Bear Lake, Utah In August - My Family Travels

Travel back through time to Bear Lake, for an annual family ritual of berry-picking and canning next year's raspberry jam.

There are no traffic lights in Garden City, Utah. There are no airports, there are no glamorous spas and the closest resemblance to a McDonald’s is the local Quick ‘N’ Tasty, which features the local treat – the “Bear Lake Monster Burger.”

What is the allure of such a non-commercial place? I have been going to Garden City-more affectionately called Bear Lake (nicknamed after the lake that separates Utah from Idaho) – every summer for the past 10 years. Nearly every summer I can remember includes the glimmer of Bear Lake’s sparkling waves and the taste of the freshest, juiciest raspberries you or I will ever eat. Known locally for its raspberries, Garden City is home to the Annual Bear Lake Raspberry Days celebration.

Typically, these festivities take place over the first long weekend in August, beginning on Wednesday and culminating in a host of events on Saturday. For me and most other veteran Raspberry-Day attendees, Bear Lake Raspberry Days is a summer getaway of three days for celebrating raspberries, the lake, life, and family.

Each year, the journey to Bear Lake begins when we leave mainstream America, which for our part is Salt Lake City Airport or, occasionally, my grandmother’s winter home in suburban Bountiful, Utah. We prepare for the three-and-a-half hour car ride by letting the dog do her last running around for awhile, and by making sure to get the traditional Louis L’Amore audio-tapes.

Last summer was the first time I was the driver and experienced first-hand what driving through Logan Canyon really means. “Be sure to leave well before dark,” my mother warned me, reminding me about the bad experience we once had driving at night, when an elk totaled our minivan. We usually leave with plenty of time ahead to make a stop along Highway 89 and get fruit off one of the many stands along the old state road just north of Ogden. Grandma always makes me knock the watermelons and find the good one, because “I was never good at it,” she says. Normally we like to pick out fresh nectarines and apricots, which are in season, but we ignore the raspberries, because we know where we can find some better ones. The next stop in our annual routine is Macey’s grocery store in Logan, where my cousin Claire and I hit the bulk candy aisle while Grandma stocks up on groceries for the cabin.

We usually arrive in Garden City around mid-afternoon Wednesday so that we can stay for the full weekend of activities. I catch my breath every time we reach the bend in the road where we can see the lake, with its patches of darker shades of blue and its waves glittering like diamonds on clear days and the white clouds that look like huge tufts of cotton-candy aloft. (Their shadow is the true origin of the darker blue patches in the lake, not “ink-spills” as we locals like to trick people into believing). It all rushes back to me, the quaint feel of this “city” with two gas stations and its only chain fast-food place that arrived last summer, Subway, which makes me cringe every time I walk past and see customers eating there.

What We Come For: Family Time

In years past the days would start early, beginning with getting on our grungiest clothing and strapping on buckets from empty gallons of ice cream around our waists. This getup was all a part of the excuse for going to Garden City – for us and many residents of Utah, Idaho, and adventurers from other regions of the country – to pick raspberries. There were several patches where owners would let you pick as much as you could for a price, or even hire you to pick for them. We would sneak and eat an occasional one of the larger, juicier berries, in between plopping them in the buckets, making sure to fill them to the brim. After all, we did want full buckets so that we would have plenty of berries to help Grandma make raspberry jam. The kitchen would smell like raspberries for days and our faces would get raspberry freckles from mashing berries so assiduously.

The past few years, sadly, have lacked these enjoyable activities because a virus spread to a majority of the patches and so picking raspberries is not as easy as it once was. Locals are working to bring the berries back to their former glory. This setback has not deterred us from enjoying Bear Lake and all of its possibilities for adventure, and it certainly has not prevented Garden City from glorifying the raspberry. Thus between the activities planned and sponsored by the community and the promises the town itself holds for pastimes, making decisions on what to do can be overwhelming.

Water activities can fill up a summer’s worth of days, from swimming, to jetskiing, to renting a boat, to building sandcastles. (Equipment rentals are available at several locations, although many visitors park alongside the road and swim in the water that is not on the property of the state park or the local resort.) I usually dedicate at least one full day to swimming and enjoying the lake’s atmosphere.

Although I never spend time on a green, there is the Bear Lake West Golf course for the golf fans. I do find myself tempted, however, by the several curiosity, antiques, crafts, and other shops filled with local color that are in town and I find myself browsing and spending time and money in them. From the “I Love Bear Lake” T-shirts, to the raspberry scented candles, the stores capture the traditions of Bear Lake, northern Utah, and Idaho.

For an evening outing, one of our nights is dedicated to seeing the annual summer Pickleville Playhouse production. For us it is especially enjoyable because one of my dad’s cousin’s husband’s family owns the community theatre, so in years past we have been related to some of the performers. The shows are always great melodramas or musicals with elements of pure comedy and slapstick entertainment. Dinner is included in the price of the ticket, so that gives Grandma and other vacationers a chance not to have to worry about planning a meal. Every year there is an act that the whole family will particularly appreciate, when the cousins-the grandkids and great-grandkids of the owners – put on their own skits.

Even those who usually shy away from exercise or agriculture enjoy a night at the rodeo where all sorts of tricks and feats are performed, and of course there are the lovely Rodeo Princesses of all ages who are celebrated at the rodeo. And if a vacationer wants to stay up later than grandma and the younger cousins, or the tired parents, there is the local dance hall, set up in a transformed barn, where lights and popular music entertain both local and vacationing teenagers.

Raspberry Day Festival Events

My younger cousin Claire and I make sure to stop at least once at the Raspberry Days Craft Fair, located at the heart of town. We never miss finding it, as cars with plates from Utah, Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada, Wyoming and Colorado line the street, and we usually enjoy playing a good round of the license plate game. Hitting each other playfully for every out-of-state plate we see, we arrive at the Fair and usually make one round of the tents. There are dozens of them filled with homemade soaps, crafts, clothes, furniture, fine jewelry, and Native American art and crafts. Surveying the options and our resources, we are usually able to make our smart-shopper’s purchases. Often, we decide we want to come back one last time, maybe several times throughout the weekend, tempted by that purse or candle we really wanted to get.

Of course, we need sustenance to maintain our strength while browsing through the tents. Our stomachs and noses are attracted to the stands of fresh, melt-in-your-mouth Kettle Korn popcorn and raspberry lemonade and raspberry sundaes. In years past, when we had male cousins tagging along and complaining about shopping, they would be entertained by the trampoline bungee setup and other carnival-type amusements. The adults usually enjoy the shade of the covered seating and stage where locals perform various acts throughout the day.

The next day, if we are not up for the beach, or if we’re feeling more adventurous there are trails for hiking or horseback riding that take us through the untrodden parts of Garden City, up some of the mountains and through the Quaking Aspens. When we feel especially athletic, or full from eating one too many sweets during our stay, we head to the bike path.

The path meanders alongside 10 miles of the lake through town, proving a scenic setting for this picturesque town in the mountains. While Grandma and the adults walk the dog, or while the dog leads them to almost catching up to us, we pedal the low-to-the-ground cart that seats two passengers and try to keep ahead of them. Rentals are available for this cart and many kinds of bikes and riders.

Saturday morning is a time to rise early, but not to make breakfast. It is a time to get bags for collecting candy and necklaces from the many floats in the parade later on in the day. And time to get chairs, sunscreen and umbrellas to block out the sun. The Annual Boy Scout Pancake breakfast is held at the church from 9am to noon. It’s nothing fancy, but the anticipation of candy and colorful Mardi Gras bead necklaces – and the thought that the money is going toward a year of activities for growing boys – keeps us sated. We know not to expect anything too fancy from these 12 to18-year-old boys, but tradition and the by-now familiar faces make the pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, orange juice and milk seem like something extra special. Maybe it’s the fact that they have homemade Raspberry Jam for the pancakes and people say “Hi!” to Grandma as she introduces us to familiar faces who say, “I remember you when you were this high,” pointing to their waists (even though it was probably just the year before when I saw them last).

Garden City is this place where time moves slower, and you can take the time to remember and enjoy the simple things like raspberries, pancake breakfasts, and jewelry won from a parade.

Following the breakfast, the locals and vacationers who came to enjoy the culmination of a three-day celebration of a lovely fruit, the Raspberry Day Parade awaits. The local high school marching band and cheerleading squad march every year, as well as community stores and organizations, and the rodeo princesses trot on by. Not to disappoint, there’s usually sure to be at least one float featuring the local myth, the Bear Lake Monster.

After the parade is over and we have made sure we have gotten everything we need from the craft fair, like the present we get for Grandma every year, we head back to the cabin. Later on in the evening we savor Bear Lake’s classic raspberry shakes, from our personal favorite La Beau’s, and look out the window to see the boats lit up that appear tiny from far away on the lake. The lights are distant from our cabin on the hill and the next day it will be time to make our journey back to the real world of schedules, time frames, traffic lights and people who don’t take the time to share family histories.

But in reflecting on the weekend’s activities, relishing it all, it’s almost like summer can be defined in that moment, where safety is felt in the comfort of tradition.

Details, Details

For general information about the Annual Bear Lake Raspberry Days Festival and details on boating rentals, horseback riding, fishing, camping and places to stay, and other visitor information, the following websites and telephone numbers are useful:
Over the course of the weekend, other Raspberry Days events include the Berry Miss Pageant for girls ages 4 to 6 who compete for the title “Berry Miss” and then participate in the parade on one of the floats, and the Raspberry Days Race, which is held on Saturday before the pancake breakfast.

For information about golfing, contact the Bear Lake Golf Course (2176 South Bear Lake Blvd. in Garden City) by calling 435/946-8742. Boating Tours of Bear Lake are available through Bear Lake Day Rides (208/390-1356, 208/847-0605) located south of Harbor Village in Garden City. Summertime hay wagon and covered wagon rides, BBQ dinner and entertainment are available at Pioneering Adventures (208/945-3349, 801/451-2420), 220 West 2nd N. in Paris, Idaho between June and Labor Day.

The Ideal Beach Resort (435/946-8612) is located at 2176 So. Bear Lake Garden City.

Rendezvous Beach (435/946-2900) is on the south side of Bear Lake State Park in Laketown, Utah. For general visitor information, call 800/448-BEAR.

Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.