15 Best Things to Do in Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain
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Two countries share the enormous body of water called Lake Champlain.

This natural freshwater lake crosses the border between the United States and Canada, ending up in Quebec, Canada.

However, the bulk of the lake sits right inside the United States’ borders, crossing New York and Vermont.

Lake Champlain comprises a huge part of the Adirondack Park, covering the eastern sides of Essex County and Clinton County in New York.

The lake’s northwestern shore also serves the city of Plattsburgh, New York, while the eastern shore serves Burlington, Vermont.

When you go to the lake’s north shore, you’ll reach the town of Ticonderoga, New York.

Via the Richelieu River and the Champlain Canal, Lake Champlain also connects to the St. Lawrence Seaway.

This connection earns it the nickname “The Sixth Great Lake.”

Do you want to know more about this stunning place?

Here’s a list of the best things to do in Lake Champlain:

Spend the Day at Point Au Roche State Park

Body of water at Point Au Roche State Park
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Lake Champlain is a major part of the appeal of the Point Au Roche State Park, in Plattsburgh, New York.

While the park is mostly undeveloped, it has a lot of open space with thick forests.

Are you just visiting?

Then go to the park’s large day-use space with a sandy beach and picnic areas.

A trail at Point Au Roche State Park
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Enjoy the lake through fishing and boating, or enjoy the space via volleyball or softball.

There are also 60 designated mooring sites in Deep Bay.

Besides lake activities, the park also has many trails for hikers and bikers to traverse.

The park’s Nature Center is also open year-round to the public.

Tree roots at Point Au Roche State Park
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Enjoy the Outdoors at Niquette Bay State Park

In 1975, the state of Vermont bought property along Malletts Bay at the northeastern shore of Lake Champlain.

They turned the land into the Niquette Bay state park, named after the indentation on Malletts Bay.

During your visit, you’ll discover 4,700 feet of gorgeous sandy shore along the park’s southern boundary.

After extensive farming in 1800s, Niquette Bay is now densely forested.

A flat sand terrace crosses the property, with tall long ridges rising to over 400 feet above sea level.

The terrace itself also carries a millennia-old brook that has formed Lake Champlain’s shallow sandy beach through depositing sand and silt into the lake.

Niquette Bay’s appeal lies in its hiking opportunities.

The family-friendly trail allows you to reach high points, where you can enjoy the view of Malletts Bay, the Green Mountains, and the Lake Champlain Islands.

However, the park is for day-use only, and camping is prohibited.

Go Camping at the Cumberland Bay State Park

If you want to spend the night in nature’s embrace, visit Plattsburgh to go camping at the Cumberland Bay State Park.

Camp out under the stars and explore the 350-acre park to your hearts’ content.

The park offers plenty of recreational options, such as playgrounds and ball fields, as well as hiking and cycling trails.

Likewise, you can go canoeing on the lake.

Bring your RV to the park and set up camp on the numerous campsites.

During the day, you can play basketball or go hiking.

Then, enjoy a cozy lunch with your family.

Let the day wind down, and begin preparing for a night outdoors.

The park also lets you bring two household pets.

Learn History at the Button Bay State Park

Sunny day at Button Bay State Park
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The 253-acre park stands on a Ferrisburgh, Vermont bluff, sitting along Lake Champlain.

Various historical figures have visited the park.

These figures include Benjamin Franklin, who visited in 1776, Benedict Arnold in 1777, Samuel de Champlain in 1609, and Ethan Allen in 1776.

Before becoming a state park, the area was once a farm. Vermont turned the farm into a park in 1964.

You’ll find button-shaped formations from years of clay deposits on the lakeshore.

These formations gave the park its name.

During your visit, you can set up camp on the open grassy plains overlooking Lake Champlain, and sitting under the Adirondack Mountains.

You can also rent the park’s open, fully equipped pavilion that can seat up to 300 people.

Step Back in Time at the Shelburne Museum

Exterior of the round barn in Shelburne Museum
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Near Lake Champlain sits the Shelburne Museum in Vermont.

The museum offers guests the opportunity to delight in unique examples of American art, design, and history.

Moreover, the museum wants you to explore the grounds for yourself, with 39 different structures standing on 45 acres.

Each of these structures also contains interesting and whimsical objects.

You can also play at the museum garden if the mood strikes you.

What else can you see in this museum, founded in 1947?

The lighthouse of Shelburne Museum
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You’ll find various works of American folk art, historic New England architecture, duck decoys, French Impressionism, and even circus animals.

These pieces form part of the collection of the museum founder, Electra Havemeyer Webb.

Mrs. Webb explored the countryside between New England and New York, stumbling upon several historic buildings that she ended up using for her collections.

Eventually, she moved them to the museum grounds, from a lighthouse to a jail, and even the 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga.

If you want to get a glimpse of the American future, then visit the American past.

Visit the Shelburne Museum when you can.

Exterior of steamboat Ticonderoga
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Visit an Ornamental Farm at Shelburne Farms

Scenic landscape of Shelburne Farms
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Located on the shores of Lake Champlain, Shelburne Farms spans 1,400 acres and educates guests about sustainable living.

Likewise, the farm continues to produce crops and food products, such as cheese, butter, and many others.

Moreover, Shelburne Farms is a National Historic Landmark, as a fine example of “ornamental farms” popular during the Gilded Age.

Exterior of Shelburne Farms' barn
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The architects Robert Henderson Robertson and Frederick Law Olmsted designed the farm during the late 19th century.

In 1886, Dr. William Seward Webb and Eliza Osgood Vanderbilt Webb created the farm as a model agricultural estate.

Today, you hike along the walking trails, visit the children’s farm, dine at the restaurant, or stay at the inn.

Aerial view of Shelburne Farms
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Grab Delicious Food at Elfs Farm Winery & Cider House

Are you visiting Plattsburgh and you don’t know what to eat?

Grab some good old American food at the Elfs Farm Winery & Cider House.

They also serve other delicious meals like poutine.

Likewise, the family-owned Elfs Farm Winery produces a variety of wines and hard ciders sourced from local grapes.

You can also visit their gift shop for Adirondack Coast-themed items.

The winery also sells beer-making supplies to help your brewery dreams get started.

Try Craft Beer at Foam Brewers

In 2016, some industry professionals banded together to found Foam Brewers.

Their shared love for science, art, culture, and music helped influence their craft of brewing beer.

Likewise, they founded the brewery with the mission to “resourcefully create imaginative beers for enlightened palates.”

Foam Brewers prepares small batches of beer with various flavors.

They also like to change their beer lineup from time to time, creating new experiences every visit.

Likewise, the brewery offers high-quality cheese and charcuterie slates to pair with your drink.

Foam Brewers is at the Waterfront Park in Burlington, near Lake Champlain.

Study Science and Nature at the ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain

Exterior of ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain
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The ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain is a science and nature museum located near Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont.

The center houses over 70 fish species, along with invertebrates, amphibians, and reptiles.

Likewise, you can find the Northfield Savings Bank 3D Theater there.

Since 2003, the center has provided the public with memorable animal encounters and hands-on activities for the whole family.

Farther exterior view of ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain
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The ECHO building is the first LEED-certified Green Building in Vermont.

It’s one of only 70 LEED buildings in the entire country, and it’s only the third such building in Vermont.

ECHO also stands for Ecology, Culture, History, and Opportunities.

Revisit American History at the North Star Underground Railroad Museum

The North Star Underground Railroad Museum honors the fugitive slaves and the people who helped them escape through the Champlain Valley to Ontario, Canada.

During your visit, you’ll find various exhibits showing the hidden history of the Underground Railroad’s Champlain Line.

These exhibits tell the story of escaped slaves who sought freedom.

For example, you can find multimedia displays of the triumphant story of John Thomas and his family.

He escaped slavery from a Maryland plantation and established his own mountain farm in the Adirondacks.

Slaves who escaped through the Champlain Line passed the Upper Hudson River, the Champlain Canal, and Lake Champlain.

Its location on the slave escape route has made Lake Champlain into a Gateway to Freedom.

Stir Your Imagination at the Lake Champlain Monster Monument

The main water attraction in Burlington, Vermont, is Lake Champlain, providing material for its residents with fertile imaginations for many years.

How?

People living around Lake Champlain have put up a monument to a cryptid named “Champ,” a dinosaur-looking creature that lives in the water.

Besides looking like a dinosaur, “Champ” also has a snakelike neck, a long tail, a humped back, a small head, and a set of flippers.

You can find the monument at Perkins Pier, near the harbor.

“Champ” has become a Burlington icon that the Vermont government has declared it an officially protected species.

Many businesses in Burlington have also adopted “Champ” as their mascot.

For instance, Champ is the official mascot of Burlington’s minor league baseball team, the Vermont Lake Monsters.

Check Out a Unique World Record with the World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet

The site of the World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet
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This work of art from local Burlington artist Bren Alvarez also holds the world record of being the world’s tallest filing cabinet.

Comprising 38 drawers, the structure represents the number of years Alvarez spent accumulating paperwork for a local street project.

Many other artworks claim to be the world’s tallest filing cabinet, though, but this Burlington icon has as strong a claim as any.

Visit the monument to judge for yourself.

The tower is also a comment on the bureaucratic delays in building the “Southern Connector,” planned to link Interstate 89 to downtown Burlington.

The idea came about in 1965, although nothing came of it, even after 51 years.

All that happened was a change of name to the “Champlain Parkway.”

Stay on Your Own Island at the Knight Island

Knight Island joins Burton Island and Woods Island as the neighboring islands standing on the “inland sea” of Lake Champlain.

The State bought these islands in 1990 and turned them into camping destinations.

In particular, Knight Island spans 185 acres and stretches for a mile long and roughly half a mile wide.

The campground covers nearly all of the private land on the island's southern tip, which spans 10 acres.

Just keep away from the island’s southern end to respect your neighbor.

During the 1980s, Knight Island became a primitive campground after being uninhabited for several years.

The island’s owners lived there themselves, where they started a timber management program to support the camping business.

Today, you can set up camp on seven spots scattered on the island.

You’ll need to book a water taxi, dock your own boat, or anchor off.

Look at the Lighthouse at Juniper Island Light

Aerial view of Juniper Island Light
Greezens, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The oldest light station on Lake Champlain is Juniper Island Light, which is also the oldest cast-iron lighthouse still standing in the United States.

In 1826, the lighthouse opened on the island, which replaced the old beacon with just a lantern and a post.

After construction, the tower stood 30 feet and lit the way for ships nearby the Burlington harbor.

The tower had become disused by 1838.

In 1954, the lighthouse got deactivated and replaced with a steel tower put up nearer the water.

Since Juniper Island isn’t open to the public, you’ll need to board sightseeing cruises to see the lighthouse from the water.

Look Back on an Infamous Figure at Arnold Bay

Popular culture now calls Benedict Arnold a traitor who got caught trying to sell out West Point to the British during the American Revolutionary War.

However, he had become a famous American military hero who helped advance their war effort.

You’ll find markers of his battlefield exploits at Arnold Bay on the Vermont shore of Lake Champlain.

Arnold had created a navy on Lake Champlain that deterred the British assault on Valcour Island.

Despite being forced to retreat, Arnold burned his remaining boats to hold off the British army.

His act of defiance kept the British army from establishing themselves in the area and gave the US army enough time to prepare a counterattack.

The historical marker of Arnold Bay is now partly underwater, but you can find another interpretive panel on Panton, Vermont.

You can visit the place and revisit the pivotal battle in 1776.

Final Thoughts

Lake Champlain offers plenty of attractions, whether on the water or inland.

Venture far enough inland, whether in Vermont or New York, to find lively restaurants and bars or visit historical landmarks.

You can also just camp out on the lakeshore or paddle along on the water.

Visit Lake Champlain today!