Where is Lake Champlain? Two U.S. states, Vermont and New York, and one Canadian province, Quebec, can all lay claim to this famed body of water, which lies in its namesake valley fringed by the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks. But in proportional terms, Vermont is its true home: Of the lake’s 490 square miles, more than half are within the borders of the Green Mountain State. The biggest city on the lake, Burlington, is Vermont’s cultural capital. And many New Englanders feel it is truly the “great lake” of their region, as it dwarfs Maine’s 118-square-mile Moosehead Lake and New Hampshire’s 72-square-mile Lake Winnipesaukee.
Paul Iwancio/Creative Commons
Lake Champlain also looms large in historical terms. As part of a sprawling waterway linking trading centers in Canada with those in New York, it has long had immense strategic value, and it was a pivotal site in the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812. That military history is reflected in a number of parks and monuments around the lake, most notably New York state’s Fort Ticonderoga, captured from the British in 1775 by state militias led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, and the Macdonough Monument, which commemorates the decisive U.S. victory in the War of 1812’s last naval battle.
Though Lake Champlain was for decades a major force in shipping and commerce, that era largely came to a close in the early 20th century as traffic shifted from boats to railroads and roadways. Today it’s best known as a recreational and cultural destination, home to more than 50 beaches and numerous state parks as well as inviting lakeside towns filled with dining, shopping, and entertainment. Ready for a visit? Read on to find out the answer to “Where is Lake Champlain?” and learn how you can get there, plus discover a few of our favorite things to do, places to eat, and places to stay.
Where is Lake Champlain?
Courtesy of Lake Champlain Basin Program
Lake Champlain is located in the northwestern corner of Vermont, straddling the New York state line to the west and the Canadian border to the north. The closest major metropolitan area is Montreal, in Quebec, roughly an hour’s drive north; New York City is about a five-hour drive south, while Boston is approximately a three-and-a-half-hour drive to the southeast. The lake itself reaches from Whitehall, New York, to its outlet at the Richelieu River in Quebec, a distance of some 120 miles — though at its widest Champlain is only 12 miles across.
The lake is divided into five geological sub-basins: the South Lake, the narrow stretch that runs north from Whitehall to Crown Point; the Main Lake, the broadest part of the lake, from Crown Point to Canada; and clustered on the eastern side north of Burlington, in the so-called Restricted Arm, the trio of Malletts Bay, the Inland Sea (or Northeast Arm), and Missisquoi Bay. Between the Main Lake and the Restricted Arm is where you’ll find Vermont’s lovely Champlain Islands: South Hero, Grand Isle, North Hero, Isle La Motte, and Alburgh (technically a peninsula).
Things to Do Around Lake Champlain
Community Sailing Center, Burlington
Sail or paddle the waters of beautiful Lake Champlain from this conveniently located downtown boathouse. Craft available include dinghies, kayaks, paddleboards, and sailboats of various sizes and designs. Named a 2016 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Boating.”
Church Street Marketplace, Burlington
Turning downtown’s main drag into a pedestrian mall created Vermont’s liveliest shopping, dining, and people-watching scene. Boutiques, bars, and buskers line this strollable four-block stretch, and eateries offer plenty of sidewalk seating. On summer Saturdays the action spills over into nearby City Hall Park, site of a bustling farmers’ market. Named a 2016 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Tourist Hot Spot.”
Burlington Bike Path, Burlington
Lake and mountain views abound. Head to North Beach, onward to rustic Charlie’s Boathouse, or up the Causeway through Colchester to the Island Line and Champlain Islands. Or just meander along the Burlington waterfront south to Oakledge Park. Rentals and maps at Local Motion. Named a 2016 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Lakeside Biking.”
Snake Mountain, Addison & Weybridge
This 1,287-foot outlier of the Taconic range rises abruptly from the surrounding terrain to offer Vermont’s finest panorama of dairy lands, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondacks. Access the five-mile trail loop from either the west side (in Addison) or the east side (in Weybridge), and traverse a 1,215-acre preserve encompassing oak, maple, and hickory forests; a 9,500-year-old glacier-born bog; and, at the top, the ruins of an 1870 hotel. Named a 2018 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Short Hike.”
Shelburne Museum, Shelburne
A spectacular collection of American artifacts and fine art fill historic buildings throughout this sprawling, beautifully landscaped site. Highlights include circus figures and posters, and the restored steamboat Ticonderoga, high and dry but set for a circa-1920s Lake Champlain voyage. Named a 2015 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Art & Americana.”
Places to Eat Around Lake Champlain
VIa the Misery Loves Co. Facebook page
Penny Cluse Café, Burlington
Line up with locals for a table at Burlington’s most popular breakfast spot. It’s worth the wait for such treats as the “Bucket-o-Spuds” (home fries with melted cheese, salsa, sour cream, and scallions), the smoked-salmon plate, and gingerbread pancakes. Named a 2016 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Breakfast.”
Hen of the Wood, Burlington
The menu features an ever-changing but always sophisticated selection of locally sourced foods, including the signature hen-of-the-wood mushroom toast for which the restaurant is named. Named a 2016 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Fresh Vermont Fare.”
Revolution Kitchen, Burlington
Tucked into an alley behind Church Street Marketplace, the Queen City’s first all-vegetarian restaurant woos herbivores with dishes that balance elegance with creative surprises. Named a 2018 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Vegetarian.”
Jeff’s Maine Seafood, St. Albans
Proving that a landlocked state doesn’t have to fall short when it comes to seafood, Jeff ’s has been serving ocean-fresh fish and shellfish for more than 25 years. Favorites include clam chowder, grilled swordfish, and pecan-crusted salmon. Named a 2015 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Ocean-Fresh Fare.”
Misery Loves Co., Winooski
Sip a glass of wild apple cider with oysters, house-made charcuterie, or buttermilk fried chicken, or opt for something outside the standard culinary canon, such as stuffed pheasant, steamed gooseneck barnacles, and whole crawfish. Named a 2017 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best New American Cuisine.”
Places to Stay Around Lake Champlain
Courtesy of Hotel Vermont
Hotel Vermont, Burlington
Just a short stroll from both Church Street and the lakefront, Hotel Vermont offers bright, airy, modern accommodations. Vermont wood and stonework are everywhere, and farm-to-table cooking is featured at the hotel’s Juniper restaurant. Named a 2016 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Boutique Hotel.”
The Lang House, Burlington
This 1881 beauty has been transformed into a posh B&B, whose 11 rooms still display the home’s lavish original craftsmanship while incorporating all the modern conveniences. The two rooms in an 1851 carriage house, set well back from the street, have a country-cottage feel. Named a 2016 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Bed-and-Breakfast.”
Bel-Aire Motel, Burlington
Family-owned and -operated, this cheerful motel sits on the back side of a trendy South End family park. Rooms are basic, well-kept, and just a 10-minute walk from downtown. Named a 2016 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Downtown-Walking Venue.”
The Inn at Shelburne Farms, Shelburne
The centerpiece of this grand estate turned nonprofit teaching farm is the Webb family’s 19th-century summer home, now a beautiful inn with 24 guest rooms and four cottages set amid manicured grounds and views of Lake Champlain. Named a 2018 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Historic Inn.”
North Hero House, North Hero
At this cozy lakeside inn, opened in 1891, some of the 26 rooms have screened-in porches and/or fireplaces; most offer splendid lake and mountain vistas. The inn’s main dining room showcases produce grown on-site, and casual fare is offered in summer and on fall weekends at the bar and grill. Named a 2018 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Island Lodging.”
Have you ever visited Lake Champlain? Tell us about it!
This post was first published in 2018 and has been updated.
The Most Beautiful Places in Vermont
Scenes from a Lake Champlain Houseboat Adventure
Things to Do in Burlington, Vermont