As the sun slowly set behind the silhouette of the nearby Wasatch Mountains, it dragged with it fiery orange and bright pink streaks that melted into the light blue sky and grew more intense as nature’s colorful light show dwindled to an end and darkness settled in. It was one of those unforgettable travel moments. The kind that you file away in your memory until a similar mind-blowing experience makes you reach back in, brush the dust off, and remember that time that you watched one of the most epic sunsets you’ve ever seen from the banks of a lake in northern Utah.
Unlike the epic sunset, the 9-hour drive to Bear Lake was mostly forgettable. Table top-shaped red rocks jetted out of the dry landscape that rolled alongside the miles and miles of highway that flat-line through the state of Wyoming—eventually connecting with one windy road that spits vehicles out of the rolling hills of northeastern Utah towards the vast waters of Bear Lake. One hundred and nine square miles in size, the sparkling turquoise waters of the lake stretch across the Utah and Idaho border and attract tourists in the region to the area with its beauty, beaches, and adorable lakeside towns whose lights drape across the lake at night.
It was beautiful sight, at first. Enamored by the brilliant color of the water and the string of picturesque lighthouses, I stopped my car at the first parking area that I could find, and ventured out over the rocks and sand that led to the warm lake waters. But as I continued north along the busy road that day that hugged parts of the shoreline, my heart started to sink. Here I was, in the middle of a solo road trip in my trusty Toyota 4Runner that I had proudly converted into my home-away-from-home for the week, and I had somehow found myself in the middle of the Jersey Shore of the west. As far as the eye could see, bathing suit-clad tourists lined up like sardines along the accessible stretches of lakeside beaches. They moved briskly along the sidewalks of the various lakeside towns—the largest boasting a population of a whopping 560-some people. As I drove north along the western side of the lake, my hopes and dreams of enjoying a can of campfire beans and finding a spot near the lake to crash for the night started to fade. It wasn’t until I crossed the Idaho border and stopped at a pretty appropriately named convenience store that my faith was restored. The older gentleman behind the counter at the store sent me off with a few needed provisions for the night, a 6-pack of Montana-made beer, and a map leading me to the east side of lake, where I pulled my car into the Cisco Beach campground, paid my $12/night camping fee, and backed my SUV into a campsite with a path leading down to the lake. I was thrilled. It was exactly what I was looking for. Even the the shrieks of nearby boaters on the lake couldn’t dampen my spirits.
The first dip of the sun was like a visual dinner bell, prompting everyone out and about on the lake to get dressed, collect the hoards of things they had brought to enjoy the beach, and head to the one of the numerous ice cream or burger joints around the lake where they waited in long lines for a taste of summer. All around me, abandoned tents flapped in the breeze. It was quiet. And calm. And I watched the night move in from a cozy rock along an empty beach a stone’s throw from my campsite. Beams of sunlight lit up the gem-colored waters moving the reflection of the bright sky along with each ripple. The finale played out in silence, only to be followed by the ignition of dozens of campfires lining the shores of the beach. For a moment, surrounded by sky and water and mountains, I wasn’t in a touristy town. I was heaven.
Favorite Playlist: Interstate Stash Express
This Colorado-based power trios puts forth the perfect blend of rock and obliterating guitar riffs that create the ultimate soundtrack for a long day on some of the regions loneliest roads.
Favorite Piece of Gear: Secur Bluetooth Lantern & Powerbank
I picked up this Bluetooth speaker, collapsable LED lantern and LED flashlight combination shortly before my trip, and I’m glad I did. In it’s folded state this product fits in the palm of your hand, making it incredibly convenient to bring on long backpacking trips, or to provide some tunes and light on a weekend camping trip. The lantern and flashlight capabilities were powerful and long-lasting (over a week without recharging in total). And the Bluetooth speaker streamed my favorite playlist with a great volume range and working distance of about 30 feet. At $59.99, this nifty gadget will quickly make it’s way into your adventures.
Favorite Campsite Brew: Big Sky Brewing Moose Drool
After nine hours of driving, a cold brew becomes a necessity and a accompaniment while setting up camp. A sixer of Big Sky Brewing’s Moose Drool Brown Ale really hit spot. Four different malts and four hop additions give this beer a lot of flavor while still retaining a light body and only 5.1% ABV.
Favorite Lodging: Cisco Beach Campground
Tucked into the relatively quite east side of the lake, Cisco Beach is located in Bear Lake State Park and offers a slew of camping spaces that run along the lakeside. If you go, plan on arriving early on in the day to secure a campsite with a path that leads down to the lake. Nightly campsite rental fees are $12.