Enveloped by romantic mountain scenery along the Portneuf Valley, the seat of Bannock County is a city of 55,000, originating as a key trading post at Fort Hall.
Later in the 19th century the Portneuf Valley became a corridor for immigrants making their way on the arduous Oregon Trail, turning Pocatello into a kind of gateway to the Northwest.
You can find out about those early trading and pioneer days at a replica of the original Fort Hall, right next door to the Bannock County Historical Museum.
Pocatello later emerged as a farming community, and the lively historic downtown is littered with fine old houses from this period, now footed by one-of-a-kind stores and restaurants.
1. Museum of Clean
Pocatello has a destination museum founded in 2011 by the housekeeping product entrepreneur Don Aslett, who was born in Twin Falls, Idaho in 1935.
The Museum of Clean, dedicated to hygiene and cleanliness, is housed in a handsome brick warehouse from 1915 and contains an art gallery, 88-seat theater and a gift shop.
The museum has been carefully designed to be low-maintenance and environmentally friendly, and has great interactive displays for kids helping them recycle, make their beds and clean their rooms.
Among the 6,000 historical artifacts are some fabulous pieces, like a bronze toothpick dating back 1,600 years and a horse-drawn vacuum cleaner from 1902, one of a collection of more than 300 vacuum cleaners.
There are also numerous toilets, used by royalty or prisoners, and numerous washing machines, including an early automatic model from 1945.
2. Fort Hall Replica
Tales of frontier life and westward migration are recalled at this carefully reconstructed fort a few miles southwest from the original Fort Hall.
That building went up as a trading post in 1834 and was a vital facility for traders, trappers and people traveling the Oregon Trail until 1863 when its timbers were repurposed for a stage station.
The Fort Hall Replica was built in the 1960s, and sits next to Zoo Idaho and the Bannock County Historical Museum.
After passing through the imposing wooden gates you can explore the Company Hall, Indian Room, Frontier Room, Blacksmith, Carpenter’s Room and Factor’s Quarter, all enhanced by equipment and tools from the period. Letters, maps and even recipes to bring the pioneer days to life.
3. Bannock County Historical Museum
The modern building on the same property as the Fort Hall Replica holds the Bannock County Historical Museum, which demands a visit for its compelling exhibits.
These shine a light on many different aspects of Pocatello and Bannock County’s history, like the early days of the railroads, the military, ranching, photography, printing and 19th-century medicine.
A couple of standouts are a preserved Holladay Overland Stage Co stagecoach and a collection of police evidence from Prohibition.
Another notable permanent display is a mosaic timeline highlighting the key personalities and events in Bannock County’s history.
You can also take a look around a recreated general store and a plush Victorian-era parlor, both filled with objects from the period.
The ethnographic exhibits for the Shoshone and Bannock tribes are also worthwhile, and are combined with a wall of black and white photographs of important figures from the tribes.
4. Old Town Pocatello
Along a few blocks of North Main Street and the intersecting streets, Old Town Pocatello is a compact downtown district in great health, lined with trees and painted street lamps.
Occupying beautiful old buildings that have been standing since the end of the 19th century are independent bookstores, antiques stores, bakeries, art galleries, specialty food stores, gift shops, arts and craft stores and many more.
That main drag on Main Street is also loaded with dining options ranging from Hawaiian to Chinese, Thai, Italian, Indian, Greek, healthy choices, desserts and diner fare, all in the space of a few short blocks.
5. Idaho Museum of Natural History
You can venture onto the Idaho State University campus for this super natural history museum, founded in 1934 and with more than 500,000 specimens in its collections.
Most of these pertain to the state of Idaho itself, dipping into three main topics.
Anthropology explains how early people survived in Idaho’s landscapes, Life Science covers the flora and fauna of the Snake River plains and Earth Science, shows fossils from Ice Age-megafauna and exhibits Idaho’s compelling volcanology.
The museum stages riveting temporary exhibitions, drawn from those vast collections. When we wrote this article there was an exhibit with more than 100 skulls, from a minke whale to a diabloceratops.
6. Zoo Idaho
Ross Park, just next door to the Bannock County Historical Museum, is the setting for a small zoo that brings you close to the wildlife inhabiting Idaho, both now and in the not so distant past.
Zoo Idaho has been here in some form since 1932 and has come through an expansion since the 2010s, enhancing the Grizzly Exhibit in particular.
For a brief rundown of the zoo’s 40 or so species there are bears, bison, elk, deer, pronghorn, bobcats, cougars, wild dogs and birds of prey like bald eagles and a variety of owls.
Children will be pleased with the barnyard area, home to donkeys, goats, cows, sheep and chickens, which can be fed or petted.
7. Gibson Jack Trailhead
There’s glorious mountainous country in almost every direction from Pocatello, which will surely call out to the adventurer in you.
A convenient starting point for a hike is the Gibson Jack Trailhead, some six miles south of downtown Pocatello, in a section of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.
This is the trailhead for four different routes, for hiking, mountain biking, ATVs and motorcycles. The most popular for hikers is the main Gibson Jack Trail, a 7.5-mile, out-and-back hike to the Elk Meadows area in the west.
The trail has a steady grade of between five and ten percent, carrying you above the course of the Gibson Jack Creek, through sagebrush, june grass and buckbrush, and then later into stands of Douglas fir and aspen.
For more of a challenge you can take the steeper South Fork, climbing almost 2,000 feet to the Wild Horse Divide.
8. Outer Limits Fun Zone
One of those attractions that will be perfect for families with restless children and teenagers, Outer Limits Fun Zone has a lot going on in its blacklight-heavy interior.
There’s a nine-hole blacklight mini golf course inhabited by dinosaurs and deep sea creatures, a multilevel soft play palace for children eight years and under, an extensive arcade, laser tag and black light bowling lanes with smaller and lighter balls and no need for special shoes.
After working up an appetite, head for the Galactic Grill, which has something of a wide-ranging menu featuring fried chicken, pizza, subs and lighter options like salads.
9. Palace Playhouse
Just out of Pocatello in the city of Chubbuck you may come across what looks like a cartoon version of a Gothic castle.
This is the Palace Playhouse, a dinner theater, combining fine dining with Broadway-style productions.
Paired with prime rib or stuffed salmon, are long-established classics or wonderful musicals that have flown under the radar.
Some of the recent hits include Fiddler on the Roof, Mary Poppins, Into the Woods and Annie, while on the bill when we wrote this article were Cinderella, Matilda and Legally Blonde.
Most of the productions are family friendly and there’s a children’s menu to match, serving breaded chicken breast bites.
10. Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Museum
Pocatello is named for a 19th-century Shoshone leader, and if you’d like to find out more about this aspect of the area’s past you can make the short trip up to Fort Hall, where there’s a museum for the Shoshone-Bannock tribes.
The museum has lots of compelling exhibits handling Chief Pocatello (1815-1884), genuine artifacts from the old Fort Hall, rare beadwork, archive photography and anecdotes from tribal history.
The museum store is stocked with handmade Shoshone-Bannock artwork and music, as well as a range of Native American literature.
11. The Popcorn Shop
This lovable store at 460 East Oak Street was founded in 2003 by a local pastor and school teacher couple.
The Popcorn Shop is now run by the next generations, making gourmet popcorn in 30+ flavors, from simple classics like home-style salted and caramel, to all kinds of wild creations like root beer float, huckleberry cheesecake, white cheddar garlic parmesan and cotton candy.
The Popcorn Shop also makes a range of tempting sweet treats, like fudge, toffee, peanut brittle, chocolate caramel pieces and chocolate-covered pretzels, ideal for an indulgent snack or gift.
12. Outback Golf Park
This golf attraction on the other side of Interstate 15 is a destination for date nights, families and anyone who just wants to brush up on their game.
For casual players, the Outback Golf Park’s big draw is its 18 holes of mini golf, with carved rock and water features.
The holes are fun enough for kids, but technical enough that serious putters can work on their short game.
The driving range has ample bays, all on a single level, with mats in good shape and affordable prices for small, medium and large buckets.
13. Swore Farms
In fall this family-run farm a few miles north of Pocatello opens its doors to the public for pumpkin season.
This tends to start around early-October, coinciding with a lot of family fun, including an enormous corn maze, tractor wagon rides, a giant wheat sandbox and play area for wee ones.
Naturally the pumpkins are the main event, and you can pick one yourself at the patch, while smaller family members learn valuable details about agriculture and life on a farm.
14. The Standrod House
Worth a little detour, this historic turreted property sits a few blocks northwest of Old Town Pocatello, at 648 N Garfield Ave, and is used by the city for important social events.
The Standrod House (1902), designed by San Francisco architect Marcus Grundfor, was commissioned by the judge Drew William Standrod, who was also a bank president and is remembered for his Anti-Mormon views.
His grand home is in the Châteauesque style, with stone quarried 25 miles to the south in McCammon.
The construction cost for the Standrod House was $12,000, and the building was advanced for its time, with electric lighting (believed to be an Idaho first), and central heating provided by a coal furnace.
15. Lava Hot Springs
In Pocatello you won’t have far to travel to this much-loved resort town also surrounded by peaks in the Portneuf Valley. As the name suggests, Lava Hot Springs is endowed with scores of hot springs, attracting bathers year round.
With water temperatures of between 102˚ F and 112˚ F, winter is the ideal time to soak in the world-famous mineral pools, while in summer it’s an activity best left for the early morning and late evening.
In the warmer months you can go tubing through the town on the Portneuf River, and relax or get some laps in at the Olympic Swimming Pool & Waterpark, which has indoor and outdoor pools.
The area’s mountainous geography makes Lava Hot Springs the closest settlement to the fascinating ghost town of Chesterfield, 23 miles to the north. This was founded by Mormom settlers in 1881 and was last inhabited in the 1970s.