaho Dunes RV Park
- Open April 1st through Early October (weather permitting)
- 24 Full Hookup Sites (Water, Electrical & Sewer) $48 or $75/night*
- 20-22 feet wide and 45-80 feet in length
- 32 Partial Hookup Sites (Water & Electrical) $42 or $70 /night*
- 25-35 feet wide and 80 feet in length
- 25 acres of “dry” camping available on a first come first serve basis $25/night
*Holiday/special event pricing
- Fully Stocked General Store
- On Site ATV Rentals
- On Site Food Service
- On Site Trailer Rentals
- On Site Seasonal RV Storage
- On Site Playground
Sand Hills RV Resort
- Open May 1st through September 30th
- 91 Full Hookup Sites (Water, Electrical & Sewer) $39-$59/night*
- 13 Partial Hookup Sites (Water & Electrical) $33-$53/night*
- 5 Tent Sites $19-$29/night*
- Parking lot available for dry camping on first come first serve basis
- General Store
- Washer and Dryer Facilities
- Race Fuel
- Two Separate Bathrooms With 6 Showers and 6 Toilets
- Fire Pits *(select lots)
- Picnic Tables
- Pull-Thru and One-Way Lots
- Idaho OHV Stickers and Flags
- Propane Tank exchange
Egin Lakes Campground Operated by the BLM
- Open April 1st through December 31st
- 48 Spaces with electrical and Water hookups. RV Dump on site.
- 10 “A” sites: $60/night; 40 ft. by 100 ft.; Picnic tables with awnings
- 18 “B” sites: $30/night; 25 ft. by 100 ft.; Picnic tables with awnings
- 20 “C” sites: $25/night; Most 16 ft. by 70 ft.