Get wet and explore natural beauty at the Bear Lake area in Utah and Idaho.
There are two things you must do when you stop in the Bear Lake area: jump in the lake and enjoy one of the area’s regionally famous raspberry shakes.
“We are known for our raspberries and people come from all over to get their cases of raspberries,” says Tami Leonhardt of the Bear Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau. “But the number one thing that attracts people to here is the beauty and the fact that there is so much to explore.”
In other words, if you only savor your shake [made with soft-serve or hard ice cream, depending on the venue] and paddle out on the lake, you’ll miss out on all the other things that keep people returning to the Bear Lake area year after year. Straddling the Utah-Idaho border, this resort-like hot spot is a recreational paradise, offering 48 miles of shoreline with boat rentals, swimming beaches, bike paths, hiking trails and accommodations for all needs, including a house that sleeps 100.
Originally inhabited by the Shoshone tribes, the freshwater Bear Lake itself was stumbled upon by fur trapper Donald MacKenzie in 1819 who promptly named it “Black Bear Lake.” While its name is shorter today, the mesmerizing waters of the lake’s 109 square miles continues to attract people to its shores.
Beaches at Bear Lake State Park
Bear Lake is known for its turquoise waters and while it’s not the Caribbean, the lake’s minerals color the water a spectacular blue in parts. For family friendly beaches, head to Bear Lake State Park’s North Beach on the Idaho side and Rendezvous Beach near Laketown on the Utah side. North Beach is near St. Charles, Idaho, on the north end of the lake. It’s two miles long and because the shoreline gradually gets deeper, it makes for a fantastic place to swim.
“The beach is so relaxing,” says Leonhardt. “It’s so diverse because the shoreline is 48 miles long.”
You can access Rendezvous Beach by south end of Bear Lake about two miles northwest of Laketown on SR 30. Along with a boat launch, you’ll find paddle board and Sea-doo rentals. There are even four reservable group sites with pavilions. If you want to spend the night beachside, RVers will find 106 reservable, full hook-up sites and 37 reservable tent sites. Boat rentals are available.
Afterwards, head to the Marina Grill inside the Bear Lake State Park Marina for a drink and food where you can catch views of all the boats. For elevated views accompanied by steak and lobster entrees, head to Cooper’s in Fish Haven, Idaho, on the Bear Lake West Golf Course. You’ll soak in gorgeous lake vistas no matter where you sit, be it in the sports bar, dining room or deck.
Visit Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge
For gorgeous scenery speckled with moose and other waterfowl, head to Bear Lake Wildlife National Refuge located seven miles from Montpelier, Utah. One hundred and sixty-one birds live in the 18,000-acre refuge, including sandhill cranes, great horned owls and white-faced ibis. Bring your binoculars to help you see them better.
See a Show at Pickleville Playhouse
If you’re looking from some good live entertainment, head to the Pickleville Playhouse in Garden City, Utah. But get tickets in advance because this playhouse is popular.
Housed in an oversized log cabin, this theater has been around since 1977, serving up dinner and family fun. Actors come from all over the country from New Jersey to Arizona to perform here. The 2019 summer shows are Disney’s The Little Mermaid and Shootout at Shadow Mountain by T.J. Davis.
Hike in Bear Lake Area
To hike along a wildflower-choked trail and reach a glacier-fed lake, head to Bloomington Lake in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. The wildflowers, which include Parry’s primrose and alpine mountain sorrel, reach their peak in early July. Bring a picnic to eat along the lake’s shores.
While the trail to the lake is only a half-mile, the road to the trailhead is can be dusty and rough, so it’s recommended you have a high-clearance vehicle, especially for the last mile. But if you’re equipped with the right vehicle, the drive is spectacularly scenic as you pass through beautiful open sage meadows and aspen groves. From the town of Bloomington, drive west about 12 miles along U.S. Forest Service road no. 409 to the trailhead.
For another short but gorgeous trail, head to Limber Pine Trail in Garden City, a popular 1.2-mile round-trip hike that’s great for inexperienced and experienced hikers. There are restrooms at the trailhead to use before and after your hike.
Along the wide trail with only 80 feet of elevation gain, you’ll find interpretive signs dotting the aspen and pine forest that provide answers to questions you may have. You’ll find out the important role of dead trees play for wildlife and why aspens and conifers grow near each other. When you reach the 560-year-old limber pine, actually grown from five separate trees, you’ll find a plaque, describing its history.
On the way back, you’ll catch intermittent views of the blue glimmering Bear Lake amid the towering pine and aspen trees. And toward the end of the trail, you’ll find inspiration from one of the nation’s first conservationists, John Muir.
“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness,” are his words on an interpretive sign.
Learn more at bearlake.org.