Bear Lake Valley Is the Relaxing Family Getaway You Didn’t Know You Needed

Bear Lake Valley Is the Relaxing Family Getaway You Didn’t Know You Needed

What’s your favorite kind of family getaway? Does it involve resting and relaxing on white sand beaches? Learning about local history? Getting active at adventure parks or heading underground in expansive caves?

Whatever your preference, you’ll find it all—and then some—in the Bear Lake Valley.

Families love the wide variety of activities geared toward kids of all ages throughout the Bear Lake Valley, from thrilling rides at Bridgerland Adventure Park to the historic National Oregon/California Trail Center to the unique accommodations at Conestoga Ranch. So however you like to spend your vacation, here are seven fun ideas for making the most of your next family getaway to the Bear Lake Valley.

Refuge Enchants with Wide Variety of Wildlife

A bird’s eye view of one of the country’s great birding destinations, by Melody McClure

Just north of Bear Lake sits the Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge—home to some of the region’s best opportunities for spotting all manner of wildlife. After all, what kid doesn’t want to see moose, deer, or flocks of their favorite birds in the flesh?

The 18,000-acre refuge is home to meadows, wetlands, and forests—each offering ideal habitat for different species of bird; sandhill cranes, for instance, love the refuge’s dense grasslands and wetlands in spring and summer. In all, more than 160 species of bird—from waterfowl to migrating songbirds—have been identified by biologists on the expansive refuge. Spring break trips offer the best time to see egrets, gulls, mallards, and herons, while winter is prime time to spot falcons, hawks, eagles, and other raptors.

Mating season brings the occasional moose to the refuge in late summer, and other species around the refuge include mule deer, muskrats, red foxes, pronghorn, and skunks.

Marvel at the Otherworldly Sights in Minnetonka Cave

When it feels like you’ve done all there is to do above ground at Bear Lake, why not head underground for a trip through Minnetonka Cave?

A 90-minute guided tour takes visitors on a half-mile hike through nine rooms, each covered in limestone, that remain a cool 40ºF all year long. Attractions within the cave include 10-foot-tall stalagmites (a type of rock formation that rises from the floor of a cave) and stalactites (rock formations that hang from cave ceilings). Just keep in mind the hike includes roughly 400 stairs.

Get Your Heart Racing at Bridgerland Adventure Park

Your little ones won’t have any trouble falling asleep after a busy day at Bridgerland Adventure Park, home to a wild mix of fun activities, thrilling rides, low-key attractions, and more.

Adrenaline junkies young and old enjoy the Zorb Ball, where visitors can climb inside a clear plastic ball and roll down a hillside, as well as Bridgerland’s 400-foot-long zip lines (which cross the park’s tubing tracks and 18-hole miniature golf course—two other signature activities at the park). Kids jonesing for the schoolyard playground can hop into Bridgerland’s 40-foot swing or descend a 14-foot spiral slide that ends at the park’s play area. 

Other highlights include a 36-foot-tall climbing wall, two axe throwing lanes, a pair of bungee trampolines, an 18-hole disc golf course, and a colorful bounce house. As if that weren’t enough, an on-site restaurant serves classic grill fare (like hamburgers and hot dogs).

Enjoy a History Lesson at the National Oregon/California Trail Center

For a family-friendly taste of fascinating American history, check out the National Oregon/California Trail Center, by Paul Hermans

If your family is curious about the history of the Bear Lake Valley, visit the National Oregon/California Trail Center for a look at life on the 2,000-mile trail and its connection to the region.

The Oregon-California Trail gained prominence in the early and mid-1800s as families in search of a new life—more opportunity, richer soils, and more favorable conditions—left Missouri and headed west on a six-month journey toward the Oregon Territory. Thousands of those emigrants passed through the Bear Lake Valley on their way.

The museum brings that history to life in a myriad ways: Actors in full pioneer regalia discuss life on the Oregon/California Trail, simulated covered wagon rides offer a look at the emigrants’ travels, films in the on-site theater provide context on (and insight into) the trail, and exhibits discuss the Bear Lake Valley’s importance to travelers.

Stay the Night in a Covered Wagon at Conestoga Ranch

Whether you visited the National Oregon/California Trail Center or just want a memorable overnight experience, angle for a stay in the covered wagons at Conestoga Ranch.

The ranch’s wagons are based on authentic 19th-century designs and are suited to families of four or six, with one king bed and either one or two sets of bunk beds per wagon. If you’re traveling with other families, you can even move your wagons closer together for a fun group outing.

If the wagons at Conestoga Ranch are all booked up, consider a night in the resort’s tents. Conestoga’s traditional tents sleep up to four, and its family tents sleep up to 6—and both options come with a plush king bed, two to four twin beds, electricity, heaters, private patios, western-style furnishings, and (in the family tent) an en-suite bathroom with a shower. 

Other attractions at Conestoga Ranch include free cruiser bike rentals, fire pits (with complementary s’mores kits), an opulent bathhouse, a fully stocked general store, Wi-Fi, an on-site playground, and a game tent with table tennis, air hockey, and arcade basketball. If you get hungry, the on-site, open-air Campfire Grill showcases a menu featuring dishes made from fresh, locally sourced ingredients; entrees include classic breakfast fare (such as scrambles and pancakes), as well as salads, pizza, and farm-raised wagyu burgers for lunch and dinner.

Relax on Bear Lake’s Beautiful Beaches

This good boy approves of Bear Lake’s beaches, by Argyleist

There’s plenty to do at Bear Lake, nicknamed the “Caribbean of the Rockies” for its stunning turquoise water and white sand beaches. But sometimes, the most fun thing to do is nothing at all, which is what makes relaxing on the beaches at Bear Lake a joyous outing for visitors of all ages.

Several miles of beaches surround Bear Lake, but we’re partial to Rendezvous Beach at Bear Lake State Park, which offers just about everything the family could want from a day on the lake. Rendezvous Beach sits next to four popular campgrounds and a large day-use area that includes a reservable pavilion for large groups; restrooms, potable water, and watercraft rentals (including boats, jet skis, and non-motorized craft) are available nearby, as well.

We’re also fond of North Beach Bear Lake State Park on a thin strip of land at the northern edge of Bear Lake. A two-mile-long beach (with a gentle slope) offers plenty of space to swim in the water, put your boat into the lake, or rest and relax. Picnic tables and restrooms are available, as well.

Indulge Your Need for Speed at Renegade Raceway

Turn your little speed demon loose at the Renegade Raceway go-kart track, where riders get six to 14 minutes per race to tackle twists, turns, and thrilling straightaways on the open-air track. Kids 7 and older (and at least four feet tall) can get behind the wheel, and double carts allow their siblings or friends to enjoy the view from the passenger seat. 

Written by Bear Lake CVB for Matcha.

Featured image provided by Todd Petrie