Discovering Box Elder & Bear River Valley
A scenic and compelling journey through Northern Utah’s Bear River Valley
Besides being Golden Spike country, the Bear River Valley is one of Utah’s most scenic and compelling rural agricultural areas. This northern corner of Utah has a special place in the state’s geography — in a region founded on farming, it is one of Northern Utah’s last true rural, productive areas.
This is a bounty for the traveler — especially for those willing to move slowly and look around. Traveling by bicycle, for my eight-year-old daughter, Juliet, and me, meant great bike touring roads of the kind not often found in Utah. The Bear River Valley’s small towns are connected by a network of small, relatively flat two-lane byways without much traffic, reminiscent of New England, the Midwest or Coastal California.
These roads provide a way to poke around the valley. They form a network connecting small towns that you may not have been to before: Honeyville, Deweyville, Garland, Bear River City. And the distances between them are short. From Brigham City, for example, Utah state Route 38 runs north along the base of the Wellsville Mountains to Honeyville, a nice, flat 10-mile ride that is deceivingly close to I-15 but takes you into another world.
"The Bear River Valley is a bounty for the traveler — especially for those willing to move slowly and look around."
And they have a way of pulling you aside. On S.R. 38, we dismounted frequently to meet horses standing at the fence or to check out a monument to Call’s Fort, built in 1855 by Mormon settlers as “the most northerly outpost in Utah.”
South of Brigham City is fruit country. The U.S. 89 corridor here is known as the “Fruit Highway,” with a steady rhythm of orchards, farms and stands such as Pettingill, Grammy’s, Gray’s and Tagge’s. Throughout the summer and fall seasons of harvest, the Fruit Highway becomes Utah’s top “agri-tourism” destination. Also along this stretch, in Perry, is Maddox Ranch House, the original farm-to-table restaurant, where steaks are served from cattle raised on-site, and the rolls are made with local Brigham City flour.
Deliberate Travel, Closer Looks
There are neat things all over the place for the traveler to find in this productive rural landscape if you look closely. In Tremonton is Earland’s Meats, a butcher shop for animals raised throughout the valley that advertises a mobile slaughter unit, and features bacon burgers — that is, beef burgers with bits of bacon mixed in.
South of Tremonton, state Route 13 parallels the Bear River on its way to Corinne. On a quiet street in Bear River City, we found the Lavender House, a stately home with a wrap-around porch, surrounded by gardens. Initially having a hard time deciphering what it was, we followed signs down the driveway to a self-serve gift shop. We opened the door to find a ceiling full of dried flowers and soaps and lotions all made from herbs and flowers grown on-site.
Unfortunately, apart from a few Airbnbs, lodging is not plentiful within these Bear River Valley towns — though travelers will find several chain motel accommodations at I-15 exits. One exception is the Camelot Inn, a small motel where we stayed in Honeyville, at the town’s crossroads of state Routes 38 and 240. The Inn features outdoor amenities such as lawn, a firepit and basketball hoop, as well as spectacular views of the Wellsville Mountains.
Perhaps the most well-known of the Bear River Valley destinations is Crystal Hot Springs, a few miles north of Honeyville. The springs has been an attraction since before the golden spike itself — noted on pre-railroad emigrant trail maps as “Hot and Cold Springs.”
On the evening we stayed in Honeyville, Juliet and I took a spectacular bike ride of two miles out to the hot springs, which has been developed into a series of swimming pools that mix the area’s hot and cold spring water into different temperatures to suit the season. The resort had recently been renovated with a new lodge building and cave/waterfall feature. We were immediately attracted to the waterslides, a new experience sliding down in hot water.
Soaking in the large pool and surveying the mountains above, I told Juliet we’d better let the water and minerals work on our muscles because the next day we had plans to do what the trains did — ride up the grade to Promontory Summit.
(Read: Arrive by Train: Northern Utah’s Golden Spike Country and railroad history are much bigger than the golden spike.)
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
This is the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, an eye-opening stop along Utah's populous Wasatch Front for any traveler and a top destination for any serious birder with gaps on their life lists.
Visit the Golden Spike National Historic Park to relive the history with exhibits and demonstrations, and take in the beauty of the surrounding Great Basin Desert and nearby Great Salt Lake and Spiral Jetty.
Willard Bay State Park
Today Willard Bay State Park is a freshwater reservoir that is located only miles from both Ogden and Brigham City, UT, and offers awesome camping and boating, excellent birding and exciting fishing.
Conquering the Deep Canyon Trail
The Deep Canyon Trail is a challenging trail with big rewards. You’ll have views of both the Cache and Salt Lake Valleys and the Wellsville Mountains in Northern Utah.
Arrive by Train
Follow author Tim Sullivan and his eight-year-old daughter as they travel by train, bus and bike on a "pilgrimage" to Golden Spike National Historic Site.
Video: The Golden Spike Unites a Nation
May 10, 2019, marked 'Spike 150,' the 150th anniversary of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Visit the Golden Spike site in Promontory for a bit of Utah history.
Great Salt Lake Needs Your Visit
While you visit this mysterious natural wonder, you can also help save it.
A Matter of Geological Consent
A billion years of geological history surrounds Salt Lake City, where a modern landscape reflects ancient constraints.
Northern Utah Adventure Gateway Towns
Looking for outdoor adventures in The Beehive State? These northern Utah cities are perfect spots to set up base camp. Start planning today!
A View From the Past
Follow a historian on a tour of the Transcontinental Railroad Backcountry Byway as he reconstructs forgotten history.
There’s no better place to go birding in Utah than the Bear River Migratory Refuge. Learn more and start planning the ultimate nature getaway!
Eat Your Way Through Utah
Utah is filled with festivals that highlight the state’s agricultural products, local brewers, winemakers and other creators of delicious dishes. You’ll find festivals and events featuring all kinds of agricultural products all over Utah, but here are 9 of the best to sample what the state has to offer.
Your Guide to Utah's Best Hot Springs
Here’s a quick guide to planning your visit to Utah’s best hot springs. The fun goes beyond sitting and soaking — you’ll find waterslides, paddleboard yoga, camping and music festivals that turn a quick visit into a weekend worth of fun.
At 50, the Spiral Jetty, Utah’s Most Iconic Land Art Sculpture, Keeps Drawing a Crowd
In April 1970, it took six days, 625 man-hours, 292 truck-hours, $9,000, and 6,500 tons of basalt, limestone and mud for Robert Smithson to construct the Spiral Jetty. His work still stands today. Visit and be inspired by this iconic piece of Utah's land art.
Utah’s Fruit Way: Harvest Time Along Old Highway 89
Headed to Bear Lake, Golden Spike National Historical Park or the Bear Lake Migratory Bird Refuge? Stock up with fresh road-trip snacks and dinner provisions direct from family-run farm stands, all within a stone’s throw of the region’s many historic farms and orchards.
Touring Utah with the State’s Most Well Known Women Writers
The diversity and beauty found in Utah has often been captured by women. Here are the places that seven of Utah’s most well known women writers knew and loved most.