About Bear Lake County
Bear Lake County covers 1,049 square miles in the southeast corner of Idaho, bordered by Utah on the south, and Wyoming on the east. Most of the county is in Bear Lake Valley. Bear Lake, for which the county is named, is a beautiful blue, 18-mile-long natural lake in the southern end of the valley. Half of the lake is in Bear Lake County, the other half in Utah.
Bear Lake Valley lies high in the Rocky Mountains, and the lowest elevations on the valley floor are just below 6,000 feet. Mountains rim the valley on all sides. The Bear River Range lies along the western side, and form the boundary of the county on that side. Also considered part of the Wasatch Mountains, they reach to elevations above 9,000 feet, and are covered by green forests of evergreens and quaking aspens. The climb from Bear Lake Valley is gradual, passing first through hills covered with grass and sagebrush. Paris Canyon, St. Charles Canyon, Fish Haven Canyon and North Canyon lead into these mountains.
On the east side of Bear Lake Valley the mountains only reach into the 7,000 foot range. Known as the Bear Lake Plateau, they are mainly covered with sagebrush and grass, with occasional groves of quaking aspens and scrub oak. The Thomas Fork Valley lies further to the east, being a sparsely populated farming area. The Wyoming border passes through the middle of this valley.
The Preuss Range of mountains lie on the northeast corner of the county, reaching to just under 10,000 feet at Meade Peak. They are covered in beautiful forests and alpine meadows, and can be accessed through Georgetown Canyon.
The Bear River flows into the northeast tip of the valley, coming from Wyoming to the west, and exits through a narrow valley to the north. Originally the river bypassed Bear Lake, but in order to make use of its water storage capacity, a canal was built to divert the lake, and another canal to return it to the river.
Many pioneers passed through this area on the Oregon Trail in the mid 1800s, following the Bear River. Mormon pioneers arrived in the 1860's, founding small towns around the valley. Due to the short growing season and harsh winters, the towns have changed little since their settlement. Montpelier, which lies on the route of the Oregon Trail, gained size when the railroad was built through there, and is the largest city in the county. Paris, the first settlement in the valley, is the county seat.
Today U.S. Highway 30 follows the route of the Oregon Trail, entering Bear Lake County from Wyoming on the east, and heading northward towards Soda Springs. U.S. Highway 89 enters the county from the south, along the western shore of the lake, follows the foot of the mountains northward, then passes through Montpelier, through Montpelier Canyon, and northeast into Wyoming.
Summer weather brings large numbers of visitors to the lake. The surrounding mountains provide additional recreation including hiking and hunting. Snowmobiling is a popular winter activity. The population, as of the 2000 census, is 6,411.