I’m going to come right out and announce my prejudice right away: I think that Lake Champlain is just about the most beautiful lake in the world. I know those may be fightin’ words, but I stand by them nevertheless.
I’m convinced that there isn’t one ugly inch to be found from one end to the other, and that’s saying something since the lake stretches for 110 miles from top to bottom. Long and skinny, in many places it’s easy to see right across and wonder what you might find on the other side. The lake is both wild and tame, the shore a mix of jagged glacial outcroppings and smooth sand, grand houses and rustic camps. The Adirondack Mountains rise on the New York side, and since much of the land on that side is part of Adirondack Park, the land along the lake is largely undeveloped. This makes for gorgeous views from the Vermont side, where the Green Mountains offer yet another glorious backdrop. In winter the mountains are purple, in the summer a deep dark green and the water reflects the moods and colors of the sky, from slate gray to deep blue.
In late summer the water is soft and warm (especially when compared with the frigid water of the Mad River) and when it gets windy the waves rival that of the ocean without the undertow. In many places you can walk far out toward the middle without the water rising much above your waist.
There are myriad ways to experience Lake Champlain, a good number of which I’ve had the pleasure to experience personally. You can cross it via bridge or boat. You can skim across its surface in a kayak or canoe or using a parasail. You can plumb its depths in scuba gear. You can fish (even in the winter, if you’re hardy). You can study its ecology at the ECHO Center or its history at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. You can eat a picnic dinner at its edge or at one of the many restaurants that overlook it. On the both sides there are dozens of state parks on or near its shores where you can camp. You can hike or cross country ski along its shores. From Mount Philo in Charlotte, Vermont you can survey the lake, pretending perhaps to be a Samuel de Champlain, the first European to encounter its shores 400 years ago.
But my favorite way to enjoy the lake is from the seat of my bike, with Teddy behind me and Tommy and Matt speeding ahead as I putter along. Although we don’t stay right by the lake when we’re in Vermont, we’re close enough to drive over easily to any point of the lake we might choose to explore, south to north. A favorite ride is the on the Island Line bike path that stretches from the waterfront in Burlington for 12.5 miles through Colchester and out onto an old railroad causeway. This summer for the first time we made it all the way to the end of the causeway where we could see sailboats passing and the shores of South Hero. On weekends there’s a bike ferry to carry riders across to an island, but we turned around and headed into a fierce wind that made the ride challenging but didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the view of Mount Mansfield in the distance.
Another great place to bike with kids, and a recent discovery for our family (thanks to the Lake Champlain bikeways website – they have a number of guidebooks and maps that are available in pdf form ) are the five themed bike loops on the islands of South and North Hero, Grand Isle, and Isle La Motte. All of the loops are rated as easy and all are flat (but with beautiful views of mountains), and each ride has a theme relating to history or geology.
We rode a portion of the South Hero Loop, meandering along a dirt road that follows the island’s shores. The smell of wildflowers and mown hay filled the air. Summer camps and cabins dotted the shore, docks and boats swayed in the water. Farm fields stretched in the opposite direction, their silos towering over the brilliant green around them. Sheep, chickens, and cows with views that any human would pay could money for stared placidly as we rode past, the wind from the lake making us pump our legs and long to coast back the other way. Ancient apple trees tempted us with low branches, but we biked on, our ears filled with the sounds of wind and water lapping on the shore.
I know that I’ll be dreaming of this for months when we return to Delaware, imagining the routes yet explored, and dreaming of how Teddy will be able to conquer them next summer when he’s riding a bike on his own.
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First photo of Lake Champlain courtesy of getlitphotography.