Editor’s note: we are so lucky to have Utah resident Sam Spector to give us some insights into his home beyond the “Big 5” national parks. Make sure to click here to visit his index page and read all of his wonderful articles from Utah and all over the world!
As anyone who talks to me knows, I absolutely love living in Utah. Once considered a flyover state, Utah has been discovered for the gem it is. With its five great national parks, the largest national monument in the lower 48 states, and world class skiing, Utah has become one of the top tourist destinations in the country. However, for those of us who live in this spectacular place, we still need vacations, too. While our mountains and canyons cannot be beat, one downside to Utah is that we are a landlocked state, and having lived in Seattle, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Israel prior, I do miss the water. Sure, we have the Great Salt Lake, America’s Dead Sea and the largest lake west of the Mississippi in the United States (though it is yet to see how long it will stay that way due to its rapid decline); but the Great Salt Lake does not have great beaches and it reeks of brine shrimp, so not really the best vacation spot. But what if I told you that you could experience a slice of the Caribbean in landlocked Utah? You might think I am lying, but I am only slightly exaggerating, not full-on lying so give me a break. However, Utah is home to the “Caribbean of the Rockies,” Bear Lake.
People outside of Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming have likely never heard of Bear Lake. It is 109 square miles, 48 miles around, and 19 miles long. It is approximately half in Idaho and half in Utah, and very close to the Wyoming border. While those in our region of the country flock there during the summertime to vacation, it is not the place you would travel great distances to go to; however, if you are doing an extended multi-week summer adventure to the national parks of Utah and/or Wyoming, it is worth stopping for a couple of days. So, why is Bear Lake known as the Caribbean of the Rockies? After all, there are no palm trees (not many trees at all for that matter) and it is harshly cold in the wintertime. Yet, when one thinks of the Caribbean, what is one of the visions that comes to mind? That bright blue and turquoise tropical water; and it is for this reason that we have the Caribbean of the Rockies. Bear Lake’s water is not like any ordinary lake. It has that same coloring of the Caribbean. While it almost looks like the lake is dyed to get this color, it is all natural. How did this occur?
Bear Lake was formed 250,000 years ago by a fault subsidence, which continues to this day. This natural phenomenon is when the shifting fault and withdrawal of underground fluid lava creates a shifting downward vertical movement that forms trenches and slopes. The continuously deepening lake has a current maximum depth of 208 feet. With the melting of glaciers from the Ice Age, the lake was filled. As a result of earthquake, many unique minerals were exposed that had been deep under the earth’s surface. These minerals caused the water to take on this bright blue that is similar to the more famous “Instagrammable” Lake Louise or Moraine Lake in Alberta. The lake has become a favorite place for boating, water skiing, tubing, swimming, and fishing, as the lake is home to many species of fish including ones that are endemic and only found there, including three species of whitefish and one trout species. Also, while at Bear Lake, you are bound to see several deer and maybe some nearby elk. Bear Lake even has great sand beaches to relax on, with the most popular being Rendezvous Beach. Capitalizing on these popular activities, there are many resorts at the lake including some with kid-favorite attractions such as water parks and ziplining; there are also themed hotels where you can stay in a teepee or a covered wagon. However, when I go to Bear Lake, I stop at one of the many campgrounds, my favorite being the KOA site in Garden City, which has many amenities and a great bathroom.
Garden City is the main town at Bear Lake. There are several restaurants, my favorite being Ruca’s, and their infamous breakfast Æbelskivers, a Danish pancake ball. With outstanding food, and a fun outdoor atmosphere, it is where I would be thrilled eating every meal whenever I am at Bear Lake. The most famous local delicacy though is anything to do with raspberries, which are grown locally and are the pride of Bear Lake. The raspberry harvest begins in mid-July and a few weeks later culminates in the first week of August with a three-day Raspberry Days Fair and Festival. While at Bear Lake make sure that you have one of Bear Lake’s famous raspberry shakes made from the local raspberries. While there are several places that make them, to get the most authentic and famous raspberry shake, head to La Beau’s Drive-In. And if you are not a raspberry-person, don’t worry! There are dozens of flavors of shakes at La Beau’s. Following your milkshake, head to an evening performance at the Pickleville Playhouse, a family-friendly theater that brings in talented and professional performers for Broadway style shows and melodramatic plays.
Though Bear Lake has more than enough to keep people entertained for days, the way to Bear Lake also has some worthwhile attractions. If you are coming from Salt Lake City, there are two main routes to get to Bear Lake, both of which take around two hours. One goes through Park City and past several reservoirs, which is obviously beautiful (Park City being a major tourist attraction itself). However, the route that I prefer goes past the Great Salt Lake and through the town of Ogden. Ogden is the nearest city to where the Golden Spike was driven, the spot where the Transcontinental Railroad was completed. As a result of so many people passing through Ogden due to the railroad, it became infamous for gambling and prostitution, leading Al Capone to even say that Ogden was too wild of a city for him to visit. Continue north through the college town of Logan, home to Utah State University, and then drive through valleys and canyons and past lush streams on one of the most beautiful drives in the country until you get to Bear Lake. If coming from Idaho, be sure to stop in the towns of Lava Hot Springs, a resort with pools and water features from the natural thermal hot springs in the area that is full of family fun. Nearby Lava Hot Springs is the town of Soda Springs, a town on the Oregon Trail. Soda Springs is named for the natural carbonated water thermal hot springs in the town, but its most famous feature is the Soda Springs Geyser. This geyser is a natural geyser like its more famous relative, Old Faithful; however, it was capped and set to a timer. Today, every hour on the hour, Soda Springs Geyser shoots water 100 feet into the air. Soda Springs and Lava Hot Springs are great trips or even day trips from Bear Lake, only an hour away.
I cannot knock the Caribbean, but I sure do love the majesty of the Rocky Mountains. Fortunately, I no longer need to choose, I can just head to Bear Lake and get a taste of both at a fraction of the price.
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