Lake Champlain, Vermont

August 21-25, 2021

Two things we have learned traveling with our motorhome; to be flexible and not to play chicken with Mother Nature. Our original plan was to continue on to Lubec, Maine after Bar Harbor and visit the eastern most point in the U.S. home to Quoddy lighthouse where you can witness the very first sunrise in the country. I was fully onboard with sending Leo out early to get me wonderful sunrise pictures but unfortunately Hurricane Henri came along and changed our plans.

We watched with great concern the weather updates as the storm approached the Northeast coast of the US and decided that is was time to change our plans. After looking at a map and calling several RV campgrounds within a day’s drive (and away from the coastline) we found availability in Vermont, a state we had not planned to visit on this trip. With the hurricane gathering strength and moving up the Atlantic coast line, we got up early the next day and pointed our motorhome west and out of the storm’s path towards Grand Isle, Vermont located on Lake Champlain.

This beautiful natural lake, borders the states of New York, Vermont and Quebec province in Canada. There are several islands on the lake the largest of which is Grand Isle. Our campground, Apple Island Resort, was located in the village of South Hero which is on the south tip of Grand Isle. All these islands are connected by bridges and you can drive up and into Canada through this island chain.

It seemed that everyone else visiting the coast of Maine had the same idea as us making the traffic heading west horrendous, everybody trying to get out of the hurricane’s path. We arrived in South Hero on a gorgeous afternoon and were thrilled that our assigned RV site had a lake view. The people at the campground were very helpful with information of the surrounding area and options for places to visit and activities to do. So with an armful of maps and brochures we headed towards our assigned site and quickly set up for a much needed happy hour to rest after the long drive from Bar Harbor. The time after we set up our motorhome and get to sit out on the patio for relaxation (and a stiff drink in hand) is always my favorite. How lucky to be able to enjoy a gorgeous sunset as well that evening.

One of the unique attractions of this area is the system of bike trails which not only take you around the islands but also allows you to travel across the Colchester gap which separates the islands from the Vermont mainland. This crossing is facilitated by the local Motion Bike Ferry. When we saw this is in the guide books we were over the moon to be able to hop on our ebikes again and cross over this beautiful lake. The ferry is free to ride but they accept donations which we were more than happy to contribute since the ferry crew is an all volunteer workforce and deserves support.

The ferry itself has a unique history, in 1899 the Rutland-Canadian Railroad built the Island Line – one of the world’s most spectacular stretches of railbed at the time. The incentive behind the effort was to connect the bustling New England seacoast with the Great Lakes. The Island Line served New England communities until 1961. In the 1980’s the citizens of Burlington decided to convert the abandoned line into a trail to be used by pedestrians and bikers, and after a decade of fundraising and starts and stops, the trail and bike ferry came into being.

We hopped on our bikes and pedaled to the ferry to cross the lake, the crossing itself is a very quick ride across a 200 foot gap and onto the three mile Colchester Causeway right in the middle of the lake. The causeway takes you into the mainland and south towards Burlington. This causeway was wide enough for two people to ride abreast but just so, no room for error and of course you have to mind the incoming traffic of cyclists, hikers and dogs out enjoying the gorgeous scenery. This was another spectacular bike ride with gorgeous views of beaches, trails, farms and cityscapes. We biked all the way into downtown Burlington, about a 14 mile ride, and took a break on the city’s beautiful harbor.

Going for a day drive is one of our favorite things to do, so on our last full day, we headed out early to explore the islands of Lake Champlain. We headed north towards the Isle La Motte the furthest point from our campground so we could visit St. Annés shrine early and have time to make a easy drive back with plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy the sights.

The Isle La Motte is one of the two most northern islands on Lake Champlain and very close to the Canadian border. The drive from South Hero took us about half an hour during which we meandered through bridges, coves, bays and farms. We stopped at a couple of beautiful rocky beaches and I was surprised that the water was warm enough for me to even consider going in, just consider, not that I would actually go in any water less the 80F(27C).

St. Anne’s shrine sits in a secluded peaceful spot on the northwestern side of the Isle La Motte. Here Lake Champlain empties into the Richelieu River where a series of forts were built in the early 1600s by the French to defend against the Iroquois. One of these was Ft. St. Anne, erected in 1666, which included the shrine dedicated to the saint. This shrine was named after St. Anne mother of Mary. This is one of the oldest settlements in Vermont and the site is a very popular place in New England for the celebration of the Catholic mass during the summer months.

The grounds today are lovely with open air chapel, a grotto and beautiful statues honoring Catholic saints and martyrs. Across from the chapel there is a beach with outdoor meditation areas and a statute of Samuel de Champlain.

The statute of Samuel de Champlain sits at the spot on the Lake where he may have landed in 1609. He named the lake after himself as he was the first to explore and map this area. He was a jack of all trades from cartographer, explorer, soldier to diplomat. This statue was sculpted in 1967 in Montreal and presented to the town of Isle La Motte.

Vermont was one of those unintended trips that leaves very fond memories. I would love to return and this time keep going north and cross into Quebec. Leo is already working on this plan, something to look forward to.

We are heading home with much to look forward to; Our annual trip to the mountains of North Carolina in October and most precious of all, our son’s wedding in September. See you here again soon!


2 thoughts on “Lake Champlain, Vermont

  1. Lucy,  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and looking at the pictures.  What a beautiful place!  Makes me want to go there. You are a wonderful travel writer!  Thank you so much.

    Rae

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  2. As the great artist Bob Ross used to say, ‘there are only happy accidents’ and finding this location to escape the hurricane was one. It is so beautiful and quite and I loved the photos-Definitely plan a trip to Quebec the French quarter is beautiful. Happy travels.

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