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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
The beaches of Bear Lake were extra large in 2003, above, because of a lack of snowpack and rain. But the beaches have shrunk as the lake has risen this year.

The crown jewel of Rich County, Bear Lake, is actually shared property — the Potato State gets half and the Beehive State the other half.

Luckily, there's enough to go around. The lake is 20 miles long and eight miles wide. And, to the good fortune of Rich County, its share of the lake is a magnet to both summer and winter visitors.

It is, said Judy Holbrook, county travel director, "what most people identify us with. . . . And, yes, water sports is our No. 1 activity. But there are a lot of things to do that people may not be as familiar with."

Well-known

Bear Lake is unlike any other lake in Utah. For starters, it has its own Loch Ness monster myth.

Over the years, several locals have reported seeing a dinosaur-like creature swimming in the lake. Some have even suggested it really is the Loch Ness creature and that there's an underground channel connecting the two waters.

For another, Bear Lake holds three fish that are found nowhere else in the world. They are the Bonneville cisco, Bonneville whitefish and Bear Lake whitefish. Attempts to start populations in other waters have failed. There's definitely something about the lake they like.

Another thing that sets this lake apart is the rich turquoise-blue color seldom seen in other lakes. From a distance it does, indeed, look like a jewel.

Best of all, the lake is big enough to give people room to spread out, to go boating, ride a personal water craft or spend time swimming without crowding.

It hasn't hurt that the lake, which has been going down during the drought, has come up 7 feet this year.

Boating, from powerboats to sailboats, is by far the most popular water activity, followed by swimming, which includes sunbathing on the beach, and fishing.

The lake also offers a front-row seat to bird watchers. There is more than 1,760 acres of marsh, open water and grasslands, home to such species as the sandhill crane, herons, snowy egrets, white pelicans and a whole list of waterfowl.

Not to be outdone by larger, more populated areas, the county also has two golf courses located around the lake — Bear Lake and Bear Lake West. The nice part is that without the big population base, there's little chance of backups or no tee times.

Within the county, and on the western border, is the Beaver Mountain Ski Resort, located between Bear Lake and Logan. Besides offering lifts to skiers in the winter, the resort also offers a maze of trails to hikers in the offseason.

A little to the south, en route to Salt Lake City via Evanston, Wyo., is the small town of Randolph, which is known for two things: 1) The territorial home of former LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff, which has been turned into a two-room museum in the summer and is a popular attraction with passers-by; 2) and for the cold temperatures in the winter.

A popular time in the Bear Lake area is early August, when raspberries are ripe and towns celebrate with Raspberry Days (Aug. 4-6). Restaurants and drive-ins in the area have become well-known for their raspberry shakes.

On the western shores of the lake is the State Park Marina, with boat ramp and boating slips. On the southern end is Rendezvous Beach State Park. This was the actual site of early mountainmen rendezvous.

Not so well-known

"We have some great hiking and biking trails in the county, especially around the lake and (between the lake) to Logan," said Holbrook.

One in particular heads north from the Old Rock Store in Meadowville/Laketown on a gravel road and leads to an old ghost town in what is known as Round Valley, once a popular pioneer settlement. Within the abandoned town is a cemetery, remnants of an old schoolhouse and an elaborate old mansion.

Holbrook said this trail is rated "easy" to "moderate."

Another trail heads into St. Charles Canyon. Near the top of the canyon is the Minnetonka Cave, which is a nine-room cave full of stalactites, stalagmites and banded travertine. Guided tours are offered in the summer. The cave is near the Idaho/Utah border.

The county is also a connecting link with the Great Western Trail, which runs north-south through the center of the state.

One of the more scenic rides/hikes is a 4.2-mile paved trail from Harbor Village to Ideal Beach.

For those looking for a longer ride, there's the 45-mile loop around the lake. The entire route is on paved roads.

Within Garden City Park is a raised wooden walkway that leads out to the lake. Interpretive signs along the way tell the story of the lake and surrounding areas.

Recently opened is the Shoshone ATV Trail System between Randolph and Garden City.

A popular spot for locals is the Highline Trail. The 55-mile trail is accessible from several surrounding canyons, including Bloomington, Paris and Logan.

While summer is a popular time around the lake, Holbrook said, activities in the fall, winter and spring go unnoticed.

"In the fall, when the leaves on the aspens and maple trees turn, this area is gorgeous," she said. "It's one reason we decided to do the Hot-Air Balloon Festival in the fall."

The gathering of ballooners will take place in September.

"We also offer great activities in the winter," she said. "We have more than 350 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, some connecting Utah and Idaho.

"The lake is also a good place for cross country skiing or snowshoeing because it's so open and flat. It's especially good for those just starting out."

Fishing is yet another area that has not yet caught full attention. The lake is a hot spot in the fall, spring and winter for trout and whitefish.

Fishermen do gather along the eastern shoreline, around Cisco Beach, for the annual cisco run in January. Each winter the Bonneville cisco, one of the three indigenous species, move into the shallows and spawn. This is the only time of the year the fish can be caught.

Holbrook also pointed out that what many people may not realize is that Bear Lake is only half-a-tank of gas away from the Wasatch Front, "so it's really much closer than people realize."


Rich County

Well-known: Bear Lake and Raspberry Days

Unknown: Hiking and biking trails

Contact: 1-800-448-BEAR; www.bearlake.org

Next week: Weber County


E-mail: grass@desnews.com