Oh, the places you’ll go. Dr. Seuss nailed that one, though I’m unsure he had Bear Lake State Park in mind when writing those famous words. Salt Lakers may quibble with that assessment, but I can assure you this place is not on the radar of Canadians. Were it not for a fossil hunting excursion into southern Wyoming, I’d have spent my entire life blissfully unaware of this northeastern Utah hot spot.
And I’m not kidding about hot. Yeah, it’s popular but it’s also damn hot. Tucked into the northeastern extent of the Great Basin Desert, Bear Lake State Park is the very definition of an oasis. The sapphire blue lake is striking, and gorgeous, nestled in the brown hills and dull green sage brush ranchlands.
In early to mid-July, daytime temperatures easily climbed into the low thirties Celsius, the high sun just punishing anything and everything beneath it. For a heat-wimp like me, it was all but intolerable. Add to this an unrelenting wind that blows while the sun is up, and this summer resort area quickly became a nightmare for me.
Still, it was totally worth it just for the fossil dig experience in Kemmerer, Wyoming, an hour’s drive to the east (I wrote all about that amazing experience here). And though I’ve grown weary of heat and sun, Bear Lake State Park did trigger a substantial upwelling of nostalgia for my childhood summers spent at the beautiful Sauble Beach on Lake Huron. So, that’s a win.
Bear Lake, while not as grand as any of the Great Lakes, is nonetheless substantial for a natural, freshwater lake in a desert, uplands setting. A reasonable two-and-a-half-hour drive north-northeast of Salt Lake City, it’s no surprise that the lake is a popular destination for summer recreation.
The elliptical lake is almost perfectly halved by the Idaho/Utah border and there are, in fact, two Bear Lake State Parks. The Utah version is far larger and more geared toward recreation. The Idaho iteration, found on a strip of land separating Bear Lake from the murkier Mud Lake, no doubt a former part of a once larger Bear Lake, isn’t much more than a bit of beach and parking.
With very limited camping options in Kemmerer and hypothesizing that a dip in a nice lake might be refreshing after several hours splitting rocks in the sun, I booked us two nights in the state park campground complex on the south end of Bear Lake. Having spent the previous week in and around Yellowstone, it was a big change.
The Gist of Bear Lake State Park
Utah’s Bear Lake State Park is actually a collection of land plots dotting the lake’s circumference. These include day use areas, beaches, campgrounds, and a marina. The quality of the facilities and amenities vary dramatically from old, rustic self-serve to new, modern full-service.
The east side of the lake is hemmed in by low mountains and the sections of the park here are long and narrow. The park pamphlet indicated that two of the spots were under construction, suggesting investment is being made here. We, unfortunately, did not have time to explore this area so I haven’t any pictures to share nor any eye-witness accounts of the campgrounds and beaches.
We were shacked up in the Rendezvous Beach portion of Bear Lake State Park, found at the south end of the lake near the village of Laketown. When hunting for a place to camp, this struck me as the epicenter of the park and having now spent time there I think my assessment was correct.
Rendezvous Beach is first and foremost, well, a beach. And a substantial one at that. Measuring 1.5 km in length before giving way to beachfront housing/cottages, Rendezvous offers plenty of room for sunbathers. And vehicles.
The depth of the beach is noticeable proof that the lake is shrinking. Surely the result of natural limitations due to its location coupled with climate change and human over-use, the size of Bear Lake is steadily reducing. Former shorelines are evident along the beach but none as obvious as the now abandoned concrete boat launch at the west end.
The presence of vehicles on the now expansive beach, delineated with ropes to prevent run-ins with pedestrians, sure took me back to my childhood at Sauble Beach. This beach isn’t long enough to “cruise” like the cool kids did at Sauble, back in the day, but it nonetheless had me reminiscing.
The most striking observation upon our arrival in July of 2021 was all the improvements made to the park. I’ve never been to Bear Lake before, but it was immediately evident that a big chunk of money has been spent at Rendezvous Beach. From the black asphalt to the unblemished stone facades, it was clear things were very new and that was a little bit exciting.
The entrance to the park and beach is from state highway 30. Visitors are welcomed by a fancy, stonework sign in a plot of land between entry and exit roads. These two paved roads splay outwards to accommodate an overflow parking lot between the sign and the registration booth.
The registration booth, somewhat ironically, does not appear to have been upgraded along with nearly everything else in Bear Lake State Park. It’s got a dated, brown look to it. Inside, though, you’ll be served by friendly park staff who will collect your fees and help you locate your destination, be it camping or just a couple hours at the beach.
Pretty run of the mill park stuff until you wander around to the exit side of the registration booth and discover a one-way-barrier spike strip in the road! I’ve never seen such a thing at a park, ever, and it left me wondering what the hell goes on here? Are Mormons routinely trying to sneak into Rendezvous Beach without paying? And if they are, is it really that hard to track them down inside the park?
Bear Lake State Park Day Use Area
Once through the entrance gate, you have three options. To your immediate right, the road takes you to the primary campgrounds (more on that in a bit). Further ahead and to your right is Willow Campground and to the left is the day use area and parking.
I’ll start with the day use area. A long, paved parking lot stretches westward towards the highway and the stranded boat launch. To its south is a strip of trees and bush while to the north is the sandy beach.
At the furthest end is the Rendezvous Beach Rentals building where you can rent all kinds of watersport equipment. They’ve got everything from paddlebaords to kayaks to canoes to Sea-Doos and accessories.
I briefly entertained renting a Sea-Doo or boat for some novel family entertainment but changed my mind upon seeing the prices. I have no idea if these prices are out of whack … I suspect not … but in US dollars and after having just dropped some decent coin for our fossil hunt, my wallet clenched up like a spooked echidna.
For those earning in American currency, or with differing entertainment priorities for their vacation dollars, having this rental facility inside the park is fantastic. A great way to enjoy a lake holiday without having to haul your own toys.
A further testament to the shrinkage of Bear Lake is the fueling station for Sea-Doos. I imagine at one time, when the lakefront was closer to the rental building, this necessary service was performed in a more traditional manner. Perhaps when the boat launch was functioning, there were even docks and boats all around. Not anymore.
I was a bit surprised to find fuel lines and regular looking gasoline filling nozzles just laying on the beach at the water’s edge. I’m so accustomed to seeing environment protection as an overriding priority in parks that this made me chuckle in a WTF kind of way.
Immediately next to the rental office is the Laketown Drive-in, a small, trailer housed fast-food joint reminiscent of vintage beach culture. We ate elsewhere which I’ll delve into later in this review, so I can’t comment on food quality, but it was kind of neat that this place existed at all. With the heat and the burned calories of frolicking at the beach, a juicy burger and a tasty shake would surely hit the spot.
The remaining stretch of beach back to the entrance is your typical day use beach but with noticeable upgrades and a couple of important perks. Those perks would be trees and their accompanying shade.
With the freshwater lake right there, some large poplar or cottonwoods can sustain life and in doing so offer a few respites from the beating sun. Not surprisingly, beneath these trees is where you will find the metal picnic tables. This is also where you would find me eating my burger and shake while watching the eye candy stroll along the beach.
In addition to the trees, a couple of new pavilions have been erected, also offering shelter from the sun. While not as naturally appealing as the trees, the pavilions at Bear Lake State Park are no less welcome and likely more enduring. Time will tell.
Consisting of metal clad roofs elevated over concrete pads, the pavilions, though new, are more functional than aesthetic. Each has several picnic tables beneath, none of which are permanent so you can arrange as needed. An elevated, permanent briquette/wood fired BBQ and a steel cook station round out the amenities available to users.
Bathroom and Shower Houses
Next to each pavilion is a fabulous bathroom and shower building, also new. These structures are a highlight of the park and a testament to the investment that’s occurred here. Hey, if you’re spending the day at the beach in the hot sun, maybe enjoying a picnic as well, you’re going to want a place to clean up before heading back home. These shower houses have you covered.
The large, square, brick bathrooms are split into halves. The front half, facing the parking lot, has separate men’s and women’s entrances restrooms. The interior is white and grey painted concrete making it cold and unappealing, even a bit dark, compared to their rather attractive exteriors. Easy to clean, though.
The men’s had a single sink with mirror and a single urinal. Two stalls are available, one of which is a larger, accessible version. Soap dispenser and hand dryer round out the offerings. Why, there’s even a receptacle by the sink for someone needing a last-minute electric shave or crimping?
The back half, facing the beach, houses the showers of which there are four. Each is a private, self-contained unit accessed from the exterior. Three are labeled as unisex, while a fourth is handicap friendly. All are free to use.
Each shower room has a small changing enclave with tiny bench separated from the main shower by a partial partition. The showers themselves are stainless steel units reminiscent of a prison. The showerhead has limited water dispersion ability and isn’t the greatest but like everything else with these bath/shower houses, it gets the job done.
I only used the shower house nearest our campsite. Though similar in construction, the campground shower buildings did not allow for control of water temperature, and you only got water by pushing a button. The showers in the day use area, perhaps a bit newer, appeared to offer more control of water pressure/volume.
Completing the versatility of these day use shower houses at Bear Lake State Park, affixed to stone privacy walls partially encasing the building is a large, double, stainless steel cleaning station. With both hot and cold water, these sinks are ideal for visitors enjoying a glorious picnic at the lake.
Last but not least, a water spigot stands proudly in the sand a few feet from the bathroom. Hydration is vital in hot weather, but I obtained my drinking water elsewhere so can’t really comment on the quality. I assume its source is the same as in the campground. Just don’t expect it to be ice, cold aqua (confirmed by our campsite water which was lukewarm).
As day use areas go, this is as good as it gets, in my opinion. Everything you need is here for a lovely day at the beach. It’s certainly more appealing to sun worshippers but those with an aversion to the golden rays can find some shelter. I can’t imagine this space is anything but packed on summer weekends.
Willow Campground Group Camping
Returning to the great fork in the entrance road mentioned above, instead of heading left into the day use area, you turn right and enter the first of four campgrounds in Bear Lake State Park. This one is called Willow Campground and it’s entirely for group camping.
Group camping at Bear Lake is a bit odd, in my opinion. Okay, it’s different than what I’m familiar with closer to my home. Instead of loops or open fields designated as group sites, Willow Campground is essentially a segmented parking lot. Each segment, of which there are three (A, B, C), is a group site. Campers either setup their RV in the asphalt lot and camp there or they park a vehicle in the lot and set up their tent in the adjacent greenspace (not always) or dirt (more likely).
The parking lot runs parallel to the beach and so on the north side, towards said beach, are all the group camping facilities. Each group site has a pavilion, similar in design to those of the day use area, but longer and able to accommodate more people.
These pavilions are mostly exposed to the sun and look out to the beach and water. However, there is some willow shrubbery and trees between them and the parking lot that offers a bit of shade.
Next to the easternmost pavilion is a raised, concrete wall filled with dirt. I’m unsure what this is for. I don’t even know if it’s a remnant of a former structure now removed or a preparatory construct for a future amenity. Whatever the case, group campers seemed to be using it as a storage area for gear.
On the south side of the Willow group area parking lot is a larger, more densely foliaged strip of land. This is where you’ll find the bulk of group campers’ tents set up, hidden from the baking sun. It’s not the greatest spot but considering the alternative, I don’t blame tenters one bit for hiding in bushes.
At the east end of Willow Campground is a turning circle and a brand-new bathroom/shower house identical to the ones in the day use area.
Cottonwood Campground Group Camping
Skipping eastward for a moment, a second group camping area is found in Cottonwood Campground. The basic setup in Cottonwood is similar to Willow. Again, there are three group sites consisting of a segment of asphalt parking lot. Each has a designated pavilion, and a new bathroom/shower house is found in the centre of the group camping strip.
Setting-wise, Cottonwood differs from Willow in the following ways. The pavilions and general use areas to the north of the parking lot offer much better shelter from the sun thanks to a broader belt of cottonwood trees. There remains a generous amount of beachfront access, but the trees will undoubtedly appeal to folks that prefer some shade.
Conversely, south of the parking lot at Cottonwood, there is only a minimal patch of willow shrubs near the turning circle. There’s room for a couple of tents but you’ll be hard-pressed to hide them entirely from the sun. Otherwise, the green space (okay, brown space) south of the parking lot is wide open to the elements.
Big Creek Campground Group Camping
One final group campsite resides in the southeasternmost corner of Big Creek Campground, itself the last of the four campgrounds at Rendezvous Beach in Bear Lake State Park. This one is unique albeit still primarily a parking lot.
For starters, it’s almost surrounded by trees which is great. On the other hand, it neighbours with what appears to be a park utility building which is not so great. It has a large, new pavilion which is only partially protected by trees and a communal firepit with permanent seating.
In some ways, this is the best group campsite at Bear Lake. I like the trees and the big firepit is a nice touch. It is also somewhat isolated from the other campers, though none of the group camping sites are truly private. However, the Big Creek group site has no beachfront or direct access to the beach.
During our short stay, there was a single RV setup in the shade of this lone group site. This prevented me from looking too closely at the pavilion. It also left me a bit perplexed as it seemed as though this group site was being used by a single camper. If you’re willing to pay the fee, why not?
Big Creek Campground – Individual Camping
We, of course, were camping as individuals and, as such, had two options for campgrounds: Birch and Big Creek. Of the two, I really (like, REALLY) wanted a campsite in Big Creek. Unfortunately, that is also where everyone else would prefer a campsite. When the booking window opened, I was immediately shit out of luck and had to be satisfied with a spot in Birch Campground.
I’ll start with Big Creek Campground which is found at the far eastern boundary of Bear Lake State Park. To the east it is neigbhours with private, lakefront cottages and homes. To the west, the small, lazy Big Creek from which the campground gets its name, separates this campground from the remainder of the park.
I got the sense that Big Creek is an older campground and perhaps the original campground in this part of the state park. Its layout was different and the presence of large cottonwoods over a significant portion of its area suggests it’s been around awhile. Those trees are also why it’s so popular with campers.
While walking around Big Creek Campground in person, I realized that the benefit of shade comes with compromise. The cottonwoods and willow providing the shade aren’t always towering trees overhead. Sometimes, they are thickets of tall shrubberies which, though welcomingly protective from the sun, do tend to cannibalize the campsite space. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still take one of these sites in a flash, but they can be a bit claustrophobic.
And not all campsites in Big Creek are shaded. Some are only partially shaded while others are wholly unsheltered. Some back onto the beach, offering a fabulous summer vacation spot at the lake. Others are nothing more than spacious spots in an open green/brown space.
Capital improvements are visible all around. Each campsite appears to have recently been adorned with an asphalt pad on which to park your RV. Not ideal for bare feet in scorching sun but nice and level. Each site has also had a concrete picnic table pad installed to provide a solid footing compared to the dirt, sand, weedy land of the sites.
All 49 campsites in Big Creek Campground are back-in sites. Further testament to their maturity, I suppose. Size varies compared to Birch Campground, but you should be able find something that accommodates your rig regardless of size. It just may not be a shaded site if you’ve got a monster.
Each campsite has water, electrical, and sewer hookups, which looks to be a relatively recent addition to the campground. A new bathroom and shower house is centrally located (see description in Day Use Area above for more information on these facilities).
Birch Campground at Bear Lake State Park
As mentioned, we ended up in Birch Campground, the largest of the campgrounds at Rendezvous Beach with a total of 60 campsites. Our site was BH21 and though not my preferred site, nor one I’d choose if given access to a greater selection, it sufficed for our two-night stay.
Birch Campground is situated between Willow and Cottonwood group sites and is essentially a wide-open field. There are few trees and little natural protection from the sun or wind. It did not turn my crank whatsoever.
There are two site types in Birch, angled back-in and arcuate pull-through. Ours was of the latter configuration.
Campsite size is more uniform than in Big Creek Campground and the biggest of RVs will have no problem finding a suitable site in Birch. Our 16’ Geo Pro and Pathfinder had ample space in our pull-through site. We probably could have fit two, to be honest.
Each site consists of a paved pad, a concrete picnic table platform beneath a small, fixed pavilion, and an adjacent firepit. The site grounds are mostly dirt and weeds with little to no grass due to a lack of irrigation. I only mention this because those private cottages next to the park most definitely are watering lawns continually based on their greenness in satellite imagery.
Like Big Creek, all campsites in Birch have water, electrical, and sewer. Electrical hookups can accommodate 20/30/50 amp requirements which will please big RV owners who want to run their air conditioning all day and night. Believe me, it’ll be tempting with that sun beating down on you.
Ten pull-through sites are located parallel to the beach and have direct access through paths worn between some shrubs along the north boundary of Birch Campground. As far as Birch campsites go, these are likely the cream of the crop.
There are a rare few sites in this campground that have an perfectly positioned tree that does provide some additional shade depending on the time of day. As the earth rotates, the sun moves, and those stationary shelters just cannot protect you the entirety of the day. We learned this almost immediately as the sun began to lower in the sky thus cheating the pavilion roofs and blasting, still hot, directly onto our picnic table. We resorted to sitting in chairs behind our trailer just to escape.
Now, some of you might love the sun and be content to have it bake you at your campsite just as unforgivingly as at the beach. I applaud your guts and still think you’re crazy.
More seasoned visitors at Bear Lake State Park came prepared with tarps that they attached to one side of the pavilion at their campsite. This provided both some added shelter from the lowering sun but also a windbreak. You’ll recall from the start of this blog that the wind blows constantly during daylight hours.
At night, however, the wind abates, sometimes to dead stillness. This was both a relief and encouragement to enjoy a campfire. We personally didn’t, but you could see multiple fires burning in the darkness and hear merriment all around throughout the evening. And with temperatures dropping substantially after sunset, nights at Bear Lake are quite lovely. Even for sleeping.
Three new bathrooms and showers have been erected throughout Birch Campground. They are smaller versions of the fabulous facilities in the day use and group areas with three showers instead of four.
The handicap accessible shower has safety bars for maneuvering and a lower showerhead for convenience. Unlike the day use versions, these showers offer no control of temperature or pressure. You simply press a button which enables waterflow for about 30 seconds before you have to push it again. The water temperature was tolerable. Not hot, by any means, but maybe most people don’t want a hot shower under these circumstances. But, hey, free is free.
My biggest gripe with these showers was their concrete bunker nature which lead them to be continually wet and very humid. They’re concrete fortresses with no windows. As the afternoon winds down, they become heavily used as people clean off the beach they’ve accumulated during the day. They’ll even clean their dogs in them. The result is a wet, muggy mess that doesn’t make for the most rewarding shower. The experience might be different in the morning, but afternoon cleanup is definitely underwhelming.
The bathroom side is again like I described in the Day Use section above. Not visually appealing by any stretch but they did what I needed them to do. And as campers who refuse to soil our trailer bathroom, I was happy with what we had access to.
Bear Lake State Park Dump Station
For RVers in group campsites, where sewer service is not available, you’ll need to empty your tanks at the newly installed dump station near the entrance building. After entering the park, the first road to the right is the main access road to Birch, Cottonwood, and Big Creek Campgrounds. Near its start is a large, paved dump station with four outlets accessible from either direction.
The dump station is spacious, though exposed. There is fresh water available here as well to fill tanks if you’re at a site without water service (i.e. group sites). This too is free to use, though we didn’t have to.
Tent Only Camping and Rental Cabins
Two alternative camping options remain at Rendezvous Beach in Bear Lake State Park. A tent only area at the east end of Cottonwood Group Campground and a selection of cabins in Big Creek Campground.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize there was a tent only area in Cottonwood until I sat down to write this review. When at the park, I’d assumed this spacious area was nothing more than another group site. It has a large, paved parking lot and the new restroom is built next to it so I had no reason to assume it was anything unique.
Less sheltered than the Cottonwood group sites next door, I’d be hesitant to tent camp here unless you’re lucky enough to get beneath one of the smattering of trees/shrubs. Being in the open in a tent would be terrible in my opinion. And with no pavilions to speak of, you really will be exposed in this area.
The cabins, of which there are five, are located at the south end of Big Creek Campground near the park boundary. With the exception of one solitary tree between two of the cabins, they are in an open area with a large, paved parking lot. I assume these cabins have no air conditioning, though I can’t confirm, and are thus likely pretty damn hot during the day.
Cute log structures, they’re rather attractive inside and come with a bed, table, microwave, and bar fridge. For those wanting a glamping experience without the cost of buying an RV, they’re a nice alternative to a hotel.
The cabins also have their own shared bathroom positioned next to the parking lot. It looked not too unlike the bathroom near us in Birch Campground, though I admittedly did not venture inside.
Other Campground Offerings
Adjacent to the open field south of the Cottonwood Group Campground is boat parking. It’s just a stirp of grass next to the access road. A handful of boats and boat trailers were stationed here during our stay but otherwise it was empty and void of activity.
There may or may not be campground hosts. I didn’t see any signage stating there were, nor did I see anyone that obviously screamed campground host. Still, there were two campsites that had a decidedly seasonal look to them with golf carts including cleaning supplies. One is located in Big Creek Campground and the other is found in Birch Campground. The latter had a funky flagpole with LED lighting that put on a show at night.
Swimming in Utah’s Bear Lake State Park
As we were merely using Bear Lake as a place to sleep before and after our Kemmerer fossil hunting adventure, I can’t honestly say we used the park as a vacation spot. Nonetheless, we did manage to venture into the lake for a quick swim in the afternoon.
Temperature-wise, it was a bit chilly for my tastes. Not as frigid as mountain lakes back home, but hardly a bathtub. I went in, briefly, and didn’t go back. Perhaps it warms up throughout the summer, but in early July it was just not in my comfort zone, which is admittedly pampered. And the wind chilled you quickly once you stepped out of the water all wet.
Sunbathers will be happy. Just be sure to lather on the sunscreen. Many brought shelters to the expansive beach for protection. If you’re planning to spend a full day on the beach, you’ll want something to give your skin a break. Be sure it’s secure so the wind doesn’t blow it away.
If the wind has any redeeming quality, it’s bug repellant. Mosquitoes and other critters won’t be pestering you with that wind blowing. When it settles down in the evening, a few flying pests appear but they weren’t especially annoying during our stay in early July. I can’t speak to other times of the year.
What’s Missing at Bear Lake State Park?
If there’s one critique I can make of the park, it’s the lack of a playground. I realize the lake is the “playground” but considering the family-friendly nature of the campgrounds and the ongoing investments in the park, I’m surprised there is no playground anywhere. Surely there’d be room for one in the open space of Cottonwood Campground or even on the beach itself?
Oops, I lied. I have another critique. Lighting sucks. Or, more accurately, light pollution sucks. Bear Lake State Park is out in the middle of nowhere. Salt Lake City, surely the largest metropolitan area for hundreds of miles around, is over two hours’ drive away. There are few trees and elevation is, umm, elevated. There should be a phenomenal night sky even from within the campground.
Sadly, there is intrusive lighting on the exterior of every bathroom. Coupled with the patio lights and faux torches lit up at many of the campsites, the full glory of the night sky was diminished from our campsite. That was disappointing. If ever there was a park to be designated a dark sky preserve, Bear Lake should be it.
Likewise, the campgrounds in Bear Lake State Park are not quiet. During the daytime isn’t so bad as people are at the lake or out exploring the region, but in the evening things pick up. Even during our weekday stay there were good times being had by other campers in the park. It is, after all, a family-friendly place as well as group-friendly.
In one instance, a large group of children were playing organized games on the road beside our trailer. It appeared to be some kind of camp group and the kids were having a jolly good time with the associated noise kids are known for.
In another instance, this one perhaps more disruptive, we had an amateur troubadour in the site next to us. He played his guitar, singing to his woman for long stretches of time. In between sets, he’d set down his guitar and turn up the cheesy 80s music. None of this is my preference for afternoon entertainment, and I can certainly pick better 80s music.
On the bright side, all this joyous activity settled down by 10 o’clock and overnight we heard nary a peep out of anyone. Your mileage may vary on these types of noises, but I get the sense things would be noisier over weekends. Long weekends especially. That is pure speculation on my part. The point is, don’t expect a peaceful yogic retreat. This place is designed for summer fun and that doesn’t come with silence.
The only wildlife we encountered at Bear Lake were birds. Seagulls, of course. The scourge of every beach worldwide and in no shortage here. In the open confines of Birch Campground, they even tormented us at our site off and on.
Where trees and shrubbery were present, notably over by Big Creek (both the campground and the creek itself), colourful and bland songbirds could be found flitting about in the branches. I tried desperately to obtain a perfect picture of a pretty yellow bird, but the bugger wouldn’t sit still for long and my resulting images were less than stellar.
There is no WIFI offered by the park, but you’re hardly isolated from mobile networks here so you should have no problem accessing your social media and posting awesome pictures of your summer vacation.
Outside the park, you’ll find even more attractions to tantalize your tastebuds specifically. What could be more desirable in a desert lake resort area than an ice cream shop? Nothing, that’s what!
Take a short drive from your campsite south to the village of Laketown and you can enjoy a refreshing ice cream treat at The Car Wash, a nifty ice cream shop in a converted bay of the local Sinclair service station. You can see from the picture that even on a weekday in July, this place is quite popular.
We did not join the lineup, choosing instead to patronize the competition across the street. We were returning from our fossil hunt, starving, and needed something more filling than an ice cream cone. That’s where Some Beaches came to the rescue.
A good ole burger and shake joint, Some Beaches provided us with a delicious and filling lunch that truly hit the spot. Bear Lake was once renowned for its raspberries before a blight wiped out the entire crop. Raspberries remain a source of pride in the region as they attempt to recover from the devastation. Seemed fitting to enjoy a raspberry shake with my burger and fries.
Attached to Some Beaches is a Chad’s gift shop that sells all sorts of raspberry treats and preserves as well as some merchandise. This retail outlet was started to help Chad, a local man diagnosed with a rare liver disease that required a transplant. Soon after, an infection lead to Chad going blind. The store was his means of independence. Chad has since passed, but the family continues to operate the business.
The Other Parts of Bear Lake State Park
When it was time for us to leave Bear Lake State Park, our route north took us along the west side of the lake. We passed several more plots of the park which are mostly just day use areas of roadside beach. Unlike the east side which appears to be getting new and upgraded campgrounds and facilities, the west side stretches remain very rustic.
Access to these spots is directly from the road. They do not appear to be properly engineered turnoffs, but rather just places people pull into for the day. Vehicles are parked along the receding shoreline and shelters are set up at the water’s edge for a day of beach fun.
I got the feeling that some of these stretches of land weren’t even in the actual park. It’s possible these people are choosing to enjoy the lake here rather than pay fees to enter Rendezvous Beach.
It honestly didn’t look too appealing. And one can only guess how well the sporadic outhouses are maintained. Shiver. But for a bunch of young people looking for a fun afternoon, or perhaps a family of limited means hoping to have some fun in the water, it’s as good as anything.
Continuing north towards the Idaho border, things become decidedly more civilized. Lakefront (or what used to be) cottages and hillside communities overlook the lake. Private RV parks, golf courses, and condos start to dominate the surroundings. The town of Garden City is much bigger than Laketown and has far more services available.
The shrinking lake footprint has proven problematic for some developments, but at the town’s north end is the Bear Lake State Park Marina, a thriving boat launch and slips.
We stopped in briefly but couldn’t look around as the marina requires an entrance fee. We were allowed only to drive through and exit immediately so unfortunately did not get a great look around. The marina was certainly popular with a steady stream of boats entering the water from the launch and most slips home to a boat.
They must dredge the hell out of this place to keep it waterborne. Satellite imagery exposes the precarious position the marina holds in an ever-shrinking body of water.
Beyond the marina, our time at Bear Lake was over and our adventure continued elsewhere. Though we didn’t investigate all of the state park, we saw most of it and, to my mind, the most important parts of it. Despite the development on the east side and the postage stamp importance of the marina on the west, it is clear to me that Rendezvous Beach is the epicenter of what is Utah’s Bear Lake State Park.
I’ll be honest, I don’t see myself ever vacationing here. It would require a very special reason and I’d be adamant that I got a sheltered site in Big Creek Campround. The exposed nature of Birch Campground just isn’t for me at all. I’m not a sun lover and unless you’ve got awesome fossils to entice me out into the desert, I’m going to stay where there’s shade. And less wind. Ugh, the wind.
That said, Bear Lake State Park was a surprise. They’re obviously investing money into making it an attractive resort area. I can totally understand why some people would absolutely love this place for a summer getaway at a beach. There really isn’t anything missing from a fun standpoint unless you’re keen on a bar scene.
I will grant Bear Lake State Park in Utah 4 out of 5 Baby Dill Pickles even though it wasn’t my favourite place. There’s value in effort and I’ll grant them that. The campgrounds and/or beach could use a playground. A few more trees would be lovely though that’s surely a pipe dream in this desert-like setting. Otherwise, it’s not too shabby and improvements are happening.
Besides, the alternatives are quite slim. A parking lot style campground in some barren corner of a desert town isn’t nearly as appealing as a freshwater lake and accompanying park. The sun and wind will get you regardless, so why not try and have some fun. Hit the lake. Hit the beach. Hit the shake shack. Or, like us, take a drive and hit the fossil quarries.