With its moderate summer temps and crystalline waters, the Bear Lake area is a great place for a rendezvous. Just ask the Shoshone and Bannock Indians, who have lived and gathered along its turquoise waters for centuries. Ask the mountain men, who used the surrounding fields and beaches to exchange pelts, tell tall tales and just generally party till the beavers were gone. Ask the bears, whose long-clawed meanderings gave the lake its name. Or ask Charles C. Rich, Brigham Young’s Mormon envoy to the area (and the county’s namesake) who kept the partying to a minimum but who, we’re sure, was not above a lakeside picnic.
But you don’t have to be a mountain man to gather in what locals call the Caribbean of the Rockies. With miles of hiking trails, marshes full of migratory birds, sandy beaches and old-fashioned raspberry shakes for the taking, who wouldn’t want to take their friend/hubby/family/office mate/literally anyone to the lake for a summertime soirée? So what are you waiting for? Come sail, boat or swim the azure waters; fish for the one-of-a-kind Cisco; check “double-crested cormorant” off your Audubon list; visit a ghost town; take in a “mellerdrammer” at the Pickleville Playhouse, or take a hike and jump in a lake — in the good way. Whether you’re meeting your wife’s third cousin’s step kid’s daughter at your first-ever family reunion or practicing your trust falls at a lakeside corporate team-building retreat, there’s no place more scenic to do it than in this land of raspberries, milk and honey.
Any hike that starts in a rodeo arena, passes a reservoir and ends in a spring is bound to be a hoedown, so sharpen your spurs and set out, young cow-person. Starting in the tiny hamlet of Laketown, this hike begins at the southerly end of 200 East, where it turns to dirt and moves from exposed terrain into a beckoning canopy of aspen trees. Multiple river crossings make this moderate hike a splash, perfect for hot summer days when your air conditioning craps out and you might otherwise go mad from the heat and start picking fights with your neighbor. So don’t stay home. Strap on some short pants and get your feet wet. Who knows? By the time you’ve turned around and headed back home, the air con repair specialist might be there with armfuls of Freon. If not, though, there’s always that serenity that comes from getting into nature and getting some perspective, man.
High-altitude hikes are fine for adrenaline junkies or people with a lifetime supply of Power Bars to burn through, but for the rest of us, sometimes a good pathway will do just fine. Enter Bear Lake Legacy Pathway, a paved multi-use path that runs along the lake and connects you, dear jogger/ambler/Olympic stroller pusher, with the marina, Garden City and everything in between. Flat and scenic, it’s perfect for families, folks in wheelchairs, or parents who want to solve the are-we-there-yets by walking on a path where you are always where your kids want to be already. And, with a name like Legacy, just taking a midday walk will take on the heft of a life-changing, charitable enterprise. You’re not walking to stop your kids from killing each other; you’re walking for your children’s children, and their children after that, who will also want to kill each other sometimes.
You could limber up for this 1.2-mile loop at the top of Logan Canyon, but no matter how you much you bend and stretch and lie in savasana chanting om, you will be out-limb-ered — by a tree no less. That’s because the showpiece of this high-altitude hoof is a truly gigantic, 560-year-old limber pine that’s been bending and flexing since before you your ancestors even knew the earth was round. (“Tree” is a bit misleading here; this granddaddy of the woods is actually five limber pines growing on top of each other — a feat made possible by the Clark’s nutcracker (that’s a bird) who stashes his pine-seed leftovers (that’s poop) inside a host tree and the seeds sprout Inceptionally from within.)
To pay your arboreal respects, simply follow the trail up a gentle slope and through a tunnel of aspens, stopping to read all the interpretive signs along the way, of course. After you’ve come face-to-face with the Patriarch of Bark, follow the loop into a wide meadow, where you can spin hills-are-alive style through a riot of wildflowers and catch a glimpse of Bear Lake glittering in the valley below. All this for fewer steps than you take between your cubicle and the water cooler.
This hike to the highest point in Rich County offers resplendent vistas of Bear Lake to the east and the Bear River Range to the west. But you’ve gotta earn it. Flex it. Feel the burn. Which you’ll feel, by the way, as soon as you follow a closed road into a creek drainage and then have to haul yourself up. But not to worry: Just put one foot in front of the other, remembering that thing your old high school football coach used to say about Pain is just weakness leaving the body and so forth. Once your body’s all out of weakness, the road will jog hard right and you’ll jog off of it onto an intermittent trail that heads up the hillside to the ridge. (Here’s where you need some basic navigational skills, or — we’re not above it — a good GPS system.) If you lose the trail, head uphill, straight toward the ridge, and then follow that north to the summit. There will be a large rock cairn there to greet you, and probably to say something old and wise like What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger or When the going gets tough, the tough get going, etc.
The Oregon Trail sent thousands of migrants straight through Rich County, but one man — Thomas L. “Peg Leg” Smith — saw gold in these here hills. Enterprising Peg Leg set up a cattle business, horse exchange and trading post just across the Idaho line, engaging in the immortal tradition of selling tchotkes to tourists.
Bear Lake is home to four fish that are found nowhere else in the world: the Bonneville cisco, Bonneville whitefish, Bear Lake whitefish and Bear Lake sculpin.
Bear Lake’s azure color might look magical, but it’s actually quite scientific. The water is full of microscopic bits of white calcium carbonate that reflect the blueness of the sky back to the surface, creating a turquoise effect that made Peg Leg feel like he was sippin’ margs at Señor Frog’s.
The Bear Lake Monster is at least 150 years old. A Deseret News article from as early as 1868 has county founder Charles Rich backing up a bevy of folks who claimed to have seen it firsthand.
Learn more about Bear Lake at utah.com/bear-lake-state-park