Ever heard of the Caribbean waters of Utah? While they may not be quite as warm as the waters of Jamaica, they do rival in hue and wonderful, family-friendly adventures. You can hike through prehistoric caves, camp in the wild, scuba dive, fish, jet ski, or just soak in the sun on a hot summer’s day in the crystal clear waters of Bear Lake. There are hikes that take you past fields of wildflowers, twisted trees that are hundreds of years old, and trails with stunning views of the piercing blue water.
Where Is Bear Lake?
Bear Lake is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive north of Salt Lake City, with the closest city to the water being a small town called Garden City. After passing Logan City heading north from Salt Lake City, you take highway 89 north to the border of Idaho and Utah. The drive through Logan Canyon in the fall will show you brilliant colors of fiery orange, red, and yellows from the six major plant species that include the canyon maple, quaking aspen, Greene’s mountain-ash serviceberry, and the black hawthorn.
While fall shows all the colors of Logan Canyon, even in the summer this drive through steep canyon cliffs rising 9,714 feet above you is gorgeous–summer is the time to visit.
As you climb the mountain in your car, you feel yourself come to a plateau on the road and as you crest the last cliff you are struck by deep greens of trees, blue skies, and sparsely decorated desert mountains surrounding a brilliant blue lake that is 18.33 miles long surrounded by coarse sandy beaches and wildflowers. The view might take your breath away–it’s why this is one of the most popular summer getaways for Utah and Idaho locals.
While most national and international visitors flock to Utah’s five national parks, or nearby Yosemite and Yellowstone, Bear Lake is often overlooked, and many locals would love to keep it that way.
Things to Do in Bear Lake
There are plenty of things to do in Bear Lake–from solo excursions to family reunions–for every level of physical ability.
Several beaches are surrounding the lake, but as the word continues to get out about how beautiful this area is, the beaches are getting more crowded. Get to the lake early in the morning to get a good spot and set up a beach tent. Pack a picnic, watermelons, and plenty of water. Many people bring SUP, kayaks, and floating trampolines for more budget-friendly activities. Every beach you go to will have a cash envelope fee ranging from $5-$10. There are no picnic tables, but there are pit toilets available at several locations along the beach and plenty of parking.
If sitting on a beach isn’t your thing, then rent a speedboat or jet ski at the dozens of rental shops along the shore, many with private launch pads. Take your water toy out on the lake and drag an inflatable toy of your choice behind you for maximum fun and memories.
Tired of being in the chilly 60-65 degree Fahrenheit waters? Then head 20 minutes north to the Cache-Wasatch National Forest for some hiking treasures like the historic Dewitt Spring Hike, Wind Cave Hike, Jardine Juniper Hike, Rick Springs Hike, Limber Pine Trail Hike, and the beautiful Bloomington Lake Trail.
The Limber Pine Trail is a 1.3-mile easy loop hike that you can take your family and dogs on. The end of this trail brings you to a 600-year-old pine tree that twists and turns its goblin-like arms towards the sky. On the way back from the oldest limber pine in the area, you’ll be greeted with sweeping views of the canyon and blue waters of Bear Lake. Wildflowers line your way and woodpeckers will poke their heads out of the trees to peer at you as you head back to your car for the next trail.
Bloomington Lake is a 1.1-mile easy out-and-back trail that dogs and children alike can trek. There are several small lakes and one large lake with cliff jumping and a 30-foot rope swing. Bloomington Lake is made from snow runoff in the pocket valleys of these mountains. The lake itself is bitterly cold but is cradled by the Bear River Range mountains with some of the highest peaks of the mountain range supplying the water from their snowy chutes. Don’t be fooled by this trail though, the approach to the trailhead does require a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a skilled driver that can navigate the 12 miles of steep grades and washed-out roads.
There are several caves in the area worth visiting as well like the Minnetonka Cave and the Paris Ice cave. You can see the endangered big-eared bat species on a guided tour of the 0.5-mile long cave that once was a prehistoric ocean floor.
Paris Ice Cave is another short hike, with lots of mosquitos, but retains ice in the cave year-round. The wooden platform over the water that leads you through the cave to the ice looks like something a bridge troll would jump out from underneath. These caves were often used in the hot summers by the Indigenous people of the area, which included Shoshone, Ute, and Bannock tribes, as refrigerators.
Scuba Diving and Fishing
There are several popular sites for scuba diving at Bear Lake, but you will need to have a dry suit certification, even in the summer because of the cold shelf that exists below the waters (in the winter, Bear Lake actually hosts an Ice Fishing Festival). The fish may not be as colorfully decorated, but you can also go fishing at Bear Lake.
In the summer, you can both soak in the sun on your boat while trying your hand at catching up to a 30-pound cutthroat lake trout. There are four types of fish species you may see: the Bonneville cisco, Bonneville whitefish, Bear Lake whitefish, and the Bear Lake sculpin. Be sure to grab your fishing and hunting license before attempting to fish.
There really is no end to things to do in Bear Lake Utah, and each year locals discover some new path, activity, or treasure trove. You can now take the whole family to the Bridgerland Adventure Park, race small cars at the Bear Lake Renegade Raceway for a taste of amusement park fun. Attend the ever-popular Raspberry Days Festival, or go horseback riding around the lake or among some of the many national forests that abut this lake.
No matter what you decide to do at the beautifully turquoise Bear Lake, activities and memories will be just as wildly adventurous and wonderful as visiting any of the National Parks–if not more so, because it is far less crowded.