This Western US State Park Is A Great Destination For A Lakeside Vacation

Utah likes to share its landmarks with other Mountain states, including the three others that meet with it at The Four Corners Monument. In the case of Bear Lake State Park, however, there's a lot more "landmark" to go around, and much of it is, in fact, made up of water. At 8 miles wide and 20 miles in length, Bear Lake rides the border between Utah and Idaho and has earned the nickname "The Caribbean of the Rockies." That may seem like an odd juxtaposition of images — what's the Caribbean Sea doing in the middle of the Rocky Mountains? Yet it begins to make sense once you see how blue Bear Lake is, due to limestone dissolving into calcium carbonate particles in the water.

The lake dates back at least 250,000 years, but that's a conservative estimate for its age — it could actually be millions of years old. Whereas many lakes dry up over long stretches of time, this one keeps getting deeper (more than 200 feet) as the surrounding Bear Lake Valley sinks faster than sediment can build up. It's now one of North America's oldest lakes, and it's become a major draw for outdoor recreation across two states. In and around Bear Lake State Park, you can enjoy camping, hiking, cave exploration, beach fun, a myriad of water sports, and other seasonal activities. In the winter, you can even go ice-fishing to catch the Bonneville cisco, a species that can only be found in Bear Lake.

On the water and off-road at Bear Lake

Bear Lake has three main recreation areas, with Marina and Eastside being open year-round and Rendezvous Beach being open from May to late October. Across these areas, the lake has a number of different vendors where you can rent boats, canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and Sea-Doos for jet skiing. Marina Rentals, Rendezvous Beach Rentals, North Beach Rentals, and Performance Rental are all serviced through the Bear Lake Fun website.

On Rendezvous Beach, you'll see tents set up and people wading out into the pristine turquoise waters of the lake. You can fish on the lake or along its shores at popular spots like Cisco Beach. In addition to the Bonneville cisco, Bear Lake offers up different species of trout and whitefish, including the Bonneville whitefish, another rare ice-fishing catch that can only be found here.

There are no trails for off-highway vehicles within Bear Lake State Park, but on the Utah side of the lake, some vendors also rent out UTVs that are legal to drive on highways and state roads out of the park. From there, you can enjoy riding areas like Garden City Canyon and Temple Canyon, which both offer views of the lake and provide access to other U.S. Forest Service trails. For hiking and biking, trails like Hodges Canyon can also be used. In the winter, Bear Lake Funtime can set you up with a snowmobile rental.

Caves, wagons, and bank robbers

If you're feeling adventurous enough to duck into a place where you could lose your phone signal, the Idaho side of Bear Lake Valley also has caves you can explore. Paris Ice Cave lives up to its name with freezing temperatures and ice formations even in midsummer. When it's actually winter, you'll need a snowmobile to access it. Even more impressive are the 10-foot-tall stalagmites of Minnetonka Cave, Idaho's biggest limestone cave, near the city of Montpelier. It's part of the Cache National Forest, and from Memorial Day to Labor Day, it has guided tours available (through, which will take you up hundreds of stairs as you unlock your inner spelunker.

From summer to late September, at the National Oregon / California Trail Center in Montpelier, Idaho, you can board a simulated wagon train indoors as live actors bring to life the pioneer experience of the mid-1800s. For those interested in the history of the Old West, the nearby Butch Cassidy Museum is housed within the last remaining bank that the legendary outlaw and his gang robbed. It operates seasonally, welcoming visitors with free admission in the same 100-day summer stretch as Minnetonka Cave.

Back in Utah, for a truly unique camping experience, you can sleep in a real wagon at the Conestoga Ranch. It also has glamping options with a nice view of Bear Lake. Horses are not included, but you can take a ride on one of those at the Beaver Creek Lodge.