Wandering the West
July 28, 2009
July is turning into August. We are in the dog days of summer now and even Park City at 7,000 feet can sometimes feel like a blast furnace. It’s time to escape the heat by jumping in a lake.
I’d pick Bear Lake above all in Utah. It’s just two-and-a-quarter hours from Park City and I’m always amazed that so many people I talk to say they’ve heard of it but have never been there. Heck, you can make a day trip out it, it’s so close.
I’ve written about Bear Lake before, but now, when you’re sweating, it’s worth reminding you about again. This big oval mountain valley lake is huge at 112 square miles, 8 miles wide and 20 miles running north and south. Even at full capacity, you can powerboat and sail without too much chance of a close call. Go north and east and you may feel like you’re the only boat out there, even on a summer day.
Bear Lake’s southern and western shores are the most developed and busiest. Here you’ll find several state and private campgrounds on the water, a marina and boat launch at Garden City, and restaurants and shops. This is where all the hubbub, such as it is, takes place. On weekends, lines can be long to launch a boat, and the shoreline can take on a Daytona Beach feel, with cars parked at water’s edge and packed with boat and personal watercraft traffic.
The eastern shore has a lot of private cabins, a Boy Scout camp and several more primitive state campgrounds. Halfway up the lake you’re in Idaho, which has the best state-owned campground on the water called the Idaho East Side Park, with full RV hookups, picnic shelters, and green grass among the amenities.
The lake is natural, but was artificially raised with a dike a hundred years ago to store water for irrigators. That means the lake level fluctuates. It has been at low ebb for years, exposing a lot more beach, which in places has become infested with weeds. But the lake is experiencing a rising trend these days. And even when the lake is low, it’s still one of the biggest lakes in the western states.
Recommended Stories For You
And, Lake Tahoe aside, few lakes are as beautiful. The suspended limestone particles ground out of the north slope of the Uintas the lake’s water source reflect back at the sun, giving Bear a Caribbean turquoise color that’s unique in the West.
The pattern here is to water ski on the flat calm water all morning, and park the ski boat mid day when the wind starts rising. That’s when you launch the sailboat and ride the wind across the huge blue expanse. Come in by evening, wash off the day’s grime and head to Garden City or Fish Haven for dinner.
And if the next day is rainy (and it never is all summer), there are other amusements, like Minnetonka Cave, on Forest Service land up St. Charles Canyon (Idaho), or the Oregon Trail Center, a museum and interpretive center about the pioneer days in Montpelier, Idaho.
This time of year you should reserve ahead for campgrounds and motel rooms. Check the websites below as well as state campground reservation web pages.
The summer’s biggest event, Raspberry Days, begins tomorrow, July 30. Most activities, including a big craft fair, dances, and fireworks take place in Garden City, with a rodeo at the Laketown rodeo arena. If you like that sort of thing, start packing. If not, head to the mellower east side or pick another weekend.
Free-lance writer Larry Warren has been wandering the West covering news stories for television and magazines since he landed in Utah in the mid-1970s. In this column he writes about the favorite places he goes back to when he can.
THE VITALS: Park City to Garden City 126 miles
Insider tip: To get the full flavor of Bear Lake country, try a raspberry shake from LeBeau’s in Garden City but never on Sunday.