With 490 square-miles of surface, 587 miles of shore, and water as deep as 400 feet, Lake Champlain is truly our great lake.
There are endless opportunities for fitness, adventure, and recreation along this gem, and you may already have a favorite lake pastime. But when was the last time you tried something new on Lake Champlain? If you’re answer is, not recently, you may be missing out on the fun. Adventure-minded entrepreneurs and dedicated outdoors nonprofits offer an array of ways to take advantage of the jewel of northwest Vermont. We rounded up our eight favorite ways to have fun on Lake Champlain, and give you the deets to make them happen.
A word of caution—the severe flooding has caused a high amount of debris to be in the lake, so be on the lookout for items like propane tanks, garbage cans, and other debris. And it’s always a good idea to call ahead when making plans, in case the high waters have impacted your desired activity.>>Related: Lake Gear Sidebar
1. Stand-Up Paddle
Most of you have heard of stand-up paddling by now, but have you tried it? If not, what are you waiting for? Jason Starr offers lessons on Lake Champlain by appointment; 881-4905. The learning curve isn’t too steep—Starr says that in about 10 minutes, just about anyone can stand comfortably on the board. Next you’ll learn the basic strokes, something that should come more naturally to canoe or kayak paddlers. Soon you’ll be propelling yourself across the lake.
“I love to be out on the water and this to me is the simplest and most fun way to travel,” Starr says. “It’s the minimum amount of equipment you need, and you can go for as big an expedition as you want.”
Umiak Outdoor Outfitters runs an intro to Paddlebording at its North Beach outpost, days and times vary, 253-2317.
Starr also offers SUP board and paddle rentals from Oakledge Park (Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to dusk; Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m. to dusk; mid-June through mid-September.)
2. Sit Down and Paddle
Take in the glorious views of the Adirondacks as you paddle along Lake Champlain in a kayak. A great upper-body and core workout, kayaking allows you access to all the pockets and coves not accessible by motor boat. You can rent canoes and kayaks from Canoe Imports at North Beach (first come, first served basis). If you’ve never been, or have never kayaked on a large body of water, a little instruction can go a long way. Canoe Imports offers Intro to Kayaking, Sea Kayaking, Kayak Rescue, and Kayak Rolling classes. Intro and Sea Kayaking classes run Saturdays from July to August, reservations required; (651-8760).
Think diving is only for the tropics? Diving in Lake Champlain will have you rethinking that notion. The lake is home to nine buoyed shipwrecks, most of them well preserved thanks to the hospitable cold-water environment.
Jonathan Eddy, co-owner of Waterfront Diving Center in Burlington, says his favorite shipwreck is canal schooner O.J. Walker. The boat was built in 1862, sinking 33 years later in 1895. Both masts are still on the ship, and the ship is still carrying its cargo—bricks. Even the hand trucks used to move the cargo about the ship remain part of this archeological wonder. The Horse Ferry is another must-see. It’s the only known wreck of a horse-powered ferry—so rare it was featured in National Geographic.
Beyond shipwrecks, diving in Lake Champlain will give you a unique view of the dramatic cliffs, Eddy says. Where you see cliffs on the surface, many of those cliffs continue under water. “There are really steep drop offs,” Eddy says, “with vertical walls just like you’d see in the Caymans or Bahamas.”
4. Go Sailing
You can learn to sail at the Community Sailing Center in Burlington. Choose from a dinghy or keelboat beginners course. These multiday classes are designed for those who have never sailed before and for those who need a refresher; 864-2499. International Sailing School in Colchester also offers introductory classes on both keelboats or dinghies, with two-day to five-day beginner course options; 864-9065.
Experienced sailors can rent one of the luxurious 30- and 40-foot Beneteaus from Lake Champlain Sailboat Rentals, such as the three-cabin Rio Beneteau 393. You’ll have to provide proof of your sailing abilities to rent one of these beauties, or you can hire a captain or crew. Sail for a day, or make a week-long vacation out of it. Prices vary by boat and length of rental, (514) 617-3345.
If you’d rather a crew did the work, enjoy a two-hour cruise on a Friend Ship sloop, through the Whistling Man Schooner Co. $35/adults; $20/children. Departs from a slip next to ECHO; 598-6504.
5. Tie a Fly
Lake Champlain is full of bass, pike, panfish, sunfish, perch, and carp. Try the challenge of catching them by fly-fishing. Drew Price, a self-described “fish geek,” brings one or two guests to the best spots on the lake, via canoe or kayak. Motorless boats allow you access to places motorboats don’t (and fishing guides operating a motorboat need a captain’s license, as Lake Champlain is international waters). Though carp are often thought of as “trash fish,” carp can certainly be eaten. You can find carp in excess of 40 pounds and 40 inches long in Lake Champlain, though they are one of the toughest fish to catch. Price requires advanced reservations 324-5651.
Schirmer’s Fly Shop of South Burlington offers guided canoe trips on Lake Champlain for bass, pike, and carp fishing. Whole or half-day trips available, equipment rental available; (863-6105.
Fishing Champlain’s main catches are large- and smallmouth bass and pike. Nihad Basic can zip you out to the best spots via motorboat. Advanced reservations required; 734-7092.
6. Have a Picnic on the Beach
What’s more romantic than a sunset picnic?
With more than 50 public beaches on its shores, Lake Champlain is the perfect spot for a summer picnic. There’s a picnic area at Bayside Beach in Colchester (free entry, no glass containers), a picnic pavilion on North Beach in Burlington, and Plattsburgh City Beach has a picnic area as well. Great places for scrumptious take-out near the lake include Fresh Market at 400 Pine St. in Burlington; Burlington Bay Cafe; and Burlington Farmers’ Market (Saturdays 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.).
7. Island Hop
Travel to Burton Island! This Vermont State Park is like no other, featuring a marina instead of a parking lot. The 253-acre park has camping, restrooms with showers, hiking trails, a store, and more. Don’t have your own boat? Access Burton Island via a ferry that departs from Kill Kare State Park in St. Albans (fee).
8. Take in Some Tunes
There must be some happy fish in Lake Champlain because each summer is chock full of great lakeside music. The Lake Champlain Maritime Festival (Aug. 11–14) features hometown faves Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and O.A.R. The Battery Park Free Concert series returns on Thursdays this summer.