Why You Should Visit the “Caribbean of the Rockies” This Summer

Why You Should Visit the “Caribbean of the Rockies” This Summer

Bridging the Utah-Idaho border, Bear Lake finds countless ways to enchant, delight, and fascinate visitors every summer. It is Utah’s deepest lake and one of its oldest—older than the Great Salt Lake, in fact—and its sparkling surface covers 110 square miles when full. And that’s to say nothing of its distinctive turquoise-blue hue, which has earned it the moniker “Caribbean of the Rockies”.

With so much to love about Bear Lake, we’ve rounded up seven reasons you should add the outpost to your summertime bucket list; from on-the-water adventures to underground awe, there’s something to charm the whole family at Bear Lake.

So here’s why you should visit the “Caribbean of the Rockies” this summer.

Bear Lake Really is That Blue

Perhaps the best reason to visit Bear Lake this summer? You’ll want to see for yourself: Yes, the lake really is that blue. (We’re not called the “Caribbean of the Rockies” for nothing.)

The lake is home to an abundance of calcium carbonate particles—the main component of eggshells and seashells—that reflect the water’s blue hue back to the surface and give it that shimmering, turquoise-like glow. No matter what else you plan this summer, laying eyes on the surreal Bear Lake is a must-do. (And if you decide to admire the lake from a comfortable beach chair, cold drink in hand, all the better.)

Bear Lake Offers Myriad Chances to Spread Out and Enjoy Some Solitude

Rolling solitude on the western edge of Bear Lake, by Don Graham

Sure, Bear Lake is a popular summertime getaway—but with nearly 50 miles of shoreline and plenty of sandy beaches, it’s easy to find solitude amid the bustle. 

Bear Lake State Park is one of seven state-run facilities around the lake; it offers boating access, camping, and day-use opportunities—and its location at Rendezvous Beach makes it an appealing stop all summer long. From Rendezvous Beach, visitors can go scuba diving, cast a line for Bonneville Cisco or Bonneville Whitefish (both endemic species that aren’t found anywhere else in Utah or Idaho), relax on the sand, or hit the water (motorized and non-motorized boat rentals are available, as are jet skis).

On the west side of Bear Lake, Garden City Park hosts a small playground, a small bouldering wall, restrooms, picnic tables, watercraft rentals, and access to the lake via a short interpretive boardwalk. 

Three Seasons of Cycling Afford Dramatic Views

Pleasant, summer-like weather arrives as early as May—and lingers well into October each year. So with five months of blue skies, it’s no surprise cycling has taken off as a popular activity in spring, summer, and early fall at Bear Lake.

Roughly 50 miles of roadway circle the lake, and only the occasional incline challenges riders with any sort of elevation gain. Gentle rolling hills (mostly on the lake’s east side) are the hallmark of this ride, which affords views of the surrounding mountains and of the lake almost the entire route. Surfaces include paved bike paths and road shoulders the entire way, so chances are good your road bike is up to the task—whether you’re heading out for a leisurely ride or want a longer, thigh-burning trip.

Refuge Showcases Bear Lake Valley’s Rich Wildlife

Roughly 10 miles from Montpelier sits the Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge. If you’re looking for a break from the lake and want to see some of the diverse wildlife for which the Bear Lake Valley is known, a day trip to the refuge is almost certain to wow.

Tall, dense grasslands make the refuge an ideal nesting habitat for sandhill cranes, white-faced ibis, ducks, mallards, and a variety of shorebirds that flock to the valley each summer; in all, more than 161 species of bird have been identified by biologists on the refuge.

Visitors might also spy moose, which occasionally visit the refuge in late summer as their mating season begins, as well as muskrats, cottontail rabbits, skunks, and mule deer.

Bear Lake Caves Offer Underground Enchantment

The one-of-a-kind formations of Minnetonka Cave, by Intermountain Forest Service

There’s plenty to love above ground at Bear Lake—mountain views, shimmering waters, scenic hikes, and so forth—but some of the area’s best-loved attractions are actually underground.

Visitors can enjoy a guided tour of Minnetonka Cave, for instance, which encompasses nine rooms that showcase stalagmites (a type of rock formation that rises from the floor of a cave), stalactites (rock formations that hang from cave ceilings), and more. Snowfall prevents cave access between October and May, making the cave tour a uniquely summer experience at Bear Lake.

Hiking Trails Lead to Excellent Views

We get it: You’re no doubt looking to relax while at Bear Lake this summer. But if you’re also looking to enjoy some of the scenic beauty surrounding the lake, several hiking trails crisscross the mountainous region.

Perhaps the area’s most popular trail is the 1.5-mile (round-trip) Limber Pine Trail, named for a pine tree that's more than 500 years old. (Funny enough, the mammoth tree isn’t actually one tree—it’s a collection of five trees that have grown together over the centuries.) Other dramatic views along the family-friendly jaunt include Bear Lake, towering pine forests, and the surrounding mountains.

Up for more of a challenge? Hike Steam Mill Hollow. The 11-mile (round-trip) hike gains more than 2,500 feet while passing through forests of fir and aspen. Highlights include mountain lakes, summertime wildflowers, a glacial cirque, and a panoramic view of Steam Mill.

Thrill Seekers Find Plenty to Love at Bridgerland Adventure Park

Adrenaline junkies love the rides and attractions at Bridgerland Adventure Park almost as much as they do Bear Lake’s turquoise waters nearby.

Highlights at Bridgerland Adventure Park are numerous: The Zorb Ball invites visitors to climb inside a transparent plastic ball and roll down a hillside, visitors can zip-line around the park, a 40-foot swing recreates your classic playground swing on a much larger (and more daring) scale, the tubing slide lets riders reach speeds of up to 25 MPH, and so on. Other attractions include a ropes challenge course, axe throwing, a bungee trampoline, an 18-hole disc golf course, an 18-hole miniature golf course, and—for the little ones—a 14-foot spiral slide that descends toward the park’s playground.

Hungry? An on-site restaurant dishes hamburgers, hot dogs, and other classic grill fare.

Written by Bear Lake CVB for Matcha.

Featured image provided by Brandon Nelson