How to Get Away on Burton Island

You may be familiar with the marina and campground at Burton Island. But did you know that just a mile away, you can find remote, primitive campsites right against the lake? 

Paddling along the Eastern shore of Burton Island from Kill Kare State Park, we passed by rocky coves, with scattered views of the three cabins, 26 lean-tos and 14 developed tent sites that comprise the Vermont State Parks campground located on the 253-acre island. It was hot and sunny, and the waves we paddled through were inviting.

Come summer, Burton Island is one of the most popular camping destinations in the state. Campsites fill up quickly and reservations can be hard to come by, especially when a holiday weekend coincides with glorious summer weather. The island is a boater’s paradise.

But if you look beyond the more developed sites at the island’s eastern end, you’ll discover that it’s also home to four remote campsites, specially designed for paddlers. With a little advanced planning, my group was able to score two for the Friday after July 4—a feat I would have expected to be nearly impossible.

As planned, we paddled from Kill Kare State Park, past Mosquito Island and along the eastern shore of Burton Island toward sites 4 & 5. After about a mile on the water, a rocky point came into view, with Grand Isle on the horizon and the Adirondack Mountains rising above and beyond it. To the south, we could see tiny Ball Island, with craggy cliffs that rise above the lake to support a smattering of inviting trees and dense forest.

To the right, along the southern shore of Burton Island, were the four remote campsites. All are located just above a rocky ledge that drops down onto a series of pebble beaches and the lake, with plenty of places to stash a canoe or kayak. At our campsite, number four, a short walk from the lake led to a grassy knoll surrounded by oak trees and ironwood, with a picnic table and firepit. A composting privy, shared by campsites 4 & 5, sat just a short walk away through the woods.

Though the sites are located in pairs, they are separated from each other by dense forest. The view south from site 4 and 5 looks out over the lake, toward Mallets Bay and the place where Route 2 crosses to Grand Isle. It’s a short hike along the grassy, bike-friendly Southern Tip Trail to the Southern Tip, a grassy park at the island’s terminus with a rocky point that offers great swimming, space for tossing a frisbee, picnic tables and an incredible view of the sunset over the Adirondacks.

A private beach lined with old oak trees, with views of Ball Island and the Adirondacks beyond greets campers at the southern tip of Burton Island. Photo by Abagael Giles

Each of Burton Island’s four remote campsites can be booked through Vermont State Parks from Memorial Day through September 28. For those planning to access Burton Island by taking the Island Runner passenger ferry from Kamp Kill Kare State Park, the Southern Tip Trail leads to the campsites from the 100-slip marina and snack bar on Burton Island’s eastern tip. Ferry fares are $8 per person each way for campers and day-use visitors. Bicycles cost an extra $2. Canoes and kayaks are also available for rent on the island.

If paddling to Burton Island, the shortest route is from Kill Kare State Park. It’s an approximately 1.5-mile paddle to the campsites, with or without a stop for ice cream at the Burton Island Bistro, a small store and cafe that also sells beer, wine, ice and breakfast and lunch at the marina.

However, if you head straight to your remote campsite by canoe or kayak, you might forget you’re camping on the same island that hosts a 100-slip marina, store and nature center. Burton Island is small (just about a mile long), but its dense forests, wetlands and rocky outcroppings paired with the constant sound of lapping water create the illusion of solitude. The southern tip remains quiet and secluded, even as the northeastern end buzzes with activity.

While camping at one of the remote sites, you can fall asleep to the sound of waves lapping against the shore and watch the sunrise from your sleeping bag, or catch the sunset from the beach below. It’s a great place to take an early morning swim, or to set out for an exploratory afternoon paddle. Make a weekend of it and plan to spend the next night at nearby Woods Island, also managed for camping by Vermont State Parks. For camping ($18 per night) make reservations at vtstateparks.com.

And, if Burton Island is full, be sure to check out one of the state’s 37 other parks, from Groton State Park to Maidstone State Park. At some you can book a cabin or lean-to, while at others, among them Kettle Pond State Park, Little River State Park, Osmore Pond and Knight and Woods Islands, you’ll find camping similar to the primitive sites at Burton Island. These sites must be paddled or hiked to and may feature a lean-to or tent space a fireplace or fire ring, but require you carry your gear and garbage in and out with you and treat your own water.

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