Lake Champlain: Five Ways
By Cliff Calderwood
Lake Champlain is the largest body
of fresh water in the U.S. after the
Great Lakes, and was created when
a mammoth ice plug backed up the
surrounding glacier melt water.
At 120 miles in length and an average depth of 400’ and 12 miles across,
everything about it is impressive. But more impressive than its size is its
unspoiled beauty. In a state already known for conservation and back-to-nature
vacations, Lake Champlain is the secret destination for a growing number of
New England vacationers.
Named after the explorer Samuel de Champlain, it gained prominence during
the years after the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 as the British used its
access from the Quebec region to wreak havoc in the area.
Lake Champlain would be the largest lake in New England if it weren’t for the
fact that part of it is in New York State. Vermonters will tell you the best part
though is reserved for Vermont. Here’s my pick of five destinations and
attractions in the Lake Champlain region when you visit ...
Island-Hopping: Vermont Style
The northern half of Lake Champlain contains a wonderful patchwork of
Islands. The largest of the Islands are interconnected with each other and the
Vermont mainland by Route 2 in the south and Route 78 in the north.
Following Route 2 from south to north will take you through the picturesque
towns of South Hero, Grand Isle, North Hero, and Alburg just a few miles from
the Canadian border.
Isle La Motte is a short detour off Route 2 on Route 129 and is famous for Chazy
Reef, the oldest known reef on earth where corals appear. Other attractions in
the northern reaches of the Islands are St. Anne’s Shrine, located on the site of
Fort St. Anne and Alburg Dunes Park, home to the longest beach on Lake
The Lake Champlain Islands' terrain is flat to gentle rolling hills, which means
bicycling is a popular way to get around on vacation. In most areas you’ll have
unobstructed views of Vermont’s Green Mountains to the east, and New York’s
Adirondacks to the west. Favorite pastimes of vacationers in addition to
bicycling is sailing, fishing, swimming, and snoozing on a beach.
The fact is, with the sun sparkling on the water and a gentle breeze in your face,
the Lake Champlain Islands will take you far from the maddening crowds.
Burlington: Lake Champlain's City
Though Montpelier is the state capital of Vermont, its largest city is Burlington,
which sits on the shore of Lake Champlain, with the stunning backdrop to the
east of the Green Mountains.
Burlington is a Vermont city, which means life is less about quick-pace
activities and more about savoring the moment and taking time to "smell the
roses." However, the atmosphere at historic Church Street Marketplace with its
130 specialty shops, has all the excitement of an energetic mall.
Activities in Burlington include ECHO, Vermont’s world-class lake aquarium
and science center on the waterfront, and Lake Champlain Chocolates guided
factory tour, where you can see these famous chocolates made right before your
eyes. And complete your day with a train ride through the beautiful Champlain
Valley on the Green Mountain Railroad. The train meanders through gently
rolling green pastures to Shelburne and back.
No visit to the Burlington area is complete without taking in The Ethan Allen
Homestead and Museum. Ethan Allen was one of Vermont’s founding fathers,
and this homestead was his last home, and is just a short drive from downtown
Click here to find lodging in Burlington, Vermont.
Cruises on Lake Champlain
Two cruise companies operate on Lake Champlain in the summer - “The Spirit
of Ethan Allen III” accommodates 500 people and the “Northern Lights” has
room for 150 guests. Both these boats leave from the docks in Burlington.
While cruising you’ll learn facts about this unusual body of water, such as why
it’s one of the few that flows in a northerly direction, and tour guides will
discuss the Lake Champlain region’s rich revolutionary past and the importance
of the Native Americans of this area. You’ll discover in your narrated tour all
about the events that shaped the Lake’s unique history. But center stage on
either cruise is the stunning views of the Islands and the surrounding
mountains of Vermont and New York.
And who knows you may just sight Lake Champlain’s very own friendly “Loch
Ness Monster” called “Champ”, or if taking an evening cruise catch a breath-
taking display of the Aurora Borealis – sometimes sighted above the lake after
Diving for Wrecks
If diving for wrecks is your passion then in Lake Champlain you’ve come to the
right place. The Lake is considered by many divers to have the best collection of
historic shipwrecks in North America, and is thought to have over 300 wooden
shipwrecks resting on its floor.
But eight are uniquely preserved for the enjoyment of divers, and under the
watchful eye of the Lake Champlain Underwater Historic Preserve, these
wrecks offer a unique experience for northeast diving. The types of wrecks vary
from a horse ferry to canal boats, with some located close to both the Vermont
and New York shorelines of the Lake. Diving experience required ranges from
beginner to advance.
Diving is an inherently risky activity and you must be certified in order to dive
the preserve wrecks. But with all the warnings and disclaimers out of the way,
there’s something magical about diving and exploring a wreck. Maybe because
nature never intended them to be there, and so they’re oddly out of place, yet
with the passing of time have been embraced by their unnatural environment.
For more information on these wrecks and diving information visit the Preserve’
s site at Underwater Historic Preserve.
Lake Champlain Maritime Museum
The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum is located near Vergennes, and is a
marvelous way to experience the historical significance of the lake. The
museum at Basin Harbor provides opportunities to step back in time as you
explore a Revolutionary War gunboat, watch craftsmen use traditional
shipbuilding skills, and learn about nautical life in the Champlain Valley
during the conflicts of the 18th century.
The Museum is self-guided but has plenty of demonstrations for you to stop as
you wander around. During the summer season the museum is host to a
number of special events and educational courses and workshops. The
Maritime Museum also has a shipyard in Burlington, which is home to the Lois
McClure schooner, and can be visited for tours at weekends.
State Parks on Lake Champlain
There are over 50 State Parks in Vermont, and the Lake Champlain area contains
twelve of those state parks, and includes: Alburg Dunes, Knight Point, Sandy
Bar, Burton Island, Grand Isle, Knight Island, North Hero, and Woods Island in
the Lake Champlain Island chain. Other state parks on the Lake’s shores are:
Kill Kare, Kingsland Bay, Button Bay, and DAR.
Within these Vermont State Parks are opportunities for hiking, biking, camping,
boating, fishing, picnicking, and swimming. The parks are a wonderful way to
relax and enjoy the waters of the Lake for a day or longer, and to hike trails in
between a swim and reading your novel.
While all the state parks are unique and worth visiting, three of my favorites are
Burton Island, Kingsland Bay, and Button Bay. Burton Island State Park is a
beautiful place with its impressive stands of White Cedars and White Pines.
The island is accessible only by private boat and a ferry. Kingsland Bay offers a
fine 1-mile walking trail together with canoeing and kayaking, and Button Bay
is stepped in history, and has a nature center to get you oriented before walking
the scenic Champlain Trail.
Facilities and services at some of these Vermont State Parks are limited due to
the emphasis on nature and wildlife, and to preserve the habitat. For more
information on these and other State Parks in Vermont visit the parks web site at
Vermont State Parks.
For more details on these and other
destinations on Vermont Vacations
and to pick up your free vacation
reports go to Cliff's New England
Vacations site at:
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