Expect fewer and more crowded beaches at Bear Lake this summer

ST. CHARLES, Idaho – Bear Lake beachgoers will have to practice some patience this summer. Most beaches are already underwater, and the ones remaining have shrunk significantly. With limited options, crowded beaches and long waits are expected.

Terri Wahlberg of Utah’s Bear Lake State Park doesn’t believe that will deter vacationers. She expects just as many visitors to the lake as any other year, but said those that come will likely be limited to just two public beaches.

“There is going to be one at the north side and one at the south end,” she said, “but those are pretty much the only beaches that are going to be available.”

That beach on the north end is North Beach, which is part of Idaho’s Bear Lake State Park. It is a place where ranger Doug Stephens has spent the last 29 years, watching the lake rise and fall to its low and high points. He said there is about 35 to 50 feet of beach left from the road to the edge of the water, and that it is still shrinking.

“We’ll definitely have people wanting to get in,” Stephens said. “Whether or not we can fit them in, that is another part of the story.”

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Stephens said the biggest challenge for the state park that comes with high water levels is the parking. The park can fit more than 1,300 vehicles when the water level is low enough for beach parking, but that won’t be available this year. According to Stephens, there will only be enough parking for about 700 vehicles, meaning long waits to get in and temporary entrance closures, especially on weekends.

“It does limit the amount of people we allow in,” he said. “Over the course of a Saturday we allow over 1,000 cars, but it is just not all at one time.”

It isn’t all bad news. Stephens said there may some benefit. He believes having so many cars parked on the beach can negatively affect a beachgoer’s experience.

“You have limited access to get to the water to set up a canopy, that kind of thing,” he explained. “This actually allows people to access the water a little more easily without wading through somebody else’s setup they put on the beach.”

The limited access also means that some will arrive earlier and others will come later in the evening. Stephens said people will likely adjust their day’s plans to get a turn on the beach.

“People will just have to show patience,” he said. “No matter if its low water or high water, on Fridays and Saturdays mid-morning you can have quite a long time waiting to get into North Beach.

“I’ve had a lot of phone calls wondering what the beaches are going to be like, so we’re just honest with them and say, ‘We’re going to have limited parking for part of the summer.’”

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