Every summer, northern Utah’s Bear Lake area awakes from its winter slumber to welcome visitors who drive up to escape the heat of lower locales. Boats come out, beachside picnic tables fill up, and kids run straight into the chilly ice-blue water without a moment’s hesitation. The town of Garden City springs to life, its shops and restaurants preparing for their seasonal spike in boaters and beach-goers. But another draw, the local raspberry stands, sweetens the proverbial deal.
Bear Lake’s been known for its top-notch raspberry production for a hundred years, as it’s situated just-so-right geographically for berry growing. The 6,000-foot elevation keeps the temps relatively cool in the summer—and while this equates to a growing season too short for most crops, it’s perfect for raspberry plants.
A tradition too sweet to give up on
For decades, Bear Lake raspberry farms grew a plentiful crop of gem-colored berries. A sweet local industry sprang up, with berry stands along the road, berry shakes in every diner and ice cream parlor, and raspberry jam shipped to stores in Salt Lake and Idaho.
However, in the early 2000s, there was a serious bump in the road when a fierce virus attacked entire farms of berry plants. The plants were rendered unsalvageable, forcing farmers to dig them up and completely restart with new plants that would take multiple seasons to mature and start producing.
Some farmers found it too devastating to start over again. But a few dug in, literally, and placed their bets with all new plants. The trademark local berry, the Canby, is wonderfully sweet but isn’t particularly resistant to viruses. The farmers who re-planted Canbys were really going all in.
Fortunately, their bets paid off and the raspberry crop has largely recovered. There are fewer farms than before, but those who remain are deeply committed.
Timing your visit with the Raspberry Days festival
The perseverance of the berry farmers lends extra significance to the annual Raspberry Days festival at the height of harvest season in late summer. If you’re going to pick a time to drop by Bear Lake, Raspberry Days is a good time to do so. The water is summer-warmed by this point, leading to a lively boating scene and beaches full of Salt Lakers basking in the mountain sun. And, there are berries…everywhere.
The festival kicks in the first weekend of August, and the town of 600 inflates to accommodate thousands of revelers dropping. It includes four days of small-town specialties. It’s worth every minute, but you will want to plan far ahead to make sure you have a place to stay. The campgrounds and hotels fill to the brim, and house rentals get snatched up.
The long weekend lights up the entire town from dawn till dusk, with a pancake breakfast, nightly dances and performances, craft fairs, a parade, and rodeos. It’s kicked off by a Miss Berry Princess contest, an adorable pageant. The celebration culminates with a Saturday-night boat light parade and fireworks. Of course, raspberry stands are set up, selling the namesake produce being celebrated. And every restaurant in town is set up with raspberry shakes and raspberry-themed desserts. (Bring a hearty appetite.)
Yes, this town loves its berries.
Of course, before and after indulging in berry-themed delights, you’ll want to explore Bear Lake’s outdoor scene. The hiking and biking trails in nearby Logan Canyon are off the charts. The water of Bear Lake is a gorgeous blue hue and is welcoming for sailboats, motor boats, and stand-up paddleboards.
There’s camping a-plenty along the way. And don’t worry—you won’t run out of food. Not with this berry scene as hopping as it is.
Written by Beth Lopez for RootsRated in partnership with Utah Office of Tourism and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image provided by Bear Lake Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau