Utah’s US 89: Logan Canyon Scenic Byway, Logan to Bear Lake

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I’m not exactly sure why, but I can never find a good airfare into Salt Lake City.  Tickets seem to hover around the $400 mark, year round.  Maybe it’s because of where I live (Tampa, Florida), or maybe it’s that way for everyone.  It really is a shame, because SLC is the best place starting place for a vacation to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.  It’s the nearest big city to these two awesome national parks–only about 300 miles away.

Weeks before my trip, I started watching the fares.  Flights to Salt Lake City didn’t budge, so I looked at my other options.  Boise, Idaho isn’t much farther from Yellowstone, but it’s a smaller airport, and I’d have to make a couple of connections.  Denver would require a long drive across Wyoming, and rental cars always seem to be expensive there.  As I searched, I finally came up with a most unlikely solution: Las Vegas.

The drive from Las Vegas to Jackson, Wyoming is 668 miles.  That’s hardly convenient.  But unlike driving from Denver, I’d be on interstates most of the way (actually, just one interstate, I-15).  Rental cars are usually very cheap in Las Vegas (often just $15 a day).  But the deciding factor was the plane ticket.  I could buy two round trip flights to Las Vegas for the price of one to Salt Lake City.  Even if I tacked on an extra night’s motel stay, I would still come out ahead.

So that’s the story of why I started my Yellowstone vacation in Las Vegas.

Day Zero: Las Vegas to Salt Lake City

The worst part of the arrangement was the first day, or Day 0 as I’m calling it here, since I didn’t see much of anything, and didn’t take a single picture that day.  After arriving in Las Vegas mid-afternoon, my only objective was making it to Salt Lake City as quickly as possible.  The 425 mile trip took about 7 hours, with the last four hours after dark.  The sun went down around Cedar City (the northernmost point on my Southwest Utah trip), which means by the time there was something new to see, there wasn’t enough light to see it.  I still don’t know exactly what I-15 looks like, through most of Utah.  I’d safely bet that it’s beautiful, though.

Alright then.  Enough about the most boring day of my trip.  Let’s get to the more interesting parts.

From Las Vegas to Salt Lake City, take I-15 the entire way.  Don’t trust the mileage on the road signs, some of them are inaccurate.  Just remember that downtown SLC is at mile marker 307.  Watch the mile markers, and do the math.

Logan Canyon Scenic Byway

From Salt Lake City, take I-15 north.  There are plenty of places between Ogden and Brigham City where you can access US 89, however your last chance is at exit 362 (also the US 91 exit).

It doesn’t take long for Day 1 to get scenic.  As soon as you’ve left Interstate 15 and Brigham City behind…

US Hwy. 89 climbs into rolling hills.  The road remains wide for a while, so it’s an easy drive and a scenic one, with mountains rising ahead of you.

Within a half hour, you drive into the pleasant little town of Logan.  There’s a charming old-fashioned downtown business strip on one side of the road…

… and on the other side, Logan’s beautiful LDS Mormon church.  Over the next few days, you’ll realize this is a common sight in this part of the country.  Instead of a courthouse or town square, the LDS church tends to be the centerpiece of town.

I took a minute to walk around the church grounds.  The Mormon folks are friendly, and would probably be happy for you to poke your head into the temple (as I found out later in Paris, Idaho).  This time, I simply looked around, and headed back to the car, since I had a long drive ahead of me.

As soon as you leave downtown Logan, you’re in the mountains again, but this time the road is only two lanes, and more curves await.

Second Dam

US 89 follows Logan River through Logan Canyon.  The river is dammed in at least three places, and one of the resulting lakes forms a small lake, which it turns out, is an ideal fishing spot.  I parked at the roadside parking area for Second Dam, and took a short walk down to a boardwalk, which runs alongside the lake.

Rick’s Spring

The next stop along the byway was not named for Rick Springfield.  It’s not even a spring, despite the misleading name.  It turns out, the Logan River runs underground for a while, and it comes out at the cavern known as Rick’s Spring.  The place certainly looks like a spring–the water bubbles up from seemingly nowhere inside the cavern…

 then flows away in a small, peaceful stream.

Early travelers in this area used to stop here to drink the water the flowed from Rick’s Spring, thinking that they were sipping pure spring water.  They had no idea they were simply drinking river water that just happened to run underground for a while.  Now that we know the secret of Rick’s Spring, it’s probably not a good idea to drink the water, as nearby signs will warn you.

When I was there, the place needed a little TLC.  Bushes were growing wild over the boardwalk, that leads up to the mouth of the “spring”.  Even so, it’s a nice place to stop for a few minutes.

The scenic highway continues…

… until you finally reach Logan Canyon Summit, the highest point on the byway.  There’s a good view of Bear Lake in the distance.  There’s also a rest area here, that’s staffed with friendly people and stocked with local tourism guides.  If you hadn’t already picked up a guide to the Logan Canyon Scenic Byway, you can find one here.  Unfortunately though, you’ve already passed up most of the attractions along the road.

At the bottom of the hill, the Logan Canyon Byway dead-ends.  If you went straight, you’d end up in Bear Lake.  US 89 turns left (north), taking you through the town of Garden City, which has built its reputation around raspberries.  The most popular item on the menus of several restaurants that line the road is the raspberry shake, and it would be simply wrong to drive through here and not drink one.  I got mine at the Home Town Drive-In, along with the hamburger.  The burger was nothing special, but the raspberry shake was incredible.

US 89 continues north alongside Bear Lake.  You’re close enough to see the lake, but most of the time there’s private property between the road and the water.  Not long after you cross into Idaho, the north end of the lakebed dries up, then vanishes in your rear-view.

Note: This trip was first published in 2007.

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