The Bear River Heritage Area is comprised of seven counties in northern Utah and southeastern Idaho. It’s a vast domain of rivers, mountains and valleys where the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, mountain men, pioneers, farmers and ranchers established a unique heritage. Southern Utah may have the red rock, the Wasatch Front may have skiing, but Utah’s far north has the Bear River. The Great Salt Lake’s largest tributary and the largest river in the USA (that doesn’t reach the sea) has created a masterpiece. Here are seven ways to truly appreciate it.
The Union Pacific met the Central Pacific at Promontory Summit in 1869, tying America together by rail, and you’ve gotta wonder if one side didn’t stall a little to make sure they finished in amazing Box Elder. Nowadays, you can explore Golden Spike National Historic Site with a visitor center that’s open all year. Every May 10, they even reenact the Last Spike ceremony complete with historically accurate replica locomotives and lots of people dressed in their post–Civil War best. Also check out:
Brigham City Union Pacific Depot — Brigham City, Utah
Rails and Trails Museum — Montpelier, Idaho
The area is full of art: pastoral landscapes, vast lakes and towering mountains. But there’s art of the not-so-natural variety, too — even if the environment itself is part of the work. Curious yet? Utah has a couple of the world’s preeminent works of land art, both well worth the required drives.
Sun Tunnels — Stonehenge, the Pyramids of Giza and Nancy Holt’s industrial monument to the solstice.
Spiral Jetty — Some artists use paint brushes; Robert Smithson used a bulldozer.
The locals use the phrase “blessed by water, worked by hand” to define the Bear River Heritage Area. Sure, you’re bound to see a few fast food joints in town, but skip ’em (for a lot of reasons) in favor of more connected agricultural outlets. Here are some fun and educational must-stops.
Smithfield Implement — Farm and ranch supply business founded in 1914. Dutch ovens, cowboy hats, blue jeans, tools, gadgets. 99 N. Main Street / Smithfield, Utah / 435-563-3211
Central Milling — Oldest continuously operating business in Utah. 100% organic wheat flours, pancake mixes, 1917 Red Rose label. 122 E. Center Street / Logan, Utah / 435-752-6625
Before Homo sapiens wandered into town, this area was already home to a number of wildlife species. The Bear River Heritage Area is committed to not messing with their habitats and celebrating their contribution to the region. They’ve proven it with the support and promotion of three prominent wildlife refuges. Give them a visit.
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge — An oasis for 200 avian species and the binoculared birders who love them.
Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge — An 18,000-acre safe haven for all manner of fish, waterfowl and mammals.
Grey’s Lake National Wildlife Refuge — The largest hardstem bulrush marsh in North America. Don’t know what hardstem bulrush marsh is? YOU WILL.
Mountains, lakes, marshes where folks can canoe. Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff you can do around here. Let’s get to the best.
Boating at Bear Lake — 70,000 acres of turquoise water. Boat, ski, tube, wakeboard, SUP, etc. There’s plenty of room and plenty of calm.
Oneida Narrows — The best (and longest) stretch of the Bear River for recreation. Dramatic canyon walls and fun rapids. It's also one of the last important stretches of pristine habitat for the Bonneville Cutthroat in Idaho.
Fly Fishing — Take your talents to the Logan River, a blue-ribbon trout stream. Super accessible with copious amounts of brown and rainbow trout.
Snowmobiling — Whether you’re the type that straps on an avalanche beacon and lives by the mantra “when in doubt, throttle out,” or you prefer guided, groomed trail riding, this region of Utah is ideal. The Hardware Ranch Snowmobile Complex is a favorite amongst locals. There's also skiing and snowshoeing.
Who doesn’t like hot springs? Your hypochondriac friend Mark who cut his foot on a rock one time and kept checking his pulse because he thought he was bleeding out? Oh. Okay. Well, for everyone else, here are three geothermal pools that are definitely dip-worthy.
Crystal Hot Springs — Located in Honeyville with campsites and waterslides.
Lava Hot Springs — Odor-free mineral hot springs located in a lovely Idaho resort town.
Maple Grove Mineral Hot Springs — Beautiful stone pools that immediately overlook the Bear River.
Much of the cultural heritage of the Bear River Heritage Area is documented in its small museums. The coolest part? They’re all managed by volunteers. Some of our favorites include:
Bear River Valley Museum and Cultural Center — Highlights the story of Tremonton’s Borgstrom Brothers (portrayed in the film Saving Private Ryan). 150 S. Tremont St. / Tremonton, Utah / 435-854-7406
Cache Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum — A cache of Cache Valley pioneer artifacts from 1860–1900. 160 N. Main Street / Logan, Utah / 435-752-5139
Franklin Relic Hall and Historic District — Houses over 2,500 pioneer artifacts and a collection of crayon portraits of Mormon Pioneers. 113 East Main Street / Franklin, Idaho / 208-646-2459
World of Puppetry Museum — Featuring over 150 puppets from around the world. Punch and Judy puppet shows the first and third Saturdays of every month.58 S. 100 W. / Brigham City, Utah / 435-723-0740
For more information, or to plan your trip, visit bearriverheritage.com