Family Vacations to Lake Champlain and Burlington, Vermont

Lake Champlain, Vermont
Fall Peeks Out (PhotoDisc)

Lake Champlain and Burlington Family Travel Tips

  • Swim, boat, and fish on Lake Champlain.
  • See a miniature circus, covered bridge, steamboat, and other historic artifacts at the Shelburne Museum.
  • Stroll Shelburne Farms and visit the Children's Farmyard to pet horses and rabbits.
  • Watch the elegant Royal Lipizzan Stallions perform.
  • Climb aboard a replica of a Revolutionary War gunboat for a live gun drill.

"Discovered" in 1609 by explorer Samuel de Champlain, Vermont's hard-to-miss Lake Champlain has progressed from being an important trade and transport corridor to a favorite recreational haven for boaters, swimmers, and those simply after some plain ol' relaxin'. At 120 miles long and 12 miles across at its widest point (near Burlington), two-thirds of the lake fill Vermont, with the rest covering New York and small slice of Canada.

In Burlington, you can fish from a pier, rent boats, or sign up for a scenic lake cruise aboard the Spirit of Ethan Allen III. Waterfront Park and Promenade has grassy areas for romping and the Burlington Bikeway stretches lakeside for over seven miles. Good swimming spots include Button Bay State Park in Vergennes, which is lakeside plus has a pool; Sand Bar State Park in Milton features a shallow bottom and a sandy beach; and North Hero State Park in North Hero has a beach as well as boat rentals. From mid-July through August, Herrmann's Royal Lipizzan Stallions, known as the "ballet dancers of the horse world," perform on North Hero Island.

Sherburne's Shelburne Museum justly earns its nickname "New England's Smithsonian." Dedicated to American folk art, artifacts, and architecture, the museum showcases 25 historic buildings including a jail and lighthouse. Walk through a covered bridge, come aboard the Ticonderoga, America's last side paddlewheel passenger steamer, and tour a 1950s house replete with a turquoise and yellow kitchen and radio blaring songs by Perry Como ("Who?" your kids will ask). The Circus Building displays a 500-foot-long miniature circus of marching horses, zebras, and elephants plus life-size carousel ponies and other figures by master carver Gustav Dentzel.

Also in Shelburne on the shores Lake Champlain is Shelburne Farms, which was conceived in 1886 as a model farm and today operates as a working farm espousing environmentally sound agricultural methods. With young children, go to the Children's Farmyard to pet the sheep, goats, rabbits, and the stately draft horse. Activities may include collecting eggs, milking cows, and grooming horses.

Vergennes' Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, on the grounds of the Basin Harbor Club resort but open to the public, teaches children about the region's impressive nautical heritage. Learn about the lake's sunken treasures—from horse ferries to steamboats-and, in summer, watch sailors in period dress perform a gun drill aboard the Philadelphia II, a replica of a 54-foot Revolutionary War gunboat.

At the Vermont Teddy Bear Company, also in Shelburne, an exuberant guide walks you along a viewing platform where seamstresses sew bear parts. But it's the guide's antics and jokes that create the fun. Be prepared: after the tour you and your children will want a bear or two of your own.

Tip: Although the actual tour of the Ben & Jerry's ice-cream factory in Waterbury is a bit boring, the wait outside is fun. Get a cone of Cherry Garcia or other great flavors and enjoy the craft-making, giant bubble-making wands, and other activities.

Recommended Side Trips: Bennington, Brattleboro, Middlebury, Montpelier's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 9 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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