For a bone-deep feeling of peace surrounded by intense natural beauty, the Lake Champlain Islands of Vermont is among the top five contenders from anywhere on Earth.
This sinuous string of five islands meanders down the center of Lake Champlain near its northern end. Bridges and ferries connect the island communities – North Hero, South Hero, Grand Isle, Isle La Motte — to the mainland and Burlington to the east, New York State to the west, and Montreal, Canada, to the north.
The islands have 200 miles of shoreline wrapped in and around coves and tiny peninsulas. A drive along with quiet roads seems to reveal a fresh view of water, marinas, islands, and distant mountains at nearly every turn.
Dairy farming and apple growing hums along in these old communities. Fields dotted with tightly rolled hay bales are a common sight, as are barns, farm houses, cows. Bicyclists pedal down roads lined with the bowed orange heads of day lilies and purple wildflowers.
You don’t really need to do much of anything here, but I you insist, there is plenty of opportunity for boating, fishing, swimming at private campgrounds and the Island’s three state parks: Alburgh Dunes, Knight Point, and Sand Bar.
First, you need a place to stay. These can include elegant inns and B&Bs as well as RV parks and campgrounds.
Vermont cooks and chefs and farmers are justly proud of their fresh, healthy, and locally sources foods. Places to eat range from dairy bars serving maple creemes (soft ice cream) along the bike paths to artful restaurants.
South Hero, the southernmost island and just a 20-minute drive from Burlington, is home to Vermont’s first vineyard, Snow Farm Winery, a lively stop along the Champlain Coast Wine Trail. Wine lovers: design a personal wine-tasting drive with this trail as a handy guide.
The Islands are steeped in history; for people from Europe, history started with the arrival in 1609 of Samuel de Champlain. Isle La Motte is home to the historic St. Anne’s Shrine and lesser known, yet historically profound, Chazy Reef, the world’s oldest coral reef. The Rutland Railroad ran through the Islands until the 1950s; the old rail bed causeway has been turned into a world-class bike trail calledThe Island Line.
If you’re not sure where to begin your explorations, start by browsing the website for the Lake Champlain Byway. As you plan, explore some themed itineraries, like Chews & Brews along this scenic drive.