Hiking on the Champlain Islands, a mini-vacation in Vermont.



Recently, I had a chance to spend some time on the chain of islands in the center of Lake Champlain in Vermont. Lake Champlain is the sixth largest lake in the United States and in the center of it are five islands; South Hero, Grand Isle, North Hero, Alburg, and Isle La Motte. The islands are rich in flat ground, old farmland and historical value. Key in the war of 1812, rife with military history and the location of a very important moment in Teddy Roosevelt history. You reach the islands on a man-made landbridge known as the Sandbar Causeway. As a young child I remember my grandfather talking about the sandbar as the entrance to the "big lake" on our many fishing and camping trips in his boat, Shamu, which he moored at the harbor in Colchester.

As I approached the islands and drove towards the Airbnb location on the shores of Grand Isle, the second in the chain. I was struck by how level the land was in comparison to the rest of Vermont, as well as by the number of farm implements used as display pieces on people's property. Fields abound with evidence of corn and livestock farming that continues to this day, were prevalent. South Hero is perhaps the most developed area as obvious tourist spots are on both sides of the road as you come off the Sandbar. There was a distinct lack of snow in northern New England this February and the Islands had the feel of spring.

The house was a nice, large affair right on the water on the east side of Grand Isle with large picture windows and a huge deck that offered views of the Vermont countryside and some ridges, one of which was the location of several large windmills that Vermont's viewsheds have been in battle about for the last decade. The location with a large lawn and a stony beach also had a large marshy area just off to the side which had some open water and a flock of Canada Geese that seemed to be wintering there. It was an excellent spot for morning walks with the dog, and coffee at the picture windows.

With the lack of snow, the x-c skis and snowshoes would stay in the car, but there was a lot of info about some great hikes, and historical touring on the islands that could be found. So I headed out to take a look at Goodsell Ridge Preserve, an area with several hiking loops and a chance to try and find some fossils. To get there you have to head all the way north on the chain and pass through Alburg, which is where, the infamous traitor, Benedict Arnold landed his fleet before the Battle of Lake Champlain. The preserve was a little tough to find on this tiny island but the GPS finally did it's job and I parked next to the seasonal museum building. The trails were of a circular nature and I was able to hike a couple of miles around a central field area. The rocky outcroppings popping through the soil were everywhere and added some uniqueness to the landscape. After the nice walk, I decided to fly the drone in the central field and get a look at the island from above. Lots of farmland, and a view of the lake were evident from about 120 feet up. Also the rocky outcroppings were everywhere, almost black in color and with fissures and air pockets running through them that seemed to speak to the power of water carving stone.

Then it was off to the Fisk Quarry Preserve, again interesting to find parking, but it was found and I trudged in to a beautiful rock quarry that held some wide paths and interesting man-made cliffs with evidence of the quarry operations. Many of the local houses were made entirely or partly of old stone and a structure could be seen near the edge of the quarry that looked to be constructed entirely of the same color rock. After walking along the lower areas and viewing the small pond at the base of the quarried rock, I decided a stone scramble was in order and easily found a way to the top of the cliffs where you could find evidence of the old winch and pulley systems used to move the stone and I found a path that led around the rim of the quarry. I followed this for about a half mile back out to the roadside and the house I mentioned before, this was indeed the Fisk homestead and an interesting sign explained how this was the location where Teddy Roosevelt was staying when he learned of the shooting of William Mckinley, eight days later the Roughrider would become President. Finally, on my walk back to the car, I found a kiosk detailing the history of the stone quarry and the rock formations. Part of what is known as the Chazy Reef, a coral reef originally located near the equator and moved here by plate tectonics. I'm not usually that into geology but this made for some interesting backstory and a reason for all the gaps in the black stone outcrops I had been seeing.

The following day I decided to stick closer to the house and explore Grand Isle State Park. There was some nice nature trails with an impressive board walk through some marshy areas and a view platform for a look at Lake Champlain, then I headed into the campground and walked around checking out the lakeside sites and views of the water. There are some great lean-to sites and even some rustic cabins as well as the standard tent and RV sites. I also decided to spend the afternoon flying the camera drone around the lake shore and trying to see what kind of pictures I could get. I was able to push the limits of my aerial cam a bit and flew it over 200 feet high for the first time. I've included that photo and it's interesting as you can see the lake ice just starting to break up, and how it had detached from the shore.

All in all, a fun trip, with a nice stay in a quality Airbnb home. There is hiking and walking all over the islands. Fort St Anne and a ferry ride to NY are in order for next time. I also think this would be an amazing place to have bikes in the summer. Easy, view-packed riding is available all over the islands. The pup had a blast and it is definitely a place to go back to.


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