BEAR LAKE, Utah (ABC4) – The Bear River Association of Governments reports that visitors spent close to $50 million during the 2021 tourism season at Bear Lake. This money benefited the small communities surrounding the lake and is responsible for 450 jobs. However, the tourism season is short. For the most part, it runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Business owners and residents in the area are working to elongate the tourism season through the winter to help create a more stable economy.

Even with fall just a few days away, some visitors are still making their way to the lake. A couple from North Carolina told ABC4 they were stunned by the gorgeous blue water at Bear Lake. However, they were slightly disappointed that many of the businesses surrounding the lake had already closed their doors for the season. This is what business owners in Garden City, Utah are hoping to change.

“It is an awesome place to live,” Tami Leonhardt told ABC4. Leonhardt and her husband call Garden City home. She is the executive director of the Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau. She loves living near the lake.  

“The unique thing about it is we have our mountains,” Leonhardt stated. “You know, my husband is more of a mountain person. I’m more of a water person, so there’s so much to do in just this little area.” 

Fall is just beginning to kiss the tops of the hills surrounding Bear Lake with crimson, orange and yellow. Leonhardt told ABC4 that autumn is by far the prettiest time of year to visit the area. She said it is a great place for families to take photos. Not only that, but rangers from the Bear Lake State Park also explained that late summer and early fall may be the best time to get out on the water. The temperature of the water takes all summer to reach its peak. It is often very cold when visitors start showing up in May. On September 20, the water temperature was 68 degrees with outside temperatures hovering around 80 degrees.  

About 15 minutes outside of Garden City, tourists will find Beaver Creek Resort. It offers horseback riding and ATV riding during the summer and snowmobiling in the winter. A few minutes from the resort is Beaver Mountain where many natives ski during the winter.  

In Garden City, the winter often means the lake freezes over, locals enjoy ice fishing, and the city hosts a large polar plunge. All these activities aim to bring in additional visitors.  

It is currently the shoulder season for the towns in the area. As fall arrives, Leonhardt is working to entice more people to visit during the off season. For her, this often means a social media blitz in which she highlights the beauty of the changing seasons and the cold-weather activities via online pictures. Luckily for her, the lake is naturally so pretty that she doesn’t have to use any filters on the pictures she takes.  

“It’s interesting as we go through this discussion as people that live here and make livings,” Mark Smoot told ABC4. He paused and then added, “As we try to diversify our economy.”  

Smoot owns Sunrise Resort. For those who’ve been to Bear Lake, the resort is the large lighthouse in Garden City just west of Bear Lake State Park.

Smoot explained that he and other business owners are working to create year-round employment opportunities. “That is the excitement that we see is we try to get creative on how we meet demand but also, how we create a longer season that will create greater sustainability and revenue growth.”  

According to the Bear River Association of Governments, tourism is responsible for 450 full-time and part-time jobs in the communities surrounding the lake. Business owners, like Smoot, would like to have enough business to keep employees on all year long.

The BRAG also reports that 80 percent of homes in Rich County are just seasonal homes. Locals, like Leonhardt, hope by enticing visitors out in the fall and winter, those homes will be vacant less often and the area will become more established.    

“The locals like people coming,” Leonhardt said. “As long as everybody is respectful. You know, pack in, pack out because it really helps our economic structure here as a destination.”