Underwriting provided by:
The Laura Moore Cunningham
Foundation

Bear Lake, Caribbean of the Rockies

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Sparkling on the Idaho-Utah border, is a lake bathed in bold shades of blue.

“It’s beautiful,’ says David Longfellow, Bear Lake fisherman. “How could you not like something as gorgeous as Bear Lake.”

Bear Lake’s 208 feet of well-known blue is the result of limestone in the surrounding mountains. Much of what’s in the lake is ground water; and as it passes over the limestone, calcium carbonate, which is white, dissolves, reflecting the natural blue color of water.

“We have many stakeholders we work with to make sure it does stay pristine and blue and clean,” says Connely Baldwin, Rocky Mountain Power hydrologist. “We work hard to keep it that way.”

Tent Camping at Bear Lake, IdahoKris Millgate
Raspberries from Bear Lake, IdahoKris Millgate

Bear Lake’s blue supplies weekend fun for families with is remarkable blend of hydrology and geology. Crowds invade the shoreline to camp, fish and eat Bear Lake’s famous raspberries.

But long before recreation graced these shores, irrigation and industry dropped anchor here. The complicated ream of century-old regulations, which include hydropower as a residual bonus, make Bear Lake essentially a holding tank.

Sunset at Bear Lake, Idaho, Caribbean of the RockiesKris Millgate

Most of Bear Lake is natural and has been for centuries, but the top 21 feet is man-made making the lake one of the nation’s few hybrids: part natural lake, part man-made reservoir. The water farmers rely on runs low toward the end of the growing season so the Bear River is diverted into the lake during spring runoff then held there until it is pumped back out for late summer irrigation across 150,000 acres of farmland.

The lake also hosts sizeable Bonneville cutthroat trout and other fish found nowhere else in the world which multi-state managers keep close tabs on.

Bear Lake Bonneville Cutthroat TroutKris Millgate

Bear Lake is a multitasking workhorse with demands coming from a range of users in several counties across multiple states and the wear and tear of such varied work is starting to show.

“It looks so tranquil and well, but there is trouble brewing over the long haul if we don’t manage well,” says Claudia Cottle, Bear Lake Watch executive director.

As water levels decrease and vacationing crowds increase, Bear Lake’s value becomes as rare as its color.

Outdoor Idaho dives into the bluest water you’ll find in the West. Bear Lake, the Caribbean of the Rockies.

Sunrise Bear Lake during WinterKris Millgate