Vermont may be the only state in New England without an ocean coastline, but it more than makes up for it with Lake Champlain. Often referred to as the “sixth Great Lake”, not because of its size, which is rather smallish compared to those behemoth bodies of water, but because of its connection to those lakes via the Richelieu River to the great St Lawrence River.
Sharing the waters with Canada as those northern Vermont lakes are wont to do, it is broad at the northern end and narrows down to a fine point in Whitehall, New York across the Vermont border. Not content with such a terminus, it leaves the lake a little further north via the Poultney River and on to the Champlain Canal, which connects it to the Hudson River, which in turn flows southward to and through New York City and into the Atlantic Ocean.
Meanwhile, back up north, the lake hosts a chain of islands with the idyllic towns of Alburgh, Isle La Motte, North Hero, Grand Isle and South hero. You can drive or bike to and amongst the islands via bridges and causeways. The islands are fairly flat and full of farmland, offering great views of the lake wherever you turn. Of course you can explore by boat as well, and keep your eyes out for Champy, the lake’s Lochness cousin.
South Hero and Grand Isle share the first island coming off the mainland, accessed via the two-mile Sandbar Causeway. You will not be able to resist stopping along the causeway (there is a pullover area) because it’s really just too cool and beautiful. Moving on into South Hero, if it’s fall, stop at Hackett’s Orchard to pick some apples and get your fill of cider and donuts.
In Grand Isle, veer off Route 2 onto East Shore North for some shore hugging spectacular views. In fact, veer off Route 2 anywhere along the islands – remember that back country roads are the best. Be sure to stop at Hero’s Welcome in North Hero – it’s everything a Vermont general store should be. Order a sandwich and take it across the road to the picnic tables and enjoy your meal by the shore.
For a bit of tranquility, stop at Saint Anne’s Shrine on Isle La Motte. Whether you’re religious or not, you’ll feel the peace and serenity in this beautiful spot. And finally, there is Alburgh, connected by land only to Canada, though a bridge will take you there from North Hero.
Back over on the mainland, the northwest corner of Vermont boasts sweet lakeside communities like Swanton and the small city of St Albans (population less than 7,000 – remember, this is Vermont).
Summer, of course, is busiest here, with seasonal homeowners and visitors doubling the year-round population of about 7,000. Swimming, boating and fishing are favorite activities. Fall is also quite beautiful and winter affords some great cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.
The Champlain Islands are a different experience from the rest of Vermont, and certainly hold their own. Come for a visit.