We crossed from Quebec 🇨🇦 to Lake Champlain in NY 🇺🇸 on August 17, 2019, after a great ~ month in Canada. Leaving locks behind for awhile and eager to be on larger bodies of water. So lovely with the Adirondacks in the distance on the NY side, the Green Mountains of VT, rolling green farmland, sailboats crisscrossing the lake and lake houses along the shores. The seas build up on this large body of water so we’re getting our sea legs back again!
Lake Champlain is impressive in many ways. It is 120 miles long, running north-south, and 12 miles wide at its widest point. It has 587 miles of shoreline and 71 islands. The average depth is 64 feet; the deepest area is 400 feet between Charlotte VT and Essex NY. At points, we could cruise alongside tall cliffs, within 15′ of shore, and in 40-50′ of clear water! Lots of cliff jumping for the brave! Lake Champlain touches two states, NY and VT, and two countries, Canada and the US. Interestingly, Lake Champlain has a retention time (the amount of time that water spends in a particular lake) of 3.3 years.
First night, in anticipation of yet another round of thunderstorms passing through, we anchored off of Isle la Motte island, protected from the anticipated south winds. We did boat chores – bathing, bucket laundry and hanging our clothes to dry inside and out. Storms bypassed us on both sides with just showers and we enjoyed a quiet evening with stars above and gentle rocking.
Next day we traveled further south in the lake, again appreciating the open water, scenery, and all the graceful sailboats zigging and zagging around us. As Dean and I both went to college in Burlington VT (UVM ’82), we are familiar with the area but this is our first time cruising the lake. A beautiful different perspective!
We cruised through an area known as “The Gut,” between Grand Isle and North Hero Islands, through the swing bridge (opens hourly) and into the a large body of water locally referred to as the “inland sea,”an almost land-locked area of Lake Champlain.
Almost due east of the Gut is Burton Island, a state Park with with moorings, slips, camping, and a walking trail with nature stations and great info regarding the history (old tenant farms) and wildflowers. The island is in St Alban’s Bay. We were in a very protected mooring field, out of the chop and wind.
Lovely lake cruising back through the Gut, with high winds and chop. We anchored next at Valcour island, which is a very popular boating spot. Valcour, a wooded island with rocky shores and small beaches, had several small protected bays, and a steady stream of boats filled them all. Sloop Cove has the best protection but was filled with boats, so we opted to anchor in Paradise Bay which was lovely.
Chris and I went ashore for a late afternoon walk, along the edges of the island on the large rocks on shore, then heading onward along the lovely paths in the dense woods.
An early evening swim/bath capped off another great day. The night was clear and still, and the array of anchor lights on the other boats amidst the stars was beautiful.
Because of the clear night and easterly expanse of water, I rose early to catch the sunrise and it was well worth it – simply glorious start of the day, with the sun rising above the Green Mountains of Vermont.
Valcour Island, like most of Lake Champlain as we are learning, has rich historical roots. One of the most important naval battles of the American Revolution raged in the waters between the island and the mainland. In 1776, Benedict Arnold led a flotilla of American gunboats stopped a British Invasion fleet from dividing New England from the other newly created states. Valcour was also witness to the War of 1813 Battle of Plattsburgh. In it’s quieter years, the island was used for grazing and farming, supported a utopian agriculture community, and Camp Penn, a summer camp for boys. It houses a lighthouse on the western side at Bluff Point, and the island was bought for parkland in the 1960s.
From Valcour, we got an early start to head into Burlington VT. We picked up a mooring at the Community Boat Club, with a large mooring field behind the breakwater which filled with boats quickly.
Today was errand day for boat chores – laundry (thank you Chris!), a much needed haircut for both Karen and Dean, and grocery shopping at City Market. Our niece, Nicole, who lives just outside of Burlington, joined us for errands (thank you, Nikki), including a car ride to the grocery store and back as well as accepting our Amazon and UPS deliveries of boat parts. It’s good to have friends and relatives along the way!
Dean, Nikki and I were treated to a late lunch at the harbor side restaurant, Splash, by Chris and joined by her good friend, Becky Gould. Sadly, we had to let Chris go off with Becky and her partner as she began the journey back to SC after a visit with them. Very special time with Chris that we appreciated.
Burlington was a beautiful place to observe the sunset over the lake and to watch the busy waterfront traffic – ferries, harbor tour boats, sailboats of all sizes, paddle boards, and even dragon boats.
Quiet night then up early to meet Nikki one more time at 7 am when she transitioned off her night shift to pick up one more part. I walked around Burlington to gather the last of the supplies and bring home breakfast from August One, a great bakery recommended by Nikki.
Our dear friends, Kathy and Jim Elkind, joined us bright and early, having biked from Shelbourne VT to join us for a few days. We stayed another night as high winds, rain and hail were predicted. We walked into town to the Great Outdoor Exchange to get a few fun things. Crazily, we then jumped on our bikes on the bike trail heading north. Started dry, progressed to light rain, and ended in heavy rain. Swam in our muddy clothes to clean them as the clouds parted and the skies cleared for another beautiful night.
Fueled, emptied the holding tank, filled the water tanks and headed off to the wide lake on a partly cloudy but clearing day.
Lunch stop at Four Brothers Islands, southwest of Burlington with great swimming. The islands are Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy land and a bird breeding ground. Lots of gulls and cormorants with many nests in the trees.
Evening anchorage was on the western NY shore in Willsboro Bay, “a dramatically wild, fjord-like formation.”* We anchored close to the cliffs near a train- trestle over a small stream. Stern-in to the land to secure a stern line to the shore due to the depth (cliff like into the water) but to keep us off the shore rocks.
*loaned copy of “Cruising Guide to Lake Champlain: The Waterway from New York City to Montreal” by Alan and Susan McKibben, 1971
The falls lead into the water at a rocky beach, leaving a sandy shallow area, popular for swimming. Jim, Kathy, and Dean hiked up the stream where Kathy found beautiful cardinal flowers – a new plant for me.
North again to west side of Valcour island on a perfect day with mountains surrounding us for almost 360. Stunning. We anchored in Bullhead Bay, one of 8 bays available depending on the wind direction. We were on the opposite side of our last visit with totally different views and trails to explore.
We anchored and once again a steady stream of boaters joined, final count was 40+ at sunset.
Hiking on the over 7 miles of trails on the island, both along the coastline and inland showed us more of the island’s history and beauty. Prolific poison ivy but very few bugs! The most intriguing bay we hiked to was Smuggler’s Bay, with long flat rocks extending and protecting a small inner bay. If we come back to this area, we would definitely try gunk-holing in this bay!.
We continued to find amazing harbors for quiet anchorages, with the next beautiful and peaceful anchorage on the Vermont side, in Converse Bay, which had lots of lake weeds but good holding. Few boats joined us and thankfully none blocked our view of the lake with the majestic and multilayered Adirondack mountains in the distance.
I loved the silhouette and contrasting colors of this tug, Le Papa.
After swims, including some distance swims (through the weeds, eek), we sat and watched the sun lowering and setting over the mountains. The changes in layers of colors over the process was amazing…and then the stars came out and we watched for shooting stars as the Elkinds pointed out constellations to us. A 3 hour show for us. Cool night, calm, perfect for sleeping.
Otter Creek VT was a really great side trip off the lake. South of Burlington, it winds inland ~ 8 miles through a narrow and shallow creek up to the Otter Creek Falls in Vergennes VT. While others manned the helm during the tricky passage (narrow, shallow and debris) I positioned myself on the bow with camera in hand, trying to capture all the wildlife as we passed. Ospreys at the mouth of the creek gave way to herons and kingfishers, but we also spied muddy turtles in groups sunning on the logs, a bobcat peeking out from around exposed tree roots, and an otter swimming and diving alongside the boat. Wish I’d been able to photograph them all!
Peeking around the final bend, we came in full view of the Otter Creek Falls and the town of Vergennes (#littlecitybigheart), the oldest city in Vermont. Thankfully there was a spot on the quaint town dock with just enough water for us to tie up. Hike up the hill into town for lunch at 3 Squares (thank you, Elkinds) then onto our bikes for a ~ 20 mile ride through the rolling hills, past corn and hemp fields. At times, we were biking with the Green Mountains on one side of the road and the Adirondacks on the other – stunning views.
Quick dock wash off, cocktails on the boat, then we walked into town again for dinner at The Black Sheep – another great meal, thank you again, dear Elkinds. The town lights up the falls at night, with changing colors. They really do a wonderful job encouraging boaters with a clean, nice (albeit limited by shallow water) public dock with electricity and water, close to a fun town.
Interestingly, this small area with the narrow winding creek was the site of shipbuilding (schooners and steamships) in the past. Hard to imagine large ships here or passing down the creek to the open waters!
Thomas Macdonough was a naval officer who had a significant naval career before being reassigned to Burlington VT to command the US naval forces in Lake Champlain in 1812, where he ordered construction of large ships (corvette Saratoga, sloop Eagle, and several gunboats at the shipyard in Otter Creek, Vergennes. A hidden shipyard, well protected from the British. These ships were ready for the Battle of Plattsburgh, which they strategically won. Again, hard to picture large battleships sailing beautiful Lake Champlain!
In the morning, Kathy and Jim loaded their bikes and headed north, back to their car in Shelburne, about a 2 hour ride. Always up for an adventure, they were wonderful crew and companions. And did I mention that they biked to meet us in Burlington with fresh, homemade blueberry cake in the panniers? Good friends!
Retraced our sinuous path out of the creek and back into the broad lake with mountains on all sides. After skimming along the NY side of the lake to see the cliff rock formations up close, we then scooted into Kingsland Bay and dropped anchor between the mooring fields. There is a state park here and we were able to dinghy to shore and hike some beautiful trails that edged the bay, curved around the cliff point, then cut through the forest and fields to make a loop back to the bay. Cooled off with a swim around the boat. The evenings are starting to cool off earlier with the sun setting earlier – signs of impending fall and closure to our trip. Another beautiful and quiet night at anchor.
High winds and waves predicted ahead of a rain front, so we headed back to Burlington, snagging a mooring at the Burlington Community Boathouse since the “Queen City”* is such a great stop for visiting friends, walking, restocking the boat, laundry, and even a little fun shopping. Walked up and down the hill to Main St/Church St several times – reminded me of our college days at UVM, down hill to town, up hill to campus, repeat in all kinds of VT weather. Enjoyed simple boat dinner with our first crew, Geordie, grocery shopping at City Market with recent crew member, Kathy (thanks so much for the ride!), met some experienced and future Loopers at the dock, and caught up with a college classmate, dear Dan. Phew! All before the rain set in, thankfully.
*the nickname “Queen City” is not, apparently, unique to Burlington, but is a common nickname for a municipality that is deemed the economic and social hub of its region. Who knew?!?
Next we headed south in anticipation of picking up our next much anticipated crew, son Gage and daughter-in-love Katelyn, for the long Labor Day weekend. Anchored off of Macdonough’s Point, which is backside of Kingsland Bay Park. Beautiful kayaking then trail hike on MacDonough Point. The Kingsland State Park has beautiful old stone buildings, and previously was the site of a girls camp, Ecole Champlain, before being acquired by the state in 1970s and preserved as a park.
Happily picked up Gage and Kate the next day at Point Bay Marina in Charlotte VT – a large clean full service marina with good moorings and friendly people. With Gage and Kate, we revisited some of our newly discovered favorite anchorages:
- Willsboro Bay at the train trestle waterfall for a short hike, swim, and kayak; the fjord cliffs are stunning!
- Kingsland Bay – tucked back into this protected bay in anticipation of winds and rain, and the opportunity to hike the trails. Spent the rainy day baking and eating, reading, route planning, and boat projects.
Sadly, Gage had to leave to return to work but thankfully we had more days with Kate!
We explored as we went further south on Lake Champlain, continuing to revel in the mountains which came nearer as the lake narrowed at its southern tip. We found a wonderful gunk hole in Partridge Harbor on the west/NY side – a tiny protected spot that was isolated except for a very statuesque and patient heron fishing…and lots of “no trespassing” signs on the surrounding land, including “do not use trees to tie up.” A stern anchor was used instead. We enjoyed a secluded quiet night in our little hole. Mornings are feeling fall-ish now with cooler temps and cooling lake water, but we braved a morning swim as it was probably our last as we soon leave the clear lake water and head into the silty, grassy rivers and canals. It’s been sweet to swim almost every day!
Continuing down the end of Lake Champlain, as the lake narrows further and feels more like a river, we imagined all the history and battles that happened in these waters. We anchored just south of Fort Ticonderoga, dinghied close to shore, and waded through thick gooey mud and weeds until we reached firm ground – yuck! The tour of the Fort was worthwhile though, especially the “living history” docents (leather craftsman making leather safeties for their guns, shoe cobbler, etc), the tour guide setting the historical scene, but especially enjoyed the canon demonstrations!
Fort Ticonderoga was built by the French in 1758 and was initially called for Carillon. It was strategically placed on a high bluff for control of north and south traffic on the lake, a passageway from New York City to Montreal. In 1759, the British captured the fort, supposedly because the lookout failed to lock the fort’s gate securely. In 1775, the Green Mountain Boys and Benedict Arnold of the American Army surprised the British in the early morning hours and provided the Americans with the first victory in the Revolutionary war. After growing up in Concord MA, where the Revolutionary War began with “the shot heard around the world,” it was interesting to here more about the subsequent battles on Lake Champlain. Well worth an afternoon (or longer) visit. There were “King’s Gardens” and other tours we didn’t have time to experience.
A few miles further south, then we docked at Chipman Point marina, a friendly-to-transient-boaters facility. We met up with people we’d met way up Otter Creek, Kathy and Bill, summering on a tug trawler. Bill worked for Moran, the tug company we see along the Piscataqua. The stone marina buildings were built in 1812 (think War of 1812) and housed a small store, restrooms, showers (yahoo), and laundry. Chip and his mom were welcoming and this obviously is the boating social scene for the area, with sign ups for potlucks and other festivities.
Up early the next morning, 9/4, to finish the Lake and begin the locks of the Champlain Canal. We traveled the narrowing waterway surrounded by marsh grass with eagles, herons and osprey as well as cliffs and trains. Rainstorms with distant thunder and lightning didn’t disturb their fishing!
It’s been a wonderful time on Lake Champlain but we are thankful to be moving south and into the canals again as fall weather settles in gradually. Onward!
By the grace of God we go,
~ Karen and Dean
PS Thanks for reading to the end of this loonnnggg post and joining us on the adventure. We’d love to hear from you via comments, likes, or emails. Thank you all!
Wow! This was an amazing post. I feel like I was cruising with you on lake Champlain. Beautiful pictures and wonderful descriptions of your experiences. Safe travels!
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Thanks, Kathy! Hope you and Ron had a great summer on water and bikes!
Karen and Dean, it sounds like it was truly amazing on the Lake. We enjoyed our year celebration last night and missed you guys being there to celebrate with you. Enjoy!
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We thought about our church family last night and we’re sorry we missed the fabulous celebration. Eager to be back!
Amazing pictures and stories. I did have to google “gunk holing”!
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Thanks, Cindy! I wish I had a drone camera to take pictures of the little “holes” Dean has navigated our boats into. He’s daring! Hope you e had a good summer.