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,