Ensconced in sagebrush-decked desert, the city of Mountain Home originated as a supply station on the Oregon Trail which passed close by in the mid-19th century.
You can take a drive along the route of the trail, see where it forded the Snake River and discover plenty of spots where wagon wheels left permanent indentations in the ground almost 200 years ago.
Mountain Home is also the jumping off point for some amazing natural sights, at the immense Bruneau Canyon and the record-breaking sandy peaks of the Bruneau Dunes.
Just outside the city is an Air Combat Command installation, and the city’s 80-year connection to the United States Air Force is made clear with an F-111 Aardvark mounted at the central Carl Miller Park.
1. Bruneau Dunes State Park
On the opposite bank of the Snake River, not far south of Mountain Home is a dune system boasting the largest single-structured dune in all of North America.
This monster rises 470 feet above the surrounding landscape, while the 4,800-acre park is a magnet for outdoor recreation.
To protect this delicate environment, no motorized vehicles are allowed on the dunes, but you can go camping, climbing, sandboarding and sledding and take hikes and horseback rides around the dunes.
The giant main dune is also footed by a lake that abounds with bluegill, so don’t forget your rod.
The night skies are dazzling in this unpopulated part of Idaho, and on Fridays and Saturdays, mid-March through mid-October there’s an astronomical observatory with a telescope that the public can use.
2. Bruneau Canyon Overlook
Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of Southwest Idaho”, the 60-mile Bruneau Canyon is an awe-inspiring natural wonder hewn from basalt and rhyolite by the Bruneau River.
The canyon is in extremely remote country and Mountain Home is the closest large city to what is the only easily accessible viewpoint on the canyon rim
This lies about 30 minutes to the south, but merits every second of the journey as you can walk up right to the edge of the rim for an incredible view of the canyon’s vast and craggy walls.
At the Bruneau Canyon Overlook this gargantuan cleft in the ground measures 1,300 feet to the opposite rim and 900 feet to the canyon floor.
3. Main Oregon Trail Back Country Byway
The Idaho desert around Mountain Home represented one of the most grueling sections on the entire Oregon Trail.
Now you experience the scenery with none of the hardship on this 102-mile backcountry drive that tracks the original route for much of its length.
The byway begins at the old fording site at Glenns Ferry, before working its way through stark but impressive sagebrush desert to Bonneville Point, close to Boise.
The route makes a little detour to Mountain Home along the way, so you can choose which parts of the byway you’d like to drive.
All of the byway roads are paved or laid with gravel, and you can download a detailed itinerary, complete with authentic diary entries from the mid-19th century, from the U. S. Forest Service website.
4. Mountain Home Museum
The elegant building next door to Mountain Home’s City Hall is a former Carnegie Library, constructed in 1908 after a grant from the famous philanthropist.
With its overhanging eaves and imposing porch the Mountain Home Museum building is a fine example of the Western Colonial Revival style and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The museum is a mine of information about the city’s ties to the Oregon Trail, telling the story of Rattlesnake Station, a vital post in the foothills for emigrants, but also a stage stop for the Atlanta and Rocky Bar goldmines, high in the Sawtooth Range.
There are also compelling exhibits celebrating Mountain Home’s historical diversity, from long-term Native American inhabitants to Chinese miners and 19th-century Basque immigrants.
Finally, military collections document Mountain Home’s 80-year relationship with the United States Air Force.
5. Richard Aguirre Park
There are few better places to be on a sunny day in Mountain Home than Richard Aguirre Park.
That is especially true if you have children, as the park is loaded with amenities like age-specific playground areas, a brand new skatepark and wide open spaces for play and picnics.
This is also the location for the city pool, which we’ll cover in more detail next. For events and celebrations there are two gazebos here, and if you’re visiting for sports you’ll find tennis courts and horseshoe pits.
6. Mountain Home City Pool
A summer staple in Mountain Home, the city swimming pool at Richard Aguirre Park is open June through August. Entrance for lap swimming is extremely affordable, and there’s a flat fee for all ages.
There’s a packed schedule of classes and activities at the pool throughout the season, including water aerobics, paddleboard yoga, swimming lessons, while regular slots are provided for private pool parties.
Beside the main pool is a shallow wading pool for babies and toddlers. And if you need to cool off with a sweet treat, you don’t need to go any further than the Sno Palace, snow cone stand right by the pool house.
7. Carl Miller Park
If there’s an outdoor event happening in Mountain Home there’s a good chance that the venue will be this downtown park.
Shaded by handsome old trees, Carl Miller Park is named for a local WWI hero, and in the enchanting scene for Mountain Home’s Christmas lights, as well as the activity-packed Air Force Appreciation Day in September.
You’ll see an enduring symbol of the city’s links with the Air Force in the form of a General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark perched on a pedestal.
Among the amenities at Carl Miller Park are a kids’ playground, large gazebo and fireplace beside a picnic area.
8. Crater Rings
Something else remarkable within an easy drive of Mountain Home is this pair of spectacular volcanic pit craters, a few miles to the northwest.
The Crater Rings are at the summit of a shield volcano, dating back 2 million years and thought to be the youngest of the volcanoes in the Mountain Home area.
The two circular depressions here are former volcanic conduits, created by explosions followed by a collapse.
The western crater measures 2,500 ft across and 300 ft deep, while the eastern crater is a little larger, at 3,000 ft across and 350 ft deep.
9. Three Island Crossing State Park
For an educational excursion you can visit the place where the Oregon Trail crossed the Snake River, not far away at Glenns Ferry.
Those wagons forded the Snake River here for decades until 1869 when Gus Glenn built a ferry on the river two miles upstream, hence the name.
On a self-guided tour of these 600+ acres you’ll come across wagon ruts close to 200 years old, and there’s an interpretive center where you can learn more about pioneers, early settlers and Native American culture in these lands.
Three Island Crossing has a campground, cabins, a disc golf course and you can dip your feet or a fishing line at the place where emigrants crossed on their way to a new life.
10. Anderson Ranch Reservoir
Mountain Home is the closest large settlement to the remote Anderson Ranch Dam on the South Fork of the Boise River.
This earth rockfill dam was constructed throughout the 1940s for irrigation and hydroelectricity, impounding a reservoir covering almost 5,000 acres.
To get there you’ll need to take US 20, meandering through an upland desert landscape. But once you arrive you might be surprised by how lush the slopes are around the lake, particularly at the ten campgrounds.
The reservoir is known as a rich kokanee fishery, and there’s a limit of 25 a day.
11. C. J. Strike Reservoir
Built in the early 1950s by the Idaho Power Company, the hydroelectric C. J. Strike Dam impounds the Snake River just below its confluence with the Bruneau River, creating a 7,500-acre reservoir.
This sits about 20 miles southwest of Mountain Home and is a real haven for recreation, complemented by hiking trails, campgrounds, boat launches and docks.
The C. J. Strike Reservoir is especially popular for its cold and warm-water fishing. The list of resident fishes is extensive and includes bluegill, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass rainbow trout, crappie, yellow perch, sunfish and white sturgeon.
Elsewhere, you’ll come across historic wagon wheel ruts going back to the days of the Oregon Trail on marked trails by the reservoir.
12. Desert Canyon Golf Course
Effortlessly close to downtown Mountain Home is a high-quality 18-hole public course. The front nine were laid out as long ago as 1963, on the banks of a creek.
These holes have gentle terrain, with tree-lined fairways, while the back nine, completed in 1998 pose a very different kind of challenge.
Here the course tallies with the contours of a canyon, affording wonderful views on the way and testing you with water hazards on five holes.
For practice facilities Desert Canyon has a driving range, chipping green, practice bunker and putting green.
13. Legacy Park
On the north side of town is a new park that has come about partly thanks to community donations.
You would hardly believe it now, but the 40 acres of grass and family-friendly amenities at Legacy Park are all on the site of a gaping old gravel pit.
Now the park is a charming asset for the city, complete with two gazebos, a wedding chapel, a fishing pond, playground for little ones, soccer fields, a basketball court, softball field and ample space for passive and active recreation.
For anyone planning an event, the lower gazebo is also equipped with a BBQ grill and electrical boxes, and the park has porta-potties.
14. Prince Albert Hot Springs
Posted high above Glenns Ferry in the Bennett Mountain Hills is a remote natural site that will call out to prepared adventurers.
This is the setting for one of Idaho’s many hot springs, with clear water bubbling out of the ground at a temperature of around 100 °F.
A small dam has been built to create a pool, and there’s a fire ring next to it if you want to build yourself a good old fashioned Cowboy Camp.
It’s an ascent to be made strictly in the summer and with a four-wheel drive vehicle as the road deteriorates in the winter months. If you do make the trip, the views of the Snake River Valley are wonderful.
15. Fresh Friday Farmers’ Market
Mountain Home has a farmers’ market on the first and third Fridays of the month, early June through mid-September.
This goes down at El Rancho Park, opposite the historic Mellon Hotel. The market is a fine opportunity to pick up local specialities and organic fresh produce grown nearby, along with jams, jellies, breads, pastries and even grass-fed meat.
You can chat a little with the growers and producers if you want ideas for storage and recipes.
There’s also plenty of local artistic talent on show and you may spot something handmade that you can’t live without.