Northern Utah's Bear Lake and Flaming Gorge

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Northern Utah's Bear Lake and Flaming Gorge
Question: What do you know about the Bear Lake and Flaming Gorge areas in Northern Utah? Are there any upscale lodges or resorts that you’d recommend? How about flyfishing, canoeing, hiking and just hanging out? We’d like to head there sometime this summer. Thanks.

Joe Cooder
Chicago, Illinois

Adventure Adviser: For starters, the two aren’t exactly neighbors, since Bear Lake is about 300 miles from the Flaming Gorge area. But if you’re willing to include a drive day in your vacation plans, you can put together an action-packed trip encompassing both.

Bear Lake State Park is bordered on the west by the Wellsville Mountains and the Bear River Range to the east. This wilderness area is known as Bridgerland, named after a famed mountain man and trapper from these parts. At 20 x 8 miles, Bear Lake is Utah’s second largest freshwater lake, and half of it spans over the border into Idaho. It’s an extremely popular spot, and after one look you’ll know why—thanks to lingering limestone particles, the lake’s unforgettable water is an iridescent turquoise.

Three marinas dot the lake, and you can rent virtually any type of boat from each. Sailboats, jet skis and motorboats are particularly well-suited for the lake, since the waves can pick up in the afternoon winds. For a better canoeing spot, head to Logan (40 miles away) to access the slow-moving and peaceful Bear River. Adventure Sports (435-753-4044) can set you up with a rental and route.

There are also some fine beaches along Bear Lake for swimming and just hanging out, like Cisco and Rendezvous. For birdwatching, visit the National Wildlife Preserve on the lake’s north side and look for white pelicans, egrets and herons. When you tire of the watersports, you can rent a bike and ride the easy and scenic 45-mile loop around the lake. Or, head east a few miles east along Scenic Highway 89 to Logan Canyon and 18+ hiking trails, or to nearby Logan River, known for its blue-ribbon flyfishing. Both Bear Lake-based Three Green Outfitters (435-946-2876) and Willow Valley Sportsmen (435-245-3053) in Logan offer guided fishing tours.

For top accommodations, you’ve got a couple of choices. In Garden City, you can stay at either the large and bustling Harbor Village Resort (800-324-6840; $109-$119/night for an apartment) or the tiny, intimate Eagle Feather Inn (435-946-2846; $60/night including a huge breakfast), which has a mere two rooms. Overlooking the lake, Harbor Village is a full-fledged vacation outlet, with a pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, exercise room and video arcade. Eagle Feather Inn is located on the quiet side of town and offers a peaceful haven from the lake’s buzz. A third option is the Blue Water Resort (435-946-3333), where beachside condos sleeping six go for $615.85 per half-week (Monday to Thursday, or Friday to Sunday). In addition to boat rentals, there’s a pool, hot tub and a pitch-n-putt. For other options, call the extremely friendly and helpful folks at the Logan Chamber of Commerce (435-752-2161).

To access Flamingo Gorge National Recreation Area, take Route 80 into Wyoming. At Green River, head south on 530 and you’ll run smack into Flamingo Gorge, the southern portion of which juts into Utah. The landscape stretching along the Green River alternates between colorful canyons and open desert country. Off Flaming Gorge’s southern tip is the Ashley National Forest, encompassing the Uinta mountains and foothills. Here you’ll find a pristine wilderness full of glacial lakes, streams teeming with trout and wildflower meadows. You won’t have any problem keeping busy around Flaming Gorge. Flyfishing is fabulous in this area, particularly just below the dam. The Green River is also a popular rafting spot, with some fun swirls of whitewater. Ashley National Forest is laced with trails well-suited for hiking and horseback riding. Even the 50-mile long drive to Vernal along the Flaming Gorge-Uintas Scenic Byway is incredibly enjoyable. The wildlife is abundant, so be on the watch for bighorn sheep, elk, moose and ospreys.

There are really only two good lodging options in this area. The first is the Flaming Gorge Lodge (435-889-3773), located three miles from the dam on Route 191, where simple condos go for $105/night for two. You can arrange a flyfishing outing through the lodge ($300/day for a private boat and guide), take a spin on a mountain bike or rent a raft and belly-up to the river. Sitting on East Green Lake is the Red Canyon Lodge (435-889-3759). Cabins range from rustic (with a shared bathroom) to luxury (complete with kitchenette) and cost anywhere from $35 to $110/night. Red Canyon Lodge has its own horse corral and wrangler; guided horseback rides are $12/hour. The lodge’s restaurant serves three meals a day and has a stellar reputation.

If after Bear Lake and Flaming Gorge you’re up for a dry-land adventure, it’s a quick drive east to Dinosaur National Monument and a whole different world.

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