Located in the northwestern corner of Vermont, Lake Champlain is a large body of water that straddles both the New York and Canadian Borders. Some, a distinction that not all residents of Vermont appreciate, considers Lake Champlain the sixth Great Lake. At 107 miles long, 14 miles wide and 405 feet deep it surely meets the distinction stretching from Missiquoi in Quebec Province, Canada, all the way to Whitehall, New York, just a short drive from Glens Falls on the Hudson River.
Formed about 10,000 years ago with the retreat of the Wisconsin glacier that covered most of North America, Lake Champlain started as a cold inland sea. A skeleton of a whale found in Charlotte, Vermont is on display at the University of Vermont in Burlington and serves as proof of it’s ocean origin (or some ancient Native Americans had a great sense of humor). As the ice dam on what is now the St. Lawrence Seaway melted and the ground rose, the ocean water flowed north and was replaced by fresh water melting into the valley.
Once heavily farmed, the shores of Lake Champlain have given way to becoming a popular tourist attraction. It’s relatively close proximity to major US cities like Boston, Providence, Hartford and New York with excellent interstate access makes it a popular summer time and fall retreat. The state of Vermont only enhances this experience with a string of excellent state parks.
If you don’t have your own boat, or if paddling long distances in potentially rough conditions isn’t your idea of a good time your adventure will probably start at Kamp Kill Kare State Park in St. Albans Bay, Vermont. This 17-acre day use park was once a private boys camp and the massive three-story hotel now serves as modern changing facilities and office space for park employees. Picnic tables and cooking grills dot the area throughout the park. The park has two public swimming areas, with the one on the southern shore having a sandy bottom.
It is here where you can catch a ride on the state run Burton Island Ferry. Operated from the week before Memorial Day to Labor Day, the open deck passenger ferry makes six trips a day across Lake Champlain weather permitting. The scenic trip is $2 one-way per person and affords an opportunity to look for Lake Champlain’s elusive resident monster, Champ.
If you own your own boat or plan to paddle your adventure can start at Kamp Kill Kare State Park or North Hero State Park. Located in North Hero on Grand Isle, North Hero State Park is considered by some the crown jewel of the Lake Champlain Island Parks. At 399 acres it is the largest and offers a variety of services and facilities. Ninety-nine spacious, wooded and private campsites, as well as eighteen large Adirondack style lean-tos are available in this park. Picnic areas, hot showers, an unimproved rocky beach and a boat launch make this remote location 13 miles from the Canadian border a great place to start a paddling adventure. Once heavily farmed, the park is a bucolic mixture of hardwoods, evergreens and meadows affording beautiful views of Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains to the east.
Famed around the world for green pastures, rolling hills and quaint villages, no visit to Vermont is complete without seeing massive Lake Champlain. Whether it’s simply a day trip to Burton Island State Park on the ferry, or a backcountry wilderness experience on Woods Island, there is something for everyone on the island parks of Lake Champlain.