Exploring the Inland Sea

Burton Island State Park is home to a marina that can accommodate large vessels.

The Inland Sea of Lake Champlain offers plenty of attractions for visiting boaters, including scenic beauty, island camping, comfy B&Bs, great fishing and room for all sorts of watersports. By Andrew Nemethy; Photography by Tom Richardson

The islands of northern Lake Champlain are Vermont’s version of the Bahamas—an emerald archipelago boasting well-protected harbors, stellar fishing, rural landscapes and a laidback vibe. They even have a famous reef, though it’s no risk to mariners; the Chazy Fossil Reef on Isle LaMotte is a reminder of the shallow sea that once covered much of Vermont and New York.

While a visit to the 27-mile-long Inland Sea is a treat at any time of year, fall is extraordinary—a fireworks display of reds, oranges and yellows set against the distant heights of the Green Mountains and Adirondacks. Better still for boaters, they can have the waters all to themselves.

“Beauty-wise, it’s a spectacular area and kind of a sleeper in terms of development,” says Bruce Batchelder, a longtime boater, fishing guide and lodge owner who has lived in the region most of his life.

A sailor chills out off Burton Island.

Boater’s Playground

The shoreline remains largely pristine, he points out, and the area is popular among sailors because of its deep, clear water and good holding ground. Anglers from hardcore to not-so-serious appreciate the Inland Sea for its world-class bass and pike fishing, while watersports enthusiasts can find plenty of protected spots for tubing, wakeboarding and waterskiing. There’s plenty of water to go around for all comers.

The Inland Sea is bounded by the eastern shore of the islands and the western shore of Vermont. The epicenter of the 3 main islands—South Hero/Grand Isle, North Hero and Isle LaMotte—is the picturesque village of North Hero in City Bay. (North and South Hero were named in honor of Vermont’s revolutionary war heroes, Ira and Ethan Allen.)

Hero’s Welcome general store carries just about everything, including boating supplies.

Hero Headquarters

Hero’s Welcome, a sprawling, century-old general store, humorously reflects its central status with four wall clocks that show the time for each of the islands. Its docks and picnic tables bustle with boaters and even seaplane pilots who tie up to visit the bakery or deli, which serves salads and a variety of delicious gourmet sandwiches. The well-stocked store also sells soda, wine and beer, ice cream, children’s toys, kayaks, water toys, gifts, clothing, souvenirs, kitchen items, candy by the pound and just about anything else you can imagine. There’s a launch ramp across the street, and you can fuel up at the dock. Talk about a boater’s “convenience store.”

City Bay is also home to the elegant, 26-room North Hero House, a historic inn known for its fine dining and cozy pub (try the fish and chips with ale-battered haddock and hand-cut fries). Many locals come here just for the breakfast buffet. The inn also maintains boat slips for its guests and a grassy picnic area on the water.

Burton Island State Park offers sturdy lean-to’s for camping.

Island Time

Another major attraction is the trio of state parks on Knight Island, Woods Island and Burton Island, the latter home to a large, ranger-staffed campground with a swimming beach, hiking trails, snack bar, canoe and rowboat rentals and a 100-slip marina. Knight and Woods islands offer a more rustic camping experience, with wilderness sites and no rangers. While all 3 campgrounds officially close on Labor Day, they continue to draw many daytrippers in the fall.

Boaters looking for a higher level of creature comforts will find them at the Shore Acres Inn, which has 23 rooms on an east-facing bluff overlooking the lake. Guests also have free use of the inn’s fleet of kayaks. The food is good, too, but many locals simply like to tie up along the inn’s long pier in the afternoon to enjoy a cocktail at the bar, a tradition dating back more than 50 years.

A boating couple and their dog enjoy the water at Burton Island State Park.

Talkin’ Tiki

Speaking of libations, what group of exotic islands would be complete without a Tiki bar? You’ll find one at the North Hero Marina at Pelot’s Point on Carry Bay. Owner Jim Blandino claims one of the best protected harbors on the lake and a full-service marina that draws mariners from Quebec and the city of Burlington, just 10 miles to the south.

Two other full-service marinas bracket the northern and southern ends of the Inland Sea. Ladd’s Landing (open through September) occupies a protected cove just above the Grand Isle drawbridge and maintains 6 transient slips. New England Powerboat Service (open through October), by the causeway to Alburgh, also has transient slips, along with a snack bar next door. You’ll find overnight accommodations around the corner at West Shore Cabins, whose quaint lodgings include porches and decks that are perfect for taking in the spectacular sunsets.

The author fly fishes from an Adirondack guide boat.

Places to Stay

A bit farther south, on the west-facing Alburg Passage of North Hero, is Batchelder’s Holiday Harbor Lodge, which has down-home lakeside efficiencies, motel units and protected dock space for its boating guests. It’s frequented by avid fishermen, who come from all over the country to fish for Champlain’s salmon, trout, bass and pike.

While no one makes rum on these islands, there’s plenty of wine to keep the crew happy. Snow Farm Vineyardoffers tours, music and wine at its tasting room in South Hero.

Fresh local provisions, sparkling waters, friendly folk and protected waters: It all adds up to a boater’s paradise, right here in New England.

 

The inland sea is a perfect spot for paddling.

 

Inland Sea Names & Numbers

 


  • An invaluable resource for Champlain boaters is the “Cruising Guide to Lake Champlain,” which details the lake’s marked channels, boating facilities and its shoals, reefs and rocks. Order it for $27 via Amazon.

Dockage, Moorings & Service


  • North Hero Marina (802) 372-5953; Full-service marina with 92 deep-water slips and 47 moorings. Free WiFi, convenience store, bath house, fuel dock with gas and diesel, water, pump-out and a 25-ton marine TraveLift, as well as engine repair.
  • New England Powerboat Service (802) 372-5131; Offers 12 transient slips for boats up to 19’, as well as a gas dock, power, water, WiFi and restrooms. Powerboat rentals are available, and include the use of waterskis, wakeboards and tubes.
  • Ladd’s Landing Marina (802) 372-5320; Full-service marina, fuel dock with gas and diesel, transient slips for boats to 40’. Also features a bathhouse, laundry facilities, launch ramp, gas grills, picnic area, boat rentals, repair service, ship’s store and convenience store.
  • Burton Island State Park (802) 524-6353; Public campground and marina on a 253-acre island featuring a 100-slip marina with WiFi, pump-out, electric and water, plus restrooms, showers, a snack bar, nature center, hiking trails and a swimming beach. Rowboat and canoe rentals also available. Reservations recommended.
  • Northland Boat Shop (800) 464-5452; Full-service repair shop and Boston Whaler dealer. Off Route 2 in North Hero.

Launch Ramps


  • While the above marinas and the Hero’s Welcome store have boat ramps, the state also maintains 2 free launch sites on North Hero Island with parking. One is at the end of North End Rd. W, just south of North Hero State Park, while the other is on Kings Bay. Both are on the eastern side of the island.
  • On South Hero, a public launch is at Grand Isle State Park.

Boat, Canoe & Kayak Rental


  • Knight Point State Park (888) 409-7579; Small boat, canoe and kayak rental at the southern end of North Hero.
  • North Hero Marina (802) 372-5953; Pontoon boat, kayak and canoe rentals.

    Where to Eat


    • North Hero House (888) 525-3644; Fine dining in a historic 1891 inn where visitors used to arrive by paddlewheeler. The hearty breakfast buffets are popular among locals.
    • Hero’s Welcome General Store (800) 372-HERO; Enjoy sumptuous sandwiches, fresh salads, baked goods and ice cream indoors or on the lakeside picnic tables.
    • Shore Acres Restaurant & Inn (802) 372-8722; This venerable eatery is on many Vermonters’ bucket lists, but the views are worth the trip alone. The menu ranges from Yankee pot roast to gourmet entrees of lamb, fresh seafood and vegetarian dishes.
    • Ruthcliffe Restaurant & Lodge (802) 828-3200; Italian-American cuisine served in a secluded lakeside inn near the Chazy Reef.
    • Pan’s South Hero Pizza (802) 372-4729 Gourmet thin-crust pizzas with a big following.
    • Blue Paddle Bistro (802) 372-4814; Upscale gourmet dinners and pub fare in a cozy setting. Also serves sumptuous Sunday brunch.

    Where to Stay


    • North Hero House (888) 525-3644
    • Shore Acres Inn & Restaurant (802) 372-8722
    • Things to See & Do

      • Burton Island State Park (802) 524-6353; Public campground on a 253-acre island featuring a 100-slip marina with WiFi, pump out, electric and water, plus restrooms, showers, a snack bar, nature center, hiking trails and a swimming beach. Rowboat and canoe rentals also available. Reservations recommended.
      • Driftwood Charters (802) 373-0022 Capt. Holly Poulin runs fishing and sightseeing charters aboard he stable, roomy pontoon boat. She’s a font of local information and an entertaining host.
      • Snow Farm Vineyard & Winery (802) 372-9463; Wine tastings and live music in a scenic setting.
      • Hackett’s Orchard (802) 372-4848; Pick-your-own apples and pumpkins, baked goods and Vermont items.
      • Allenholm Farm & Orchard (888) 721-5566; Orchard and farm stand selling ice cream, pies and baked goods. Also rents bicycle rentals.
      • St. Anne’s Shrine Site of the oldest settlement in Vermont, St. Anne’s is a religious and historical site with a chapel, gifts, cafe, scenic beach and picnic area.
      • Alburg Golf Course (802) 796-3586; One of Vermont’s prettiest 18-hole golf courses, whose lakeside setting is reminiscent of Scottish links. Enjoy pub fare and salads on the veranda while the sun sets over the lake.

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