Where The Elk And Bison Play: Wyoming’s Bear River State Park

Recently, I extolled the joys of a short riverside stroll along the Bear Parkway, part of a municipal greenbelt that ties the historic community of Evanston, Wyoming, to the Bear River. This tiny slice of the Great Outdoors also connects Evanston with an even larger and more impressive natural preserve: Bear River State Park.

Finding Bear River State Park
The community of Evanston lies just off Interstate 80 in southwestern Wyoming. At just over 11,000 in population, historic Evanston is the eighth largest city in Wyoming. It is situated north of the High Uinta Mountains and immediately adjacent to both the Interstate and the Bear River.

Sally O’Neal Coates

The park itself, established in 1991, is accessed via Exit No. 6 off Interstate 80, just a few miles from the state’s western border with Utah. It comprises 300 acres and provides a protected habitat for wildlife, and a pleasant place for the outdoor enthusiast.

Things To See And Do
Wildlife viewing is excellent at Bear River State Park. The park is home to resident herds of bison and elk. Deer, antelope, and moose also make their home here; smaller residents include foxes, beavers, muskrats, badgers, and rabbits. Birdwatchers will appreciate the woodpeckers, flickers, geese, ducks, and bluebirds, and may sight the occasional bald eagle.

The park includes over a mile of paved trail surface plus another two miles of maintained, unpaved foot trails, all of which double as excellent cross-country ski trails in winter. A small stretch of the trail is open to bicycles, and some sections are barrier-free for wheelchair access. The trails wind through groves of cottonwood and willow, meander along the margins of the river, and afford views of the elk and bison pastures. Two bridges along the trail ford the river.

Bear River: The Big Picture
Bear River is a crucial water source in southeastern Wyoming and the adjacent flow areas of Idaho and Utah. It provides an important agricultural resource for crop irrigation and livestock water. Agriculture is by far the largest user of the river’s water, accounting for over 95 percent of the water diverted or removed from the surface and underground aquifers. A relatively small amount of the surface and ground water goes to domestic use in the towns of Evanston and Cokeville and nearby rural home wells, and an even smaller amount is used for industrial purposes (primarily two petroleum companies). The river and its watershed are intensively monitored and managed by the state of Wyoming as part of its water plan, with an emphasis on maintaining the river’s ecological/environmental and recreational uses.

Bear River provides wetlands and a riparian ecosystem that supports a wide range of wildlife and native plants. It also offers recreational opportunities in the form of boating, fishing, waterfowl hunting, swimming, and ambience for picnicking/camping. Besides the Bear River Parkway and Bear River State Park, the river attracts people to the Bridger-Teton National Forest, Sulphur Creek and Woodruff Narrows reservoirs, and numerous sites within the Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction.

Cattail marshes are common to the riparian ecosystem of the park.

But if, like me, you are passing through Wyoming in far too big a hurry to appreciate the full spectrum of the Bear River’s offerings, Bear River State Park is a quick and easy stop off the Interstate. Stretch your legs, enjoy the bison, and indulge in a slice of the Great Outdoors in this little corner of wide-open, wonderful Wyoming.

Visitor Facilities
Bear River State Park is open for day use only; there is no overnight camping. It has three picnic shelters and a trailer dump station. Pets are welcome, but must be under owners’ control at all times. A park information center is open daily until 5 p.m. Restrooms and a small playground are available. The park can be reached by telephone at 307-789-6547; the travel center’s number is 307-789-3636. For more information about the Evanston area, contact the Chamber of Commerce at 307-789-2757.

Sally O’Neal Coates is a travel writer from southeastern Washington State. Her books include “Hot Showers, Soft Beds, and Dayhikes in the Central Cascades.” She writes weekly for sportsmansguide.com.

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