Exploring the Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Tourists often pack the picturesque, sandy beaches of Bear Lake in the summer, but just north lies a natural treasure. Located near the border between Utah and Southeast Idaho, Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge offers adventures for every speed.

Whether you want to lounge by the water, cast a line, or hit the trails, this wild refuge offers plenty of action. Bear Lake Luxury Rentals will provide the perfect base for your visit. With vacation homes in three towns around the lake, you’ll never be far from the Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

About the Bear Lake Wildlife Refuge

Bear Lake Wildlife Refuge comprises 18,000 acres of protected land just north of Bear Lake and includes the Dingle Swamp and Mud Lake. If you look to Google Maps for directions, you’ll be directed to Downtown Montpelier, but the refuge actually consists of  the land just south of town.

Although the refuge does not technically contain Bear Lake proper, it is intimately intertwined with it’s infrastructure and ecosystem.

The refuge was established in 1968 to protect the native species of flora and fauna and the accompanying valuable habitats for waterfowl and colonial nesting birds. Characterized by cattail marsh, open water, brush-covered slopes, and meadows, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages this area to keep it pristine.

What to Do at the Refuge

Spend the Day Around Mud Lake

Photo Credit: Justin Crook Photography

Mud Lake is the smaller, more rustic sister of Bear Lake. The preserved marsh area is a great place for wild exploration. There are numerous places to sit for a picnic while you watch wildlife and laze the day away.

Watch for Wildlife

Photo Credit: USFWS – Pacific Region via Flickr CC 2.0

Numerous animal species dwell within the 18,000 acres of the refuge, drawing bird watchers and other nature lovers to Bear Lake. Bring your binoculars, a comfy chair, and some snacks—you might be out here for a while.

The park’s avian life includes shorebirds like great horned owls, egrets, cormorants, and waterfowl and migratory birds like the Canada geese, sandhill cranes, and white-faced ibis, which all dwell in the wetlands. Besides birdwatching, keep an eye out for moose, elk, and native black bears on land.

Cast a Line

Photo Credit: Freerange Stock via Google Images CCL

Bear Lake’s bright blue waters are stocked with numerous whitefish species and two different kinds of trout, making the area around the refuge a world-class fishing destination. Though boat fishing is prohibited, anglers can drop a line at several locations around the lake shores. Check with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for more details.

When winter winds blow in, the summer crowds disperse, but the fishing fun continues. During particularly cold seasons, you can try ice fishing, a time-honored local tradition, and see if you can hook an elusive Bonneville Cisco.

Explore by Boat

Photo Credit: Monkey Business Images

In the warmer months; boaters can zip or drift across the open waters of Bear Lake. Ramps, docks, and boat rental shops around the shores allow easy access for both motorized and non-motorized watercraft.

Break out the kayaks and paddleboards for a slower-paced experience, or speed through the waters in a rented Sea-Doo from Bear Lake Rentals. You can even pick up inflatables to tow the kids (and kids at heart).

Go for a Swim

Photo Credit: dotspencer

Swimmers of all ages and ability levels can dip in Bear Lake’s inviting waters. The most popular swim areas — North Beach, Rendezvous Beach, and Cisco Beach — tend to fill up during the summer, so make sure to stake out your spot early in the day.

If you only have time to see one beach this trip, stop by North Beach (reserve an optional day pass ahead of time). Its shallow waters warm quickly, while two miles of pristine shore provide an idyllic place to soak up the sunshine. Other highlights include picnic tables and the floating Bear Lake Burger Boat food truck.

Hop in the Car

Photo Credit: Pavel Kiriiak

If you prefer to sample the delights of the outdoor world from the comfort of your car, the popular Bear Lake Scenic Byway runs 15 miles from Laketown, Utah, to the state border. (For a longer auto tour route, continue onward to Idaho’s Oregon Trail-Bear Lake Scenic Byway). As you drive, take some extra time to admire the vistas of the mountains and lake.

Nearby, the 41-mile-long Logan Canyon Scenic Drive carves through aspen groves and areas of historical significance. In the fall, leaf peepers from all over the country descend on this route to see the vibrant, changing colors.

Take a Hike

Photo Credit: Monkey Business Images

Whether you’re traveling with kids, dogs, or just you and yourself, Bear Lake has a variety of hiking trails covering beautiful sights and fascinating history. For a shorter trek, try the Limber Pine Trail or Swan Peak Trail, which both afford incredible views in just a few miles. Stronger hikers may want to tackle the Laketown Canyon Trail or Sink Hollow Trail, moderate hikes with ample chances to see wildlife.

No matter which hike you pick, remember to be courteous to others and respect the natural environment. You should always stick to the marked trails and leave no trace of your visit.

Bike Around Bear Lake

Photo Credit: goodluz

A 50-mile network of paved paths and roads winds around Bear Lake, making for a fun cycling day trip. Don’t be daunted by that distance; the route is ranked as easy to moderate, a relaxing way to see the lake from all sides. Fuel your ride with a raspberry milkshake from LaBeau’s, a Garden City, Utah institution.

For an added dose of adventure, consider biking to Minnetonka Cave, a 16.4-mile climb from the lakeside town of Fish Haven, Idaho. The caves stretch deep below the surface, featuring limestone formations and underground waterways well worth seeing.

Book a Tee Time

Photo Credit: Pxfuel via Google Images CCL

You can choose from two visitor-friendly golf courses on the shores of Bear Lake – the Bear Lake Golf Course and Bear Lake West Golf Course. Here, you can enjoy a one-of-a-kind sporting experience set against a gorgeous natural backdrop.

Both facilities are open to the public from spring through fall for reasonable fees. Families, large groups, and solo golfers can play at either course, as both have offerings appropriate for different skill levels.

Check out the Scenery by Horse

Photo Credit: Stephan Rapp

Hop in the saddle to check out the Bear Lake Valley from an entirely new point of view. On horseback, you can explore the tranquil corners of Logan Canyon and the Cache National Forest.

Companies like Pony Express Horseback Rides and MW Quarter Horses provide unforgettable experiences ranging from quick excursions to half-day rides. You’ll want to book quickly, though — during the high season, it doesn’t take long for trips to fill up.

Strap on Snowshoes

Photo Credit: Mark Bonham

As the temperatures drop and snow falls, Bear Lake’s winter activities are in full force! You’ll need a solid pair of snowshoes to walk through this winter wonderland. Rent snowshoes from Epic Recreation in Garden City before striking out on the Bear Legacy Pathway or any other trails in the area.

Along the way, you may catch glimpses of rough-legged hawks and bald eagles, which nest in the pine trees around Bear Lake during winter months. Consider bringing some snow saucers or inner tubes for a sledding break during your walk.

Pro Tip: If you are looking for an adrenaline rush, consider snowmobiling instead!

Set Aside a Ski Day

Photo Credit: Kent Kanouse via Flickr CC 2.0

Bear Lake boasts epic cross-country and downhill skiing opportunities. Nordic skiers should head to Beaver Bottoms or Green Canyon, both maintained by the Cache Valley nonprofit Nordic United. If off-the-beaten-track ventures are more your speed, simply set a course for the nearest hiking trail.

Meanwhile, the family-owned Beaver Mountain Ski Area has been providing thrills for downhill skiers since 1939. Here, you’ll find all the usual amenities, like gear rentals, lessons, a repair shop, and 48 runs that will suit beginners and dedicated powder hounds alike.

Plan Your Trip to Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge has countless nooks and crannies to explore. No matter how you’re traveling or who you’re traveling with, there’s something here that everyone can enjoy. Book your stay at Bear Lake Luxury Rentals and start planning your getaway today!

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