The agricultural city of Blackfoot sits halfway between Idaho Falls and Pocatello on the Snake River Plain.
This fertile landscape is bedecked with potato fields, to the point where Blackfoot has the largest potato industry of any area in the United States, and has assumed the title of “Potato Capital of the World”.
Whether you’re discovering charming small-town attractions or venturing out into the Eastern Idaho wilderness, you’ll find a ton of things to do in and around the city.
Blackfoot is also the location for the Eastern Idaho State Fair, beginning on Labor Day weekend and bringing ten days of action, great food, amusements and time-honored displays and activities.
1. Idaho Potato Museum
It’s only right that the Potato Capital of the World should have a museum all about potatoes and the story of their cultivation in Idaho. The location is noteworthy too, in a fine old railroad depot dating back to 1913.
Among the many exhibits are a potato hall of fame, pre-Columbian potato storage vessels from Peru, an in-depth look at the potato varieties grown in Idaho, a timeline of potato consumption in the United States and the world’s largest potato chip, measuring 25 by 14 inches.
The museum also has plenty of vintage agricultural equipment, and no lack of interactivity to keep younger minds engaged.
A visit to the cafe is also essential, for potato salad, fries, baked potatoes, potato bread and even potato cupcakes and potato ice cream.
2. Experimental Breeder Reactor
Blackfoot is on the eastern limit of a nuclear research complex in the high desert of Eastern Idaho, encompassing almost 900 square miles.
This is the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), established in the late-1940s and employing upwards of 4,000 people.
Most advances in the peaceful application of nuclear power have been made here, and much of what we know about the function of nuclear reactors comes from this very place.
The INL constructed the power plant for the world’s first nuclear submarine, and built the reactor that produced the first usable amount of electricity.
May through September you can visit the Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-I), which became one of the world’s first nuclear power plants in 1951 when it generated enough electricity to power four 200-watt light bulbs.
Now a National Historic Landmark EBR-I was decommissioned in 1964 and today serves as a fascinating museum.
3. Eastern Idaho State Fair
One of Idaho’s three state fairs kicks off on Labor Day weekend at the fairgrounds just off Main Street in Blackfoot.
The fair opens with a parade along Shilling Avenue, with local clubs, organizations, business, as well as the police and fire department taking part.
You can write a separate article to list everything going on for the next ten days at the Eastern Idaho State Fair, but to sum up there’s horseracing, tractor pulls, bull riding, a demolition derby and concerts by major artists.
Some of the smaller shows include talent shows, arm wrestling contests and a wealth of performances by local musicians and dancers.
Naturally, animal competitions and displays are a big part of the fair, with categories for a spectrum of breeds.
Finally, food is of course front and center, whether you’re hankering for an old-fashioned turkey leg or want tiger ears, tacos or teriyaki bowls.
And since you’re in Blackfoot, you have to try an ice cream potato, which is a frozen dessert dressed up to look like a baked potato.
4. Blackfoot Movie Mill
A historic light industrial building in the center of Blackfoot has recently been transformed into a multiplex theater.
This is the work of Kent and Ingrid Lott, an entrepreneur couple who manage the Centre Twin Theatre and Paramount Triplex in Idaho Falls.
The venue is the old Blackfoot Motors building, dating back to 1932. This has been equipped with seven screens and a total 1,035 stadium seats, repurposing materials from the former interior, including 23,000 lb of sawdust for insulation and wood for cabinets.
The Blackfoot Movie Mill opened to the public in November 2018 and screens all the latest releases.
5. The Butterfly Haven
The largest butterfly house in Idaho is a short way west of Blackfoot. A seasonal attraction, the Butterfly Haven is found on an idyllic farm with an apiary, and has a large greenhouse dancing with butterflies and teeming with colorful flowers.
Among the 30+ delightful species in this environment are monarchs, mourning cloaks, buckeyes, red admirals, Wiedemeyer’s admirals, painted ladies, spicebush swallowtails and white peacocks.
You’ll have a rare chance to observe these beautiful insects up close, and see the caterpillars and chrysalises that come before.
6. Blackfoot Green Belt
On the northwest side of town, there’s a 6.5-mile multi-use paved trail along the bank of the Snake River.
This project took shape in the 2000s, and the trail connects public parks, recreation areas and a succession of beauty spots.
The southern starting point is Jensen Grove Park, which is one of Blackfoot’s go-to for outdoor recreation, with a skate park, disc golf course, basketball courts, children’s playground and picnic tables.
From there you’ll pass the blue expanse of Jensen’s Lake, Airport Park, which has mature landscaping and six baseball diamonds, and the charming Cannon Bridge, constructed with reclaimed materials from demolished bridges around Idaho and Utah.
7. Bingham County Historical Museum
The museum for the Bingham County Historical Society is in an elegant 15-room mansion close to downtown Blackfoot.
Built from local lava rock in 1905, the property has the air of something from the antebellum south, explained by the founder’s Tennessee origins.
Inside you can peruse a lot of historic fittings and ornamentation while the museum’s artifacts reveal various aspects of Bingham County’s past.
You’ll see Native American artifacts, military uniforms, musical instruments, a doll collection, a trove of historic photographs and an extensive array of antique clothing. The museum is open in the summer, from early June through late August.
8. Hell’s Half Acre
Out on the Snake River Plain north of Blackfoot is a remarkable basaltic lava field covering some 150 square miles.
This formation is estimated to have been formed around 3250 BCE, when lava was forced up from a depth of 30 to 50 miles below the earth’s surface before cooling.
Continued pressure from below caused the forbidding cracks and chasm that appear throughout Hell’s Half Acre.
There’s a picnic area by the entrance, and you can tour the site on a lower loop (1/4 mile) or the more demanding upper loop (½ mile), taking 25 minutes and 45 minutes respectively.
9. Wolverine Canyon
For more rugged outdoor adventure you can set a course for the foothills of the Caribou Range just east of Blackfoot.
Wolverine Canyon is a treasured but relatively unfrequented area for hiking, dispersed camping, mountain biking, rock climbing and a variety of cold-weather activities in winter like snowmobiling.
From October into the new year these are the traditional wintering grounds for bald eagles, and it’s not unusual to see one swooping over the canyon.
And in case you need reminding that you’re in the western wilderness, in the warmer months you may catch sight of mountain lions, black bears, grizzlies and red deer.
Up above the Snake River Plain the night skies also need to be seen to be believed.
10. Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Museum
Between Blackfoot and Pocatello is Fort Hall Indian Reservation, for the Shoshone-Bannock tribes, which are among the five federally recognized tribes in the state.
A great reason to make the brief drive south is for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Museum, presenting a wealth of artifacts, including stone tools, beadwork, jewelry and textiles.
This is all accompanied by detailed descriptions of the tribes’ culture. Black and white photos bring important figures from the 19th century to life, like Chief Pocatello (1815-1884).
His time coincided with early European pioneers, settlement and the Oregon Trail, and you’ll find out how he eventually made peace with the U.S. Government and moved the Shoshone people to this reservation.
Stop by the gift shop, which has authentic handmade gifts by Shoshone-Bannock artisans.
At the city of Pocatello, 25 miles to the south, you can go back to the days of the pioneers, fur traders, trappers and weary travelers on the Oregon Trail in the 19th century.
Here you can visit an exact replica of Fort Hall, a trading post established some miles away on the bank of the Snake River in the 1830s. Pocatello has a neatly preserved old core with atmospheric brick buildings.
One old industrial building from 1916 houses the Museum of Clean, a sensational museum dedicated to hygiene and cleaning technology, founded by entrepreneur Don Aslett.
Pocatello is also the main campus for Idaho State University, which puts an excellent natural history museum and an extraordinary, multimillion-dollar performing arts center in range.
12. Pindale Lanes
Heading west from Blackfoot on U.S. Route 26 you’ll soon come to a friendly bowling alley run by a couple and featuring ten well-maintained lanes.
The only alley for quite some distance, Pindale Lanes has regular slots for seniors, women only teams and for three or four-person teams.
The owners will be happy to offer any tips, and everything, from the surface to the shoes and balls, is impeccably maintained.
The cosmic bowling sessions on Saturday evenings using blacklight are a hit with younger bowlers, and there’s a restaurant for hunger-stomping comfort food like burgers, wings, chicken strips, taquitos, pizzas and shakes.
13. Idaho Falls
Go up the Snake River and within a twenty-minute drive you’ll be in Idaho’s largest city outside Boise.
Idaho Falls has the culture, amenities and attractions befitting a large city, but also throws a lot of scenic beauty into the mix.
There’s another peaceful greenbelt along the river bank here, threading through gorgeous waterside parks and passing the man-made waterfall that gives the city its name.
Idaho Falls is home to the Museum of Idaho, two great art museums, a zoo, the splendid Willard Performing Arts Complex and the Idaho Falls Chukars, Eastern Idaho’s only professional sports team.
14. Blackfoot Golf Course
Golfers in Blackfoot are in for a treat as the city has one of the best-rated municipal golf courses in the state, run by long-time pro Mike Daley.
The course is close to the Snake River, at the north end of Blackfoot’s green belt, and has a front nine landscaped in the late-1950s and a bank nine completed in 1980.
The prevailing features of the course are a stiff breeze on the river plain, small and fast greens, shallow bunkers and immaculately groomed fairways.
If you’re missing any item you’ll be sure to find it at the pro shop, and the clubhouse is known for the friendliness and helpfulness of its staff.
15. Shoshone-Bannock Casino & Hotel
The Shoshone-Bannock tribes own and run three casinos on the Fort Hall Reservation, and the flagship is the Shoshone Bannock Casino Hotel, which has been around since 2012 but relaunched with an impressive new facility in 2019.
Shoshone-Bannock culture and artwork are thoughtfully woven into the design of this sprawling complex. When it comes to gaming 900 slot machines, 40 machines for high-limit gaming, a video craps table with eight stations and a bingo hall with 248 seats.
The casino is open 24 hours and is served by live entertainment, five restaurants and of course the 156-room hotel, complete with a fitness room and indoor pool.