words // Chea Waters Evans
photo // Craig Thomas
The Vermont state song, “These Green Mountains,” sings, “These green hills and silver waters are my home; they belong to me.” Fortunately for visitors, Vermonters are happy to share the silver waters of Lake Champlain with all who set foot on its shores. Whether you’re the active sort who wants to spend the day boating, swimming or biking, or someone who’s more inclined to spend the day fishing, relaxing, and taking a leisurely stroll, Vermont’s largest lake has something for everyone.
The Champlain Islands, located in northern Vermont, offer great stretches of lakeshore and several state parks with opportunities for all kinds of leisure. Lake Champlain’s largest island, which includes the towns of South Hero and Grand Isle, is the home of Grand Isle State Park. This 226-acre mecca for campers is the most popular of all of Vermont’s parks, and is an ideal location not only for serious campers looking for a long-term site but weekend warriors who only have a night or two to sleep under the stars. With a nature center, recreation courts, beaches, and accommodations for everything from tents to RVs, the park is an ideal location for a traditional camping experience. A pass to Grand Isle State Park includes entry to two nearby state parks on the island, Knight Point and Allburg Dunes.
At the southern tip of South Hero is the start of the Island Line Trail, a 14-mile-long pedestrian and bike path that stretches all the way south across the Colchester Causeway to the Burlington Bike Path. A former railroad track that stopped service in 1961, the line winds its way over the waters of Lake Champlain. The ten-foot-wide gravel path seems to float on the water, allowing visitors to experience the true serenity of the lake and its gorgeous views in an unhurried fashion. Two bike ferries operate from June 14 to Sept. 1, connecting the Island Line Trail at two different points and allowing continuous travel from Burlington to South Hero. There is ample fishing access on the Causeway, dogs are welcome, and duck hunters are allowed in season.
The restaurants, shops, and nightlife of Burlington must be experienced, but sometimes a little nature is in order. Not far from the bustle of city life, Burlington boasts beautiful sandy beaches and plenty of opportunity to experience Lake Champlain’s open waters. North Beach is a popular destination for sunbathers and swimmers, with restrooms, a picnic pavilion, ample parking, and a snack bar. There is also a 45-acre campground with 137 campsites for tents, RVs, and trailers. Not far from North Beach, and accessible by the Burlington Bike Path, is the Burlington Community Boathouse, which offers restaurants, boat rentals, docks and moorings, and a waterfront park which regularly hosts events – everything from the finish line of the Vermont City Marathon to rock concerts to the Vermont Brewers Festival. The nearby Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center rents sailboats, dinghies, kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes.
In addition to several state parks that offer camping on or near the water, there are also many quiet public beaches up and down the lake where visitors can swim, picnic, kayak, paddleboard, sail, and even launch a motorboat; most charge a small fee for parking. Red Rocks beach in South Burlington boasts a jogging path, scenic viewpoints, and swimming. The public beaches in Charlotte, Cohen Beach in St. Albans, and the Ferrisburgh town beach also have access points, playgrounds, and restrooms available for day travelers who want to take a quick dip or enjoy a spectacular sunset over the Adirondack Mountains across the lake.
If sunbathing and paddling isn’t your thing, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife department offers some lake activities that will float your boat. With over 90 species of fish, including varieties of perch, sunfish, bass, and pike, the waters of Lake Champlain are easily accessible with many boat access points. One popular spot is at Shelburne Bay Park, which also features nearby hiking trails that run along the water. The boat access, which is maintained by Fish and Wildlife, allows fishing enthusiasts to hit the lake at large, while various spots around the park are perfect for casting from the shore. A little farther north is Burton Island State Park, which is accessible only by boat or ferry and offers fantastic fishing and camping for those who just can’t go home until they’ve caught the big one. Fishing licenses can be purchased at a variety of locations around the state or online at the Vermont Fish and Wildlife web site.
Whether you’re an expert fisherman or just want to dip your toes in the water, you’ll want to dock your boat at Lake Champlain. Easily accessible for residents and visitors alike, it offers everything from fun, crowded summer beaches to quiet, private places to relax. The only problem you might have is figuring out which activity you want to do first.