Champlain: It really is a great lake

Pedestrian-friendly Burlington.

BURLINGTON, VT -- There was a brief moment there when a move was afoot to add Lake Champlain to the assemblage known as the Great Lakes.

Technically, Champlain came under the descriptive umbrella of "Great Lakes'' for some federal technical water management programs in 1998. However, try to convince anyone who learned the mnemonic device H•O•M•E•S for Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior that they have to work a "C" into it.

And never mind that the watery gem shared mostly by New York and Vermont is a mere drop in the bucket sizewise when its 435 square miles - sixth largest in the U.S. - are compared to the largest of the original Great Lakes (Superior at 31,700). Or even the smallest (Ontario at 7,340).

While it may not be a true Great lake, it is a great lake, smack in the middle of a great place for a getaway. The best approach from the New York side is from the Albany/Saratoga Springs area known as the Capital Region, an excellent daytrip that can be extended into a leisurely overnighter runs up the I-87 Northway to the lake, east across by one of three ferries to Vermont, a visit to the Burlington area, then back down toward Bennington and back home. From Boston, it's pretty much just a reverse route

That doesn't cover all of Lake Champlain. After all, it is 121 miles long and extends several miles north into Canada. It does, however, cover the most heavily populated portion and the most spectacular views of the Adirondacks on the west side and the Green Mountains on the east.

It even has its own version of the Loch Ness Monster folk fable. This one is known as "Champ," and it has its own cult following as well as some scientific interest. here is just one "fan site" devoted to the legend.


Outdoors activities -- As might be expected, they are myriad on both sides of the lake, from hiking to boating to camping to biking to climbing and anything else one might think of. One of the most comprehensive Web sites for the New York side is from the state Department of Environmental Conservation For the Vermont side, the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce site has a section with helpful links.

• Ferry service -- (802) 864-9804: The rides themselves are attractions. They go between Essex, NY and Charlotte, VT, (20 minute ride), the run closest to the Capital Region; Port Kent, NY, and Burlington, VT (60-minute ride), and Plattsburgh and Grand Isle, VT. (12-minute ride). The season begins about a week before Memorial Day.

• Fort Ticonderoga, Ticonderoga Village, 585-2821 -- The 1775 stone fort was built by the French, then taken over by the British. Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys from Vermont captured it during the Revolution. The complex of 40 restored buildings shows rural life in the 1790-1840 era. Open from May 10 through mid-October.

Church Street Marketplace, Burlington, VT, (802) 863-1648 -- This brick-paved area made for strolling and people-watching is the activity heart of the state's largest city (but at a population of 39,000 still quite small), with the Burlington Town Center mall, home to more than 75 specialty shops and 15 national retailers. It also is the site of festivals and street entertainment year-round and such summer events as the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival (May 30-June 8), the annual Marketplace Sidewalk Sale in July and the Champlain Valley Folk Festival, Latino Festival and Burlington Craft Fair in August.

College Cluster, Burlington, VT -- Burlington is home to the University of Vermont, Champlain College, Burlington College and the Community College of Vermont, plus St. Michael's is in nearby Colchester. That means lots of small cafes, bookstores and on-campus events.

Champlain Valley Exposition, 105 Pearl St., Essex Junction, VT, (802) 878-5545 -- The state's largest fair is held over 10 days in late August, but there also are events year-round.

Middlebury, VT -- Vermont still has numerous downtown-centric communities that have avoided the widespread move to suburban malls. This is one such, with a classic New England Main Street with numerous well-maintained late-18th and early-19th-century buildings. It also has the Vermont Folklife Center (88 Main St., 802-388-4964 or http://www.vermontfolklifecenter.org) Line is overdrawn with has numerous exhibits and research programs aimed at protecting the state's cultural traditions, and the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History (1 Park St., 802-388-2117), the oldest chartered community history museum in the nation.


• Upper Deck Restaurant, Willsboro Bay Marina, 20 Klein Drive, Willsboro, NY, (518) 962-8271 -- This seasonal spot offers an international menu and a great waterview of the bay that juts off Lake Champlain.

Ri-Ra The Irish Pub, 123 Church St., Burlington, VT, (802) 860-9401 -- An upscale spot with both inspiration and decorating materials brought from Dublin. Traditional Irish and modern American cuisine, weekend entertainment.

• Vermont Pub & Brewery, 144 College St., Burlington, VT, (802) 865-0500 -- A brewpub in a Vermont college town. Talk about quintessential. A menu of handcrafted beers and ciders, plus all the usual pub food.

Dobra Tea House, 80 Church St., Burlington, VT, (802) 951-2424 -- The first Dobra opened in Prague in 1993. Ten years later, this Bohemian-style tea room followed. It offers imported teas from around the world, plus light fare.

• Basin Harbor Club, 4800 Basin Harbor Road, Vergennes, VT, (800) 622-4000 -- This resort complex, part of the Historic Hotels of America, has a range of dining options: from upscale in the main dining room to lunch in the casual Red Mill -- a renovated sawmill, al fresco on the Homestead lawn, or on the North Dock.


A looong list of possibilities, mostly on the Vermont side. Get the most up-to-date data online at Where to Stay for Vermont and for New York.


Heading north: 137 miles from downtown Albany to Willsboro to get the Essex ferry to Vermont. Heading south: 130.5 miles from Burlington to Bennington. Drive time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, to Willsboro; 2 hours, 56 minutes, from Burlington to Bennington, 40 minutes from Bennington to Albany.
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