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Who knew if you traveled 126 miles north from Salt Lake City International Airport that you would find yourself face to face with a wonderful destination known as the "Caribbean Rockies"? On a recent trip to a land far, far away (from my home in Charlotte, NC), I stumbled upon the most breath-taking destination this area has to offer: Bear Lake, Utah.

Bear Lake covers about 109 square miles split between the states of Idaho and Utah. The lake color transitions to differing shades of blue, green, and deep aquamarine depending on the weather, the wind, and the time of day. It is a hidden jewel that you don't need a passport to experience. I spent 4 days mesmerized by the quiet, cheeriness of the local community, nursing a craving for raspberry shakes. And I was left thinking about the lake views several days after my return home.

Driving On the WOW Side

Arriving by car from the Salt Lake City airport, you can drive to Bear Lake through the scenic byway-highway 89.

Highway 89 itself leaves you awe-struck as it twists around carved natural limestone walls set on each side of the road. You recognize the marvellous beauty surrounding you which leaves you expecting even more exquisiteness up ahead. I wasn't prepared for the sight of limestone to leave me at a loss for words -- which virtually never happens while I'm awake.

Bear Lake Beach, Garden City, Utah.
Bear Lake Beach, Garden City, Utah. Photo Credit: Desiree Rew.

Mouthing "this is beautiful" several times on the 40 miles of interstate, I was detoxing from the stress of mundane existence with each repetition. You can't help taking it all in. I suppose they don't call it the scenic route for nothing. Along the way, there were opportunities to stop to see and listen to rushing water. Also a few placed to fish and entrance to what looked like a hikeable pathway. The drive turned out to be treasure trove of little adventures.

You can find the best views of Bear Lake on the Logan Canyon Scenic Byway at the Bear Lake Overlook. Here you will not merely have a panoramic view of the Lake in all its grandeur, but you'll learn about the original Indian settlers, how Bear Lake received its name, the tie between the fur industry and Bear Lake, and so much more. This is not a place you stop for a brief aerial view. You meander and study all the informative material as if you are examining an exhibit in the galleries of a museum.

Garden City, Utah: Small Town Big Fun

Highway 89 will likewise lead you to Garden City, which is the self-professed Raspberry Shake Capital of the West. This was the intended destination, however, never having visited Garden City before, I didn't know entirely what to expect. When you reach Garden City (with a US Census estimated population of 596), at first glimpse you may think, "What in the world is there to do here?"

Well, if you look around, the answer to your query will most likely be to have a raspberry shake. There's someone to make you a shake at every intersection in town. And the verbiage on just about every sign in a three block radius will offer you an inkling as to what flavor shake you should buy. Made with vanilla soft serve ice cream and fresh raspberries, it's tough to resist trying at least one. You won't need a straw because the shakes are so thick that the spoon will be your utensil of choice.

Raspberry Shake. Quick and Tasty, Garden City, Utah.
Raspberry Shake. Quick and Tasty, Garden City, Utah. Photo Credit: Desiree Rew

Now, if you visit Garden City in the first week of August, you may get to experience the annual Bear Lake Raspberry Days. This 4-day festival hosts family fun activities including a rodeo, dances, a beauty contest, fireworks, and a pancake breakfast. Who doesn't embrace a city that cherishes and respects raspberries so very much?

Don't assume the raspberry shakes are the only cool thing Garden City has to provide. This small township possesses its own "Broadway", in the form of the Pickleville Playhouse. Established before the town of Pickleville merged with Garden City, this family owned and operated live theatre casts local talent to perform its annual productions. Patrons from all over come to see the musical productions of Shrek, Hairspray, Tarzan, and Who Shot Juanito Bandito.

You can hear the gut-busting laughter outside the front doors and at the tables of the Pickleville Grill, which is conveniently located next door. You can order from the western barbecue menu before Who Shot Juanito Bandito plays or sample the Mexican fiesta menu before taking in Tarzan. It is the ideal dinner and a show date night, where flip flops and shorts are the basic attire.

If dinner and a play is not your idea of a fun vacation and you require more activity, you have plenty to choose from. Garden City has wonderful beaches, state parks, water sports, and fishing. Access to equipment is convenient and obtainable through rental facilities and at the beach. There is no shortage of ways to play.

Garden City turned out to be my box of chocolates. I didn't know what I would get, but I enjoyed everything I tried.

Pickleville Playhouse, Garden City, Utah
Pickleville Playhouse, Garden City, Utah. Photo Credit: Desiree Rew.
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