Exploring the Coast of Lake Champlain
Fall-foliage season can make much of Vermont less idyllic than you'd hope. All the more reason to head north, where you'll see more bikes than cars.
Lake Champlain is a picnicker's paradise, with lots of parks and tables to choose from. We ultimately decide on a beach near St. Anne's Shrine on Isle La Motte, the smallest and most geologically interesting of the islands. The southern third of the island is a fossil reef, believed to be the oldest in the world. There's loads of history here as well. Explorer Samuel de Champlain landed on the island way back in 1609, and it's the site of Fort St. Anne, Vermont's oldest settlement, founded by the French in 1666.
We booked a room atRuthcliffe Lodge, a lakefront inn owned by Mark and Kathy Infante. No sooner have we put our bags down than we're introduced (by way of a wet-nose kiss to the back of the knee) to the Infantes' sweet but slightly wild-eyed goldendoodle. Moira valiantly tries to photograph Bosco, but he's far more interested in convincing her to play fetch with his soggy stick. Mark sets us up with bikes, helmets, and a map. The roads are pretty flat and there's a slight breeze at our backs. We whiz down The Main Road, stopping briefly to buy McIntosh apples at the roadside stand of Hall's Orchard. We linger longer at Fisk Quarry Preserve, where we get a glimpse of the ancient reef's structure: round, white fossils (early relatives of sea sponges) in the quarry walls.
Any good we did with our bike ride is completely undone by a carb-tastic dinner at the Ruthcliffe. Mark's Italian specialties--chicken Parmesan, veal marsala, seafood Alfredo--are served with bread and butter, soup, salad, pasta, and a vegetable. Most everything is slathered in hot cheese, delicious but decadent.
- Ruthcliffe Lodge1002 Quarry Rd., Isle La Motte, 800/769-8162, ruthcliffe.com, from $123
- Lakes End Cheeses212 W. Shore Rd., Alburg, 802/796-3730, cheese from $3.50
- Alburg Dunes State Park151 Coon Point Rd., Alburg, 800/252-2363 or 802/796-4170, $2.50
Day 3: Isle La Motte to Grand Isle
Breakfast is equally over-the-top: eggs, bacon, and a stack of buttermilk pancakes, which I literally drown in dark, thick maple syrup. A final stick throw for Bosco and we hit the road, heading to Grand Isle. North of the village of Grand Isle, we findHyde Log Cabin. Constructed of rough-hewn cedar logs around 1783 for Revolutionary-War-veteran-turned-surveyor Jedediah Hyde Jr., it's one of the oldest cabins the United States. There's a fire roaring in the fireplace and a collection of 18th-century housewares, including a spinning wheel and a cradle. Moira and I are used to tiny New York City apartments, but we're astounded when the caretaker tells us that Hyde and his wife raised 10 children in the 20-by-25-foot room.
It's only at this point in the trip that we realize we haven't actually gone out on the water yet, so we decide to take the car ferry from Grand Isle to Plattsburgh, N.Y., home to a state university. The ride lasts 12 minutes each way, just long enough to get out of the car and scramble up to the top deck. As I scan the surface of the water for Champ, Vermont's Loch Ness Monster, I get the full effect of the lake's size (435 square miles). It's so long that, looking south, I can actually see sailboats disappear over the horizon.
Adams Landing B&Bis a five-minute drive from the ferry. Sally Coppersmith and Jack Sartore moved from Burlington in 1999 and opened their lakefront home up to guests last year. There are three rooms in the main house and an attached apartment for longer stays. While chatting with us over wine and cheese on the covered porch, Jack mentions that he's planning to dry-dock his motorboat for the winter the following week. Perhaps because we're the only guests that night, he offers to take us out on a sunset cruise, one of the last of the season for him. We hug the north shore of the island and shoot straight through The Gut, a small bay that separates North Hero and Grand Isle. When Jack swings the boat around and sets a course for home, we're headed southwest, so we have an extraordinary view of the red-orange sun as it slips behind the Adirondacks.
- Lake Champlain Transportation Company802/864-9804, ferries.com, $15.50 round trip for a car and passenger
- Adams Landing B&B1 Adams Landing Rd. Ext., Grand Isle, 802/372-4830, adamslandingvt.com, from $110
- Hyde Log Cabin228 Rte. 2, Grand Isle, 802/828-3051, open Thurs.-Mon., $1
Day 4: Grand Isle to Burlington