Beach or Mountains? No Need to Choose at Bear Lake

By Hartt Wixom

When it comes to choosing vacation sites, the question usually is: mountain or beach? My own preference is usually the former. “Mountain” sounds, well, more outdoorsy.

But the beach has appeal. It’s a great place for the entire family to be together within sight of each other. Kids love nothing more than playing in the sand even if Mom and Dad are nearby.

There is probably no more popular beach in the West than the one at Bear Lake on the Utah-Idaho border. Nowhere in the Beehive State does water have such a tropical look as here at 6,000 feet above sea level. There is also an alpine attraction of sorts. Bear Lake got its name because Donald McKenzie of the Hudson Bay Fur Company was “influenced by the large number of bears in the area,” according to Utah Place Names by John Van Cott. “He sent out a dispatch in 1819 to the Northwest from Black Bear Lake.” That did it.

Playing in the sand is hard to resist on this beach.
Playing in the sand is hard to resist on this beach.
(The first mountain man rendezvous was held near Bear Lake in 1825. The entire region is rife with fur trapping history.)

Few black bears are seen today. What tourists see is the rich, azure blue of the lake (mineral deposits) and the miles of white sand beach. Due to a heavy snowpack in nearby mountains, there was less open sand than usual in the summer of 2010 but there was enough to lure thousands of beach-combers. Some left the sand for open water in jet ski boats and wave skimmers. (See rental price list below.) Of course, as on most beaches, the vast majority are content to simply sit (and/or sleep) in the sun. With or without sun screen.

Bear Lake is also a haven for several fish species found only here: whitefish, cisco and a strain of cutthroat trout. (As a notorious fish-eater, the Bear Lake cutthroat is stocked in other Utah lakes to control chub populations.) The record cutt is an 18-pounder; lake trout grow to 20. I’ve taken cutts to 6.5 lbs. trolling from a boat and 4 lbs. casting from shore but the latter only in spring and fall before the fish move deep in heat of summer. The lake is 208 feet deep near South Eden Point at extreme east end of the lake. Note: the only reliable launch site for big boats is at Utah Lake State Park a few miles north of Garden City.

At one time, giant cutts ascended local streams such as St. Charles Creek (Idaho) to spawn but diversions and fluctuating water rarely make it profitable for the angler anymore. Incidentally, the Bear River is not a natural inlet to the lake. However, man has connected the two via canal systems and pumping stations forcing water into and out of the lake.

If you want to avoid the crowds on Bear Lake’s beaches, avoid holidays. Idaho has an expansive beach on the north end which can be car to car, umbrella to umbrella, on such days. The east side (less developed) can at times also lack for solitude. The most popular Utah State Beach is undoubtedly Rendezvous on the southwest corner. It has many treeless or cottonwood-shaded sites but even on weekends throughout the summer best bet is to get a reservation.

The region has two golf courses plus several stops for famous raspberry milk shakes. Motel and restaurant services are available. While there, read up on the “Bear Lake Monster” and decide for yourself. I heard this legend (compared to the Loch Ness Monster of Scotland) as a boy back n 1940.

There are at least four watercraft rental sites on Bear Lake. They are, Hot Springs on the northeast corner, Performance site just south of the Idaho border, Fun time south of Garden City and Ideal Beach. Watercraft rentals are: 18 foot boat $79 an hour or $395 for the day; Sea Doo (30 hp) $59 an hour or $279 for the day. Water skis, wet suits, wake board, pull board, paddleboats, canoe, and water weenie (capacity six) equipment are also available.

To reach Bear Lake from the south, take I-15 to U.S. 89 through Logan Canyon, or I-15 via Provo Canyon and U S. 189 to Evanston; then it’s eight miles north of Randolph and west at Sage Creek Junction. If you want a spectacular view of the lake, opt for the Logan Canyon approach and halt at the viewing area on the hilltop.

North of Randolph you might sight mule deer or antelope. Take binoculars as well as camera.

Share Button