Vermont’s waterways are a paddler’s paradise
If there’s a distinct serenity to picking up a paddle and setting off for the natural wonder of a pristine waterway, Vermont is a paddler’s paradise, with most areas also rich with options for camping. Make it a day on Lake Champlain followed by an evening of fine dining at Burlington’s renowned Hen of the Wood. Or choose a weeklong excursion along the Connecticut River and fend for yourself during your extended cohabitation with the Vermont scenery and its residents.
“The wildlife on our mountain lakes, as well as on our streams, is quite prevalent,” Steve Brownlee, owner of Stowe-based Umiak Outdoor Outfitters, said. “Our guests usually see some form of wildlife on every adventure.”
Umiak offers rentals and tours from its outposts in Stowe, the Waterbury Reservoir, and at North Beach (kayaks only) on the Burlington waterfront of Lake Champlain ($25-$45, depending on length of rental, solo or tandem, see www.umiak.com for a list of options and booking information). Additionally, Vermont State Parks offer kayaks, canoes, row boats, pedal boats, and stand-up paddleboards at dozens of locations across the state ($7-$12 per hour, $40-$50 for a full day, see www.vtstateparks.com/boating.html for a list of availability).
So, whether floating across the expanse of a lake or letting the current of a river be your tour guide, these locations are prime for paddling in the Green Mountain State.
It’s the biggest (in some circles it’s known as the “Fifth Great Lake”) and most popular body of water in Vermont for a great number of on-water activities. There are almost a dozen state parks in the general area, easily accessible from Burlington. And there are launches at sites like Burton, Woods, and Knight islands.
Less than a mile from the popular North Beach, paddlers will find one of the more sought-out destinations at Lone Rock Point, site of the Champlain thrust fault, a geological displacement that covers about 50 miles from Canada to the Catskills. Further to the south, past the Burlington boathouse, paddlers can discover Oakledge Park, located within Burlington harbor, providing protective paddling from wind and waves.
“Oakledge is very dramatic scenery because there are big cliffs that drop down into Lake Champlain,” Brownlee said. “It’s a scenic spot for people to paddle off and visit.”
Despite the solitude one might be seeking with a day out on the water, which Lake Champlain can certainly deliver, Burlington also has a lot to offer aside from the waterfront.
“What’s different compared to the other lakes is there are restaurants right there on the shoreline, and there are big hotels and lodging — more sophisticated lodging if you will — as opposed to camping,” Brownlee said.
If ham sandwiches and a cooler full of lemonade are more your taste, camping is available at North Beach (tent site, $37 per night, full hookup, $45 per night, enjoyburlington.com/venue/north-beach-campground).
Green River Reservoir
There are 19 miles of pristine shoreline to explore at this body of water, owned by Vermont State Parks. “You can easily spend the whole day just paddling along the shoreline,” Brownlee said. “Lots of nooks and coves to explore, islands, wildlife, and nesting loons, which indicates its a very clean, perfect habitat.”
There are no homes on the borders of the 653-acre lake, delivering paddlers into the midst of remoteness at an elevation of more than 1,200 feet, with approximately a 10-degree decrease in temperature to enhance the experience. Camping is available through Vermont State Parks at 27 sites at various locations around the reservoir. Each campsite can be reached only by boat. Kayak and canoe rentals may be procured at a number of outfitters in nearby Morrisville and Stowe, including Umiak (849 South Main St., Stowe, 802-253-2317) and Up North Canoe and Kayak (83 Cram Road, Morrisville, 802-888-7014, www.upnorthcanoe.com/index.html, $40, one night, two days, $30 each additional day up to three nights).
Arrive early. Parking is extremely limited and on a first-come, first-served basis. Once the parking areas are full, visitors will not be allowed to enter the park (vtstateparks.com/grriver.html).
A similar mountain lake with Green Mountain peaks looming on all sides is the Waterbury Reservoir, an 850-acre park created by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s to control flooding of nearby towns such as Burlington and Winooski. Conveniently located off Interstate 89, 20 minutes south of Stowe, there are 15 miles of shoreline surrounded by a state forest that welcomes deer and plentiful birdlife, including blue herons. During the evening hours, moose might make their way down to the shore as well.
There are more than 20 campsites in the park, located on a 90-acre peninsula, also featuring 17 picnic sites, hibachis, a swimming beach, and restrooms.
Boats are available on-site (177 Reservoir Road, Waterbury Center; Umiak has 50 boats available for $25-$55 for anywhere from two to six hours), as does the state park. Pets are not allowed in the park, and day-use hours are 10 a.m. to sunset.
“Paddling in rivers is particularly nice because you’ve got the current that flows for you, and you have this beautiful scenery that is sort of passing you slowly by,” Brownlee said. “You have these small, quintessential villages that you’ll pass through.”
The Connecticut, which forms the border of Vermont and New Hampshire, is one of the longest in New England, providing a good flow conducive to multiday trips. There are portage trails in order to navigate around a dozen or so dams, and paddlers may also encounter 10 miles of lake in between each dam. A portage-free, multiday option is the 51-mile stretch between East Ryegate, Vt., and Hanover, N.H., a section of the Connecticut River Paddlers’ Trail (connecticutriverpaddlerstrail.org), which boasts hundreds of access points and more than 40 campsites along the route from the headwaters in New Hampshire’s Great North Woods south to Long Island Sound.
Lamoille and Winooski rivers
Paddlers seeking the benefits of a lake excursion without the time commitment that the Connecticut River might generally welcome can look to popular rivers like the Lamoille and Winooski for a wealth of daytrip options. Broken up with dams, most of the areas along the riversides are private property where camping not easily accessible.
Vermont Canoe and Kayak (4805 Vermont Route 15 Jeffersonville, 802-644-8336, vermontcanoeandkayak.com) offers a handful of tours along the Lamoille, including a morning maple tour, during which paddlers can learn about the process of making maple syrup ($55 per person), a stand-up paddle yoga session ($40), and the “Water and Wine” tour, a 1½-hour paddle from the outpost to the Boyden Valley Winery in Cambridge ($60). All prices include paddles, life jacket, and a shuttle upriver. Reservations required.
Umiak offers similar trips along the Winooski, including the ice cream float trip, a slow-moving, four-mile journey that is tailored for beginners, followed by ice cream and a tour of the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory in Waterbury (Sun.-Wed., $52 per person). For the more adventurous, there’s a nine-mile tour through the Upper Gorge with Class I and II whitewater rapids to navigate via canoe or kayak (Sun.-Wed., self-guided, $55 per person, guided $89). Reservations at www.umiak.com/winooski-river-trip.