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Oregon Trail-Bear Lake Scenic Byway

111.3 miles (179 km)
Allow 2.5 hours
Only at the attractions along the way.


Skirting the west side of Bear Lake to Freedom, Wyoming, the Oregon Trail - " Bear Lake Scenic Byway promises a trip through early western history along turquoise-blue lakes and mountain scenery in southeastern Idaho. As it passes by historic towns, expansive wheat fields, and inviting national forests and recreation areas, the route beckons to both outdoor adventurers and enthusiasts of times past.

History permeates the area, calling to mind the struggles of American pioneers heading west to seek freedom and opportunity. At the National Oregon/California Trail Center in Montpelier, actors reenact these struggles for modern travelers among detailed exhibits and art displays. For a more hands-on experience, participate in the museum's "Travelin' West" adventure, which includes a computer-simulated wagon ride and a campfire chat. When you leave the Trail Center and head north, you'll encounter more pioneer history in towns like Hooper Springs, named for a natural mineral spring where early travelers rested from the rigors of the Trail.

The byway travels through mountain desert communities who depend upon the life-giving waters of this region for agriculture, tourism, and day-to-day life. On the southern end of the route, shimmering Bear Lake boasts 160 square miles worth of irresistible lake recreation and long sandy beaches. The lake is known as the - œCaribbean of the West, - ? and not just for its ever-changing palette of vivid blue-green waters. Its long, deep and sandy shoreline, marinas, festivals, towns and resorts attract beach-loving families and groups of friends. Farther north, catch some huge cutthroat trout while fly-fishing from the shores of the Blackfoot Reservoir, or add to your birding life list with sightings at Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

If getting wet in the byway waters isn't in your plans, two National Forests along the byway are chock-full of opportunities for other adventures. In winter, Wasatch-Cache and Caribou-Targhee National Forests have miles of snowmobile or cross-country ski trails and prime ice climbing conditions for backcountry explorers. Summertime draws a crowd to these public lands as well, though you'll always find quiet corners in these vast forests to mountain bike, rock climb, or camp with your family. To escape summer's heat, explore the cool depths of Minnetonka Cave on a guided tour, where the inside temperature is a constant 40-degrees summer or winter. Wildlife enthusiasts flock to the diverse landscapes and thriving ecosystems in these forests to hunt, fish, or photograph the local fauna.

From recreation havens like Bear Lake to the evidence of early American settlers, the Oregon Trail - " Bear Lake Scenic Byway packs a multitude of western experiences in its 113 miles. If you are in the area, stop by and visit.

Tourism Resources

Points of Interest

Points of Interest Along The Way

Bear River Massacre Site (ID)

This now peaceful valley is the site of one of the most tragic meetings of two cultures that the state has ever experienced. At 1 am on January 29, 1863, an infantry of soldiers with all their weapons moved through the snow drifts into position to attack a band of 450 Shoshoni men, women, and children that had camped along the banks of the Bear River. The troops began the attack at the crack of dawn just as the Shoshoni were lighting their first campfires. The Shoshoni lost nearly 275 people due to this cruel attack of the California Volunteers.

It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990 and is being considered for National Monument status. Currently, there is a pullout marked by a stone monument. Several brass plaques and markers relate the history of the event. An overlook, with parking, pathway, and interpretive signs, will be in place, across the Bear River, by June 2006.

Black Canyon Gorge (ID)

This beautiful gem of the byway could be easily passed oroverlooked if travelers aren't already aware of it. The BlackCanyon Gorge is just one mile west of Grace and offers display of abasalt lava flow combined with the effects of nature over time. TheBear River fomed the canyon as it cut through a series of lavaflows.

A worthwhile site on the byway, the Black Canyon Gorge alsooffers recreational opportunities. Anglers and kayakers especiallylike to take advantage of the gorge.

Caribou-Targhee National Forest (ID)

The Caribou-Targhee National Forest occupies over three million acres and stretches across southeastern Idaho, from the Montana, Utah, and Wyoming borders. Activities include mountain biking, hiking, camping, rock climbing, and mountain boarding.

Chesterfield (ID)

Established in 1879, this historic community on the Oregon Trail is a well preserved example of a small Mormon settlement. The town site features 23 historic buildings, many of them brick, built between 1884 and 1904. The community was abandoned in the 1920s due to crop failures in theharsh climate. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Chesterfield Foundation is working on site and building restoration.

China Hat Geological Site (ID)

China Hat and China Cap are rhyolite domes that formed around older lava flows. There are many faults located in the area which have had a part in forming these landforms as well as multiple "grabens." "Graben" is the German word for "ditch" or "trench." What the travelersees is depressions created on the earth's surfacewhen blocks of crust drop down. Stop at China Hat for a picnic anda deep exploration of your surroundings.

Fish Haven (ID)

Visitors will find information about Bear Lake at this lake shore town.


Highway 89 on the west shore of Bear Lake

Formation Springs Preserve (ID)

The unique geology of this area makes it a fascinating stop onthe Byway. In 1989, 160-acres surrounding Formation Springs wasturned into a preserve. The preserve features crystal pools and awetland complex at the base of Aspen Mountain.

The terraced pools at Formation Springs are formed by coldsprings that feed into them and deposit high concentrations ofcalcium carbonate. The pools are a place to stay for winteringwildlife, and provide a natural point of interest both geologicallyand biologically. The preserve also include Formation Cave thatstretches for 500 feet. Visitors may want to do a little spelunkingat Formation Springs.

Franklin Historic District (ID)

Driving through this little Idaho town, you may not even notice the historic streets beyond the highway/mainstreet of Frankin. But drivers who take a slight detour will be rewarded. Settled in 1860 by Mormon pioneers, Franklin is the oldest town in Idaho and will treat visitors to the sights of the past through its architecture. Travelers will notice the Relic Hall, ZCMI Co-op, the Hatch House, the old City Hall, and the Franklin City Park.

Visitors may also find the distinct Pioneer Monument, a stone spire topped by an eagle that was erected in 1910 to honor the settlers of this territory. One of the last Yellowstone Markers is found here as well. These boulders featured an arrow welded to the top to point the way to Yellowstone National Park. As you continue your drive through Franklin, notice the hill to the west and its tribute to the year Franklin was settled.

Geyser Park and Visitor Center (ID)

Soda Springs has the only captive geyser in the world. It wasdiscovered in an attempt to find a hot water source for a swimmingpool. In 1937, the drill broke through and unleased the geyser.

Unlike Old Faithful or many other geysers, this geyser is a coldwater geyser. Its power comes from carbon dioxide gas mixing withwater in an underground chamber.

The geyser is capped and controlled by a timer. It erupts everyhour on the hour in the off-season, though they may adjust it toerupt every half-hour in the regular season. The spout lasts about10 minutes, and reaches a height of 100 feet year round.


Soda Springs, Idaho

Grace (ID)

This community was settled in 1889 and is central to many nearby points of interest.


111.3 miles (179 km)
Allow 2.5 hours
Main Roads:
US-30 W and ID-34 E
Only at the attractions along the way.

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