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Bear Lake Scenic Byway: Out of Utah Into Wyoming

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My route from the Kamas Camp to the Bear Lake Scenic Byway and into Idaho.

My route from the Kamas Camp to the Bear Lake Scenic Byway and into Idaho.

After my last trip up the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway, it was time to finally leave Utah. I’d been in the state for nearly 6 weeks which is very unusual for me to spend that long in one state during the summer. I laid out a plan to leave by hitting the Bear Lake Scenic Byway, which was the last one I had on my list.  To get there I had to  drive north on Interstate 15 and then cut across to the town of  Logan, UT where I took Highway 89 across the mountains and dropped down to Bear Lake. I’d heard often how beautiful this drive was so I was very excited to finally get to drive it.  Once I dropped down to Bear Lake I’d stay on 89 and take it north to the Idaho Border where I would stay on it and cut across the southeast corner of Idaho and enter Wyoming and follow 89 north to Jackson, Wyoming. I’d use that as a base camp to explore both Grand Teton NP and then head north to Yellowstone NP. All together that was going to be a very long day so I knew I would need to break it into two days and camp one night somewhere in Idaho and then head up to Jackson the next day.
The trip was uneventful but I must say I was disappointed with the drive as a Scenic Byway–I didn’t think it was all that special. There was almost no ruggedness or majesty to the mountains. I was never once tempted to find a place to pull over  and take a photo. I only stopped  one time at the Bear Lake Overlook and let Cody out for a walk and to get online. Bear Lake is a very beautiful lake from above but the rest of the drive was nothing special.
Interstate 80 heading west toward Salt Lake city through the Wasatch Front Range.

Interstate 80 heading west toward Salt Lake city through the Wasatch Front Range.

The drive was very pleasant and pastoral through the farming areas and Logan was a very appealing college town but as far as truly beautiful mountain scenery it was  just not there. This is not what I think of when I think of the Rocky Mountains! From, Bear Lake north is a very nice pastoral drive but it seems like every 5-10 miles you come to some teeny-tiny town with a 25 MPH speed limit–that gets old fast!
Finally it was getting late and time to find a place to set up camp. Before I set out on any drive where I know that I’ll have to find a camp along the way I get out both my DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer and Benchmark Road and Recreation Atlas that cover the area and look for where the route drives through a National Forest (NF). After I find the NF I look for large or major Forest Roads (FR)  that go a long way back in them.  The bigger and longer the road the better because that creates more possibilities of finding dispersed camping. One other thing I look for is a broad flat valleys because steep, narrow roads are beautiful but they make it difficult to find a level camp. Get the Benchmark or DeLorme Atlas for your states here: Benchmark Road & Recreation State Atlas DeLorme Atlas and Gazetter
Looking down on Br Lake from the Bear Lake Overlook.

Looking down on Bear Lake from the Bear Lake Overlook.

Once in Idaho, Highway 89 passed through the Caribou Targhee National Forest in the far bottom southeast corner of the state and I found Forest Road 111 which was a very long, major road so I was fairly sure I would find dispersed camping on it. This part of Idaho is mostly high plains which means it is sagebrush country with big rolling hills. As I turned off of 89, you come almost immediately to the Montpelier Reservoir which is a big lake that’s stocked with fish so there were lots of people fishing along it’s bank. I was very encouraged to see that there was a free campground very near the road with a few sites on the lake. Surprisingly, it wasn’t full and I could have camped there, but I prefer to be alone in nature so I kept going down the road looking for a better place.
My camp on FR 111.

My camp on FR 111.

It was getting late and I driven about 10 miles down this dirt Forest Road so I took the first place I came to–it wasn’t a great campsite but it would do. Cody and I took our usual evening walk and a mile or so up the road we came to a much nicer campsite further off the road in the woods, but I didn’t want to bother moving camp so I just marked the GPS coordinates and we went back to camp. I suspect there are many other good campsite the further you go but I didn’t go further to know for sure.
Like it had been all spring, the weather had been very erratic on this drive so as we were walking back rain clouds came in and dropped a light rain on us, fortunately we got back to the van before it got heavy. The good thing about it was that we got a pretty little rainbow out of it.
Rainbow over the sagebrush in Idaho's Caribou Targhee NF.

Rainbow over the sagebrush in Idaho’s Caribou Targhee NF.

We spent a pleasant night there and the next day we left and headed off to begin our exploration of Wyoming. Before I close though, let me give you some final thoughts on my time in Utah.

  • First, I believe that Utah is probably the most beautiful state in the country. I know that is a bold statement and you can make a counter-argument that every state has some way in which it is more beautiful than Utah. I can’t argue with that, but I’m talking about the overall state, and even more the variety of beauty in the state.  In the entire country, there is nothing like the five National Parks in Utah and the roads that connect them. If you want to see that kind of country, you MUST go to Utah because it doesn’t exist anywhere in the whole world! Two of the most uniquely, astonishingly beautiful places in the country are in Arizona, but you enter them from Utah so I think of them as part of Utah: Monument Valley and the Wave. If that’s all the beauty it had to offer, that might not be enough to say it’s the most beautiful, but, as we’ve seen in these mountain posts, Utah has an abundance of traditionally beautiful forests and mountains. The only thing it’s missing is ocean coastline which would reduce it in many peoples minds, but not in mine. Beautiful coast lines are a dime a dozen, Utah’s Red Rock country is totally unique to Utah.
  • Second, in all my travels I believe the nicest group of people I’ve run across are in Utah. I’ve spent enough time there that I’ve had flat tires and breakdowns and been in need and without exception the people I encountered were kind, honest and generous. Beyond that there are normal, daily interactions with others in stores and on the road and in general life, and overall, Utah people are just simply nicer than most! Of course you have to associate that with the heavy Mormon presence in the state. I am not a religious person, in fact I have specifically rejected religion in my life, and what little I know about Mormonism makes me think it’s a little nutty, but I can’t argue with the fruit because they really are good people. I’m not going to become a Mormon, but I am going to strive to be more like them!

So that’s the end of my Utah travels, next I move onto Wyoming and then Montana and Idaho. The best is yet to come!



  1. Calvin R

    I suspect we have different taste in scenery. Pleasant and pastoral with a little town every 5-10 miles works pretty well for me. Spectacular scenery is rewarding, but serenity makes a stronger steady diet for me. That would be even better if I end up on a bicycle, which is looking more likely right now. However, I’ll stop at the Utah border. I have friends who have seen other facets of the Mormons, and I’m better off not going there. I look forward to Wyoming and the balance of your trip.

    • Bob

      Fortunately, there are lots of places where you can get both kinds of scenery and in the same place. Too bad you can’t go into Utah, you’ll miss lots of great scenery. But we have to do what we have to do.

  2. JimS

    I agree, Bob. While I love Colorado, my favorite part is the western slope. It’s a great introduction to what is Utah and the Southwest. The eastern Wasatch and Uinta mtns are now on my to-see list. Thanks for sharing.
    Glad you had great experiences with the people. As a long haired hippy-type from Colorado, I tend to get a chilly reception from locals and law enforcement.

    • Bob

      Jim, I’m a fairly long-haired hippy type myself with a pretty long beard and I’m never all that well dressed. Cleanliness is not one of my strengths. I’m very surprised how little resistance I’ve gotten for it. But, I work hard to always have a smile and a pleasant attitude, I think that helps.

      • JimS

        Yeah, you seem to be a friendly cuss, and I think that can make a big difference. I just don’t like the snide little comments I get implying I’m a pot-head.
        Of course, I’m sure that has nothing to do with the “Got Weed?” bumper sticker on my truck. 🙂

        • Bob

          Age is a big part of it too, I’m an old guy so not very threatening.
          I used to have an atheist friend who had a “Ask me about Jesus” bumper sticker on his van–no one bothered him!

  3. Chuck

    Car camped from Denver to Seattle out of a Toyota Celica with a ‘turtle’ on top for gear. Left in early August and arrived Seattle mid-September. Saw more intense beauty in that short trip and it has lasted me a long time. That was 30 years ago. Utah was so unexpectedly amazing that we slowed way down and just drank it in.
    I have to agree with you regarding Utah. I have lived in and traveled all over Alaska; Camped in Bavaria and around in the Alps; Camped in Montana, Idaho, a lot of Washington State and Oregon, California; though I haven’t been to Yosemite yet, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, Yukon Territory and the Canadian Rockies, and every place has had jaw dropping spectacular vistas; but Utah, WOW!

    • Bob

      You’ve lived quite a life Chuck, good for you!

  4. Offroad

    Great posting to relish what the 4th is about. This beautiful country.

    • Bob

      Indeed, Offroad!

  5. jeff johnston

    I agree on Utah’s stunning beauty. I’m taking my new(used) Transit connect up to Michigan’s Porcupines Mountains region by Lake Superior for a while. No comparison to Rocky Mountains, but it’s the next best thing.Mormon beliefs are out there, but they are very sweet people.Jeff the Nomad

    • Bob

      Enjoy your trip, nature loves and heals where ever you go into it.

  6. David Daniel

    Have to relate (one of) my great Utah stories.
    Somewhere back in the 80’s I was driving between Colorado and LA when my alternator started to fail. I limped into the town of Beaver, Utah late on a Friday night, finding the only service station (remember those) open.
    The mechanic understood my situation and went WAY out of his way to fix my problem – even calling his friend who owned the parts store in town to open up and get a new alternator for my car.
    As he worked under the hood, we talked quite a bit about life…as one does in those situations. I liked this guy.
    When the time came to settle up and move along, I told him how absolutely pleasant it was to have met him – even if under poor circumstances.
    His response has stayed with me ever since…
    “I identified myself as a Mormon to you… I may be the only Mormon you will ever meet and, justified or not, your entire opinion of the Mormon Church will be based on me. It is my responsibility to best person I can be so that I reflect well on my religion.”
    As with you, I actively reject religion in my life.. but I can’t argue with his logic… and have taken that in my travels abroad… I may be the only American that a person will even meet. Justified or not, their opinion of Americans will be based on my actions… who I am.. what I do… how I carry myself. It is up to me to be the best American I can be… that is my responsibility.
    Happy Independence Day… Independent from all of the ‘normal’ societal dictates of the American lifestyle.. Freedom to be who we want to be, not who we have to be!

    • Bob

      Thanks so much Daniel, what a wonderful story! It matches my experience.

  7. T

    Thank you for taking us through Utah with you; it is truly beautiful country. I am SO looking forward to the Wyoming portion of your trip. And Montana!! Your blog is my only link to the outside world much of the time, so I’m always thrilled to see a new post. Safe travels.

    • Bob

      Thanks T! Lots of campgrounds in both, maybe next year you can be there!

      • T

        That’s the plan as of right now. The best part of this lifestyle is that I could end up just about anywhere I choose! Thanks again, Bob.

  8. Teri Live Oak, Fl

    Love when you post. Makes my day. Working on our camper van as I write this. Thanks

    • Bob

      Thanks Teri! I wish you the very best with that van!

  9. jeff johnston

    Grateful Dead is currently playing in my neck of the woods (Chicago). Thought I saw your van parked by the stadium but I must be mistaken.Luv your posts Bob! Jeff the Nomad.

    • Bob

      Sorry Jeff, that wasn’t me. I can’t imagine the circumstances that would have me in Chicago!

  10. Kyndal

    Hey Bob!! It’s so funny bc we have been roaming around each other (or least we were earlier in May!) We are doing the Mighty 5 this Summer, having already done Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and briefly Bryce Canyon….we still have more of Bryce to do and Zion is next in about a month! I have to agree with you, never coming to Utah before this Summer, the people are so extremely nice (especially around Salt Lake City) and it has to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. The differences between this mile to that mile are so vast and spectacular! We are loving it and so glad to be out in the wild this Summer instead of working! We love you and will see you in a few months! <3

    • Bob

      Kyndal, I saw you guys! The day I left Moab and headed toward Bryce, I passed you! Your rig is hard to miss so I saw you coming! I thought about turning around and catching up with you but I had been in Moab too long and it was time for me to go.
      See you in a month or two!

  11. LaMarr Harding

    Having been born and raised in The Salt Lake Valley, I guess I don’t appreciate the beauty that is here.
    I’m still finding treasures, Next time you come through Salt Lake the smallest State Park is a back yard called Gilgal Gardens on fifth south just east of 7th east.
    I’m always on the look out for Hot springs, At Bear Lake the hot springs are at the north end.

    • Bob

      LaMarr, I think most of us don’t really appreciate the beauty of where we grow up. Thanks for all the tips.

  12. Eric Curtis

    Hey Bob glad you enjoyed Utah, back in 2001 i had the opportunity too leave Chicago and live and work in Bountiful Utah, you are right the people there are real friendly, coming from Chicago where the bulk of the people are rude and unsocial, Utah was a breath of fresh air and the scenery even in the suburbs was more spectacular than anything you could ever see in the ”armpit of the country” Illinois! But in my opinion Arizona is the place to be, I love the heat and desert and cannot tolerate winter at all due to arthritis in my lower spine, anyway love your openness and way of life I currently bought a 2001 plain Jane GMC pickup put a high rise cap on it got a little bumper hitch cargo carrier to mount a generator on and am in the process of rigging up a small window air conditioner to a tailgate insert that holds the A/C unit but requires no alteration in the tailgate, Its amazing and fun to see all the ingenuity people have devised on there home spun travel rigs, I’m 49 years old now and have seen the detriment of the society driven life and i don’t want it any longer so here i go ! hope to run into you some day.

    • Bob

      Eric, I also love Arizona and spend more time there than anywhere else. Sounds like you have a great plan there. I hope you can drop by the RTR this year in Quartzite, love to see your rig!

  13. Less Stuff

    I sure agree with your view of Utah.
    Having been born and raised in the Salt Lake City area the beauty and variety of Utah was known to me from experience.
    In my youth some Park City land could be had for taxes. My scout troop hiked the Escalante river canyon before Lake Powell, the Escalante wasn’t even fully mapped back then.
    Broke my arm on a camping trip to Zion when I was about 6. I’m 72 now.
    So for a long time I wondered when Utah would be discovered.
    Well it sure has.
    Your commentary brought back lots of fond memories.
    A stint in the Navy instilled a love for the ocean and now we live near Puget Sound.
    But still love Utah and return often.
    Working on my second simpler rubber tramp rig now.
    Wife won’t give up our home and I won’t give up her, but travel is still a passion.
    I’ve been from Japan to Russia and never found anything quite like Utah. But it was home for 30 years.

    • Bob

      Less Stuff, it sounds like you’ve lived a long and wonderful; you are a luck man!

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