Cooler temps and beautiful foliage make fall one of the best times to hike—and Bear Lake Valley is one of Utah’s top destinations to enjoy the autumn spectacle. Hikers will discover scenic footpaths through alpine valleys that feature golden aspen trees, sparkling lakes, and mountain summits with 360-degree views. You can also explore area trails once walked by Native Americans, Oregon Trail pioneers, and Mormon settlers. So tighten your boot laces, grab your trekking poles, and get ready for some outdoor fun: Here are our eight choices for unforgettable autumn hikes in the Bear Lake Valley.
1. Laketown Canyon Trail
Beginning at the rodeo arena in Laketown on the south side of Bear Lake, the moderate Laketown Canyon Trail is an ideal place for solitude and beauty in a twisting canyon surrounded by sagebrush-covered hills. The 7-mile, out-and-back trail threads up the canyon floor, dipping across a trickling creek and passing groves of quaking aspen trees to the turn-around point at a fresh spring. Watch for moose near a small reservoir halfway up the trail.
2. Limber Pine Nature Trail
The family-friendly Limber Pine Nature Trail explores an ancient limber pine forest on the Logan Canyon National Scenic Byway west of Bear Lake. Highlights of the 1.4-mile loop trail are a 560-year-old limber pine that’s actually five separate trees growing together as well as glorious aspen trees in autumn. Interpretive signs along the path describe the plants and animals that call the forest home, and you’ll find the occasional bench to let you enjoy views across iridescent Bear Lake below.
3. Bear Trail
If you want a leisurely evening walk beneath clouds tinted orange by the setting sun, then head to 4.6-mile Bear Trail. This mostly flat, paved trail cruises along the western shoreline of Bear Lake from Bear Lake State Park to Ideal Beach Resort, offering views of the sprawling turquoise-colored lake. The easy wheelchair- and stroller-accessible trail is perfect for children, seniors, joggers, and fitness walkers who want a scenic stroll with pit stops for a raspberry shake in Garden City or to dip their toes in the water.
4. Swan Peak Trail
The Swan Peak Trail is a superb backcountry adventure in the Bear River Mountains west of Bear Lake and Garden City. The moderate 2-mile trail, beginning on the Swan Flats Road north of U.S. Route 89, climbs steep slopes blanketed with aspen, spruce, and fir trees before gaining a high ridge and fantastic views of glistening Bear Lake. The rest of the hike romps along the low-angle ridge to the 9,082-foot summit of Swan Peak. For extra credit and a two-peak day, return north on the ridgeline but instead of descending, hike up a broad ridge to the top of 9,255-foot Bridger Peak and more awesome views.
5. North Fork Trail
The rugged Bear River Mountains west of Bear Lake feature plenty of trails to explore. One of the best is the North Fork Trail which winds up a deep valley blanketed with evergreens and aspens to an open valley below 9,245-foot Saint Charles Peak. The challenging trail, starting at North Fork Campground, treks five miles along the North Fork of Saint Charles Creek to a high pass on the range crest and then returns back to the trailhead. The trail is colorful in autumn when aspen gold spreads across the hillsides.
6. Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge Trails
The Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge offers visitors a glimpse of songbirds and waterfowl preparing to fly south for the winter. Autumn is the perfect time for roaming the refuge since many of the trails and dirt roads are only open after mid-September when the young birds have fledged and left their nests. Access the refuge’s hikes by driving the Wildlife Observation Route to the Salt Meadows and Rainbow Units and then following easy trails to wildlife blinds and cattail-lined ponds filled with chattering birds. Don’t forget binoculars and a field guide to identify some of the refuge’s 160 bird species.
7. Bennington Canyon Trail
The Montpelier region in northern Bear Lake Valley offers lots of elbow room in the rugged Preuss Range east of town. The Bennington Canyon Trail, Forest Trail 526, is one of the area’s best hikes with a trickling creek, moose browsing in willows, colorful aspen groves, and solitude. Hike up the trail for just over three miles to a high saddle and then head up a ridge for another quarter mile to the rounded summit of 9,248-foot Bald Mountain. Expect jaw-dropping views across three states and gleaming Bear Lake to the south.
Before hiking any of these trails, be prepared by bringing extra clothes, rain gear, sunscreen, and plenty of food and water. Follow Leave No Trace principles by packing out trash, properly disposing of human waste, following existing trails, and taking only photos and leaving only footprints. Find trail maps, more information, and directions at the Bear Lake Valley and Visitors Bureau.
8. Bloomington Lake Trail
Bloomington Lake, reached by an easy half-mile hike on the Bloomington Lake Trail, tucks into an alpine cirque beneath Saint Charles Peak in the Bear River Mountains. The gorgeous lake, one of the most beautiful spots above Bear Lake Valley, is a sparkling pool nestled against rugged cliffs. The hike follows a wide trail past smaller Limekiln Lake before reaching the grassy lake edge and a perfect spot for photographs. Note that there is a $5 day-use fee per vehicle at the access point to this trail.
Written by Stewart Green for Matcha in partnership with Bear Lake CVB.