The Bear River Heritage Area and Top of Utah Adventures
- Posted On
- Apr 08, 2010
By Julie Hollist
Explore Northern Utah's Bear River Heritage Area, home of endless outdoor adventure, western heritage and performing arts year-round.
"The Heritage Area straddles southern Idaho and Northern Utah and is a perfect off-the-beaten path destination for families and individuals who want a little bit of everything," said Joan Hammer, BRHA board chair.
The Bear River winds through the region, which was home to Shoshone Indians, mountain men and trappers and early Mormon pioneers. Its unique geography features rugged mountain ranges, verdant agricultural valleys and beautiful lakes and streams. The Bear River Heritage Area is the most scenic way to Jackson and Yellowstone and just an hour north of Salt Lake City. Here are some ways to start your adventure:
Historic Box Elder County
Begin by bird-watching at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, a 74,000 acre National Wildlife Refuge with a stunning brand new education and visitor's center near Brigham City. From your car, you'll see thousands of birds during every season including shorebirds, up to a half-million ducks and geese, over 30,000 tundra swans, northern harriers, rough-legged hawks, bald eagles, prairie falcons and many more. Visit the Golden Spike National Historic Site where East met West in 1869 when the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific railroads joined the nation with the driving of the Golden Spike. Get up close and personal with steam locomotives and enjoy a reenactment of this legendary event. While you're in town, don't miss buffalo steaks and burgers or famous fried chicken at Maddox Ranch House and hand-dipped chocolates from Idle Isle Candies—both are decades-old traditions. Take a leisurely drive down Utah's colorful Fruit Way. This 2-mile stretch of historic Highway 89 meanders past more than 10 family-owned fruit farms where you can sink your teeth into a wide variety of the freshest fruits and vegetables of the season as you head through Sardine Canyon to beautiful Cache Valley.
Cache Valley's Hidden Treasures
Cache is pronounced "cash" and is a French word that means "to hide or store one's treasure." You'll find plenty of hidden fortune in this high mountain agricultural valley known for outdoor adventures, hands-on heritage experiences and performing and fine arts. Mountain biking, canoeing, fly fishing, bird watching, hiking, rock climbing, skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling are a few outdoors attractions. During the winter months, you'll love Hardware Ranch, where you can ride a wagon or sleigh through a herd of 600 majestic elk. Stop in at the American West Heritage Center, a 160-acre living-history center where you can experience firsthand the history of the Old West. Depending on the day, you'll visit with Native Americans, mountain men, farmers and pioneers. They'll keep you busy living life like they did through games, activities, crafts and food, music and wagon and train rides. For a true taste of the area you'll enjoy the Cache Valley Food Tour where you can sample famous foods made in the area including cheeses, chocolates, coffee, cookies, honey, fruit, ice creams and pastries. The City of Logan is home to Utah State University, a dozen art galleries and specialty shops, great examples of early Mormon pioneer architecture and the stunning 1923 Ellen Eccles Theatre, home of the world-renowned Utah Festival Opera company during the summer and other nationally touring productions year-round. Logan's accessibility to the mountains is unparalleled: a five-minute drive from downtown puts you right in the Wasatch Cache National Forest. Between Logan and Bear Lake you'll drive through dramatic mile-high limestone cliffs along the Logan Canyon National Scenic Byway, a 45-minute road trip through forested canopies along the winding Logan River. The canyon boasts more than 400 bolted rock climbs, dozens of hiking trails, family-owned Beaver Mountain Ski Resort, fly fishing, snowmobiling and mountain biking.
Bear Lake Beauty
One glimpse of Bear Lake and you'll know why it's known as the Caribbean of the Rockies. Its intense turquoise water spans 20 miles long and 8 miles wide and you won't find better boating, sailing, water-skiing, jet-skiing or wakeboarding anywhere. Feel the rod-bending excitement of a Bear Lake cutthroat on the end of your fishing line. Sail off into the sunset. Sip a famous fresh raspberry milkshake. Try horseback riding, hiking and cycling. Perfect temperatures make for perfect days of golf at three challenging courses. During winter months you can't beat the rush of snowmobiling on more than 300 miles of groomed trails in powder that's ranked in the Top 10 best snowmobiling destinations in the country. Explore America's past and discover the stories of the hearty souls who settled this area. Don't miss Minnetonka Cave—a fascinating 9-room cave of stalactites, stalagmites and banded travertine. The Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge is located on the north shore of Bear Lake. Idaho and Utah State Parks provide stunning scenery as a backdrop to beautiful Bear Lake.
North of the Border
The Idaho side of the Bear River Heritage Area provides plenty of adventures as well. From Bear Lake, head to Montpelier to visit the National Oregon-California Trail Center,where you'll interact with costumed guides who depict some of the thousands who traversed the 2,000 miles of the Oregon/California Trails. Journey north to Soda Springs to sip some of their famous naturally carbonated soda water. The Chesterfield Townsite ghost town is well worth the half-hour drive. Tours are available during the summer and many of the buildings are being restored.
"The Bear River Heritage Area is a great getaway and really shows visitors that Utah is more than just red rock," Hammer said. Call 1-800-882-4433 or visit topofutah.org for more information.
Top of Utah Recreation
Spots throughout the Bear River Heritage Area are loaded with outdoor recreation activities. Here are but a few to enjoy as you traverse this colorful and diverse "Top of Utah."
The 74,000 acre Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Brigham City has some of the most phenomenal waterbird watching in the country. The 12-mile auto tour loop is a great way to see this amazing oasis for over 200 species of waterfowl and shorebirds. White Pelicans, avocets, Black-necked Stilts, Grebes and Tundra Swans are but a few inhabitants. The Refuge's Wildlife Education Center features exhibits, a teaching lab, bookstore and guided tours.
Cache Valley has some of Utah's finest scenic cycling rides past small towns on sparsely traveled roadways along rivers and lakes, forested canopies and lush wildflower meadows. Three leading bike races are held annually in the Logan area – MS 150 Tour, Cache Classic and the grueling 200+ mile one-day LOTOJA over three mountain passes finishing in Jackson, Wyoming. Canoeing is popular in Cache Valley on the Bear River through the Cutler Wetland Maze. Several launch spots and rentals are available. The fascinating Wind Cave in Logan Canyon is a popular destination as is the Jardine Juniper, one of the largest of its species in existence. Getting to this monster of nature is a great eleven-mile round-trip hike, well worth the effort. Technical climbers know of the many bolted sport routes in Logan Canyon. Several trad routs are here as well, most rated 5.10 to 5.12.
From the top of Logan Canyon the panoramic view down to Bear Lake is awe-inspiring. 160 square miles of turquoise-blue waters span the Utah-Idaho border at this boating, water skiing and sailing venue. This resort area has many boat ramps, Bear Lake State Park Marina and several sandy beaches. Gentle breezes waft across the lake making afternoon sailing a pleasure. Spectacular sunsets put an exclamation mark on a great day on the water. A short drive north is Minnetonka Cave, a fairyland of stalagtites, stalagmites and banded travertine. The ascent up a long stairway rewards the climber at the top. Guided tours available.
The Bear River Heritage Area stretches into Southeast Idaho. Here there's more than 1000 miles of groomed trails, much if it designated non-motorized for mountain biking, hiking, backpacking and horseback riding. The most impressive is the 55-mile Highline Trail traversing the mountain tops from Soda Springs to the Utah border on the south. At the end of a hard day, relax in one of the area's many hot springs.