Summer Escapes! The Great(est) Lakes

Testing the waters across New England, we uncover nine beauties worth their salt—or lack thereof.



Bass fishing! Museum-hopping! Legendary sea monsters!

For a few heavy weeks in 1998 this Vermont sparkler—New England’s largest—enjoyed the status of “Great Lake,” as conferred by the U.S. Senate. Then the other Great Lakes kicked up a fuss, and it was disinvited from the club. Whatever. Gallon for gallon, Lake Champlain has more going on, above and below the surface, than do its cliquish cousins to the west. There’s plenty of swimming and sunning spots, led by the popular Sand Bar State Park in Milton, but those who are burned out on the beach scene can boost their lakes IQ with some culture-dipping: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and the Shelburne Museum are history-geek heaven, while an underwater historic preserve gives Cousteau acolytes nine shipwrecks to scuba-dive (keep an eye out for Champ, the local sea monster). Vermont’s biggest city, Burlington, and smallest, Vergennes, both merit a visit. The former boasts a recently renovated waterfront park with a bike path, aquarium, boat rentals, and restaurants; the latter, about half an hour south, has a funky main street, renovated opera house, and artisan chocolatier. These and other lakeside burgs are in hospitality overdrive this year, the 400th anniversary of Lake Champlain’s discovery, with the party beginning in earnest this summer. (Guess who won’t be invited.) —Marialisa Calta

DIMENSIONS 271,000 acres DEEPEST POINT 400 feet | WATER QUALITY Generally good; beaches occasionally closed due to high bacterial counts | AQUATIC LIFE Bass, trout, pickerel, bullhead, channel catfish, yellow perch, salmon | CRITTERS Cormorants, turtles, bald eagles, shrikes, terns, upland sandpipers, moose | OFF-LAKE ACTION Burlington nightlife; sleeping like a Vanderbilt

Photograph by Bob O'Connor

Photograph by Bob O’Connor


PLAY: Ferries make for a boating excursion on the cheap, or you can rent a sailboat, canoe, or kayak from the Community Sailing Center (rates vary; One Lake St., Burlington, 802-864-2499, Lake Champlain is renowned for its bass fishing tourneys, a.k.a. “NASCAR on water”; amateurs can cast a line offBurlington’s fishing pier.

EAT: Options are manifold, but two reliable bets are the Black Sheep Bistro (253 Main St., Vergennes, 802-877-9991), which welcomes diners with a paper cone of fries and appetizing bistro fare, and A Single Pebble (133-35 Bank St., Burlington, 802-865-5200,, which deals in classic, not staid, Chinese cuisine.

SLEEP: We recommend the Inn at Shelburne Farms, a former Vanderbilt summer cottage turned luxury lodging (doubles start at $150; 1611 Harbor Rd., Shelburne, 802-985-8498,

  • sue

    Rented a cabin there last year, and had a wonderful time. Breathtaking lake. Look at craigslist vermont for some great cottage rentals.

  • Stu

    The lake is breath taking and certainly should be at the top of any list to visit. NH, the country's best kept secret.

  • Karen

    A wonderful place to visit! Have stayed at the Newcastle Inn. The environs and view are amazing, and the hospitality is unmatched!

  • Anonymous

    Sad to see clean, cold Newfound Lake in NH not on the list.$129,900.00&t=&fcla=1

  • Enzo

    I don't think that Cow Island is secluded or quiet. The last time I went past that island in my glastron foreflite, we were hit by hot dog fragments from some camp which had an impromptu hot dog cannon aimed out over the lake. When we got closer to the island to try and see what was going on we came across a 20ft high bonfire with black smoke and about 40 men running around swearing and throwing bag of gasoline around wily nily. One skinny guy had NO CLOTHES on. That island is far from secluded and peaceful. Don't look for any R & R there. Just Stay Away!

  • Chris

    Man from Camp is trying to keep our little Island paradise a secret!!! ha ha ha

  • Anonymous

    The Hot Dogs on Cow Island are the best..not to mention the free entertainment! Will have to go back since we missed the skinny guy that had no clothes on….

  • Rob

    Diving around Cow Island is a real treat! Who knew there would be so much candy at the bottom of the Lake.

  • Chris

    It's the neighbors on Cow Island that make it such a horrible place to live. Such immature behavior! Makes me want to put my house on the market! Hot Dog Cannon NOT INCLUDED in the sale price!

  • Walt

    Cow Island is not the only island that is quiet and secluded. All its neighboring islands, Little Bear, Dow, Wortleberry, et al are places with sparse development density and nice people. Very few of the island cottages are rentals so if you find one, its a good place to be.

  • Rick

    there are plenty of places at or near Long Lake to get a great sandwich, not to mention downtown Plymouth

  • Don

    In operation for 14 years. The best portal to New England's best lake.

  • Paul

    A marvelous resource of information

  • Mary

    I hope Heaven is like Winnipesaukee!!!