Your beloved maple syrup and cheddar cheese aren’t all there is to Vermont. The northeastern state in the New England region is also home to quaint towns, stunning landscapes, and lush greenery. With a population of 643,503 as of the 2020 census, Vermont is the second-least inhabited U.S. state after Wyoming. Its 9,609 square mi (24,887 square km) area ranks the sixth-smallest in the country.
Vermont is the only state in New England without an Atlantic Ocean border. However, it shares borders with Quebec, Canada, to the north, New Hampshire to the east, New York to the west, and Massachusetts to the south.
The state is well-known for its Green Mountains, after which it was aptly nicknamed. But every state also has its lowest point, and Vermont is no exception. About two-thirds of the land in the mainly hilly state is forested. Lakes, meadows, ponds, uplands, and marshes comprise the last third. “Vert Mont” is a French word for green mountain. The six geographic land regions in the state include the Green Mountains, Taconic Mountains, Northeast Highlands, Western New England Upland, Champlain Valley, and Vermont Valley.
Can you tell there’s no shortage of natural beauty in Vermont? Well, that’s not all. A unique geographical feature lies within the Champlain Valley and is worth exploring at the lowest point in Vermont!
Lowest Point in Vermont
The lowest point in Vermont is 95 feet (29 meters) above sea level at Lake Champlain. Vermont is one of the 27 states with low point elevations above sea level. The lowest elevations in these states are all found within rivers and lakes.
The 107-mile (172 km) long Lake Champlain spans 587 miles (945 km) of shoreline, 435 square miles (1126 km2) of surface water, and 14 miles (23 km) across its widest point. The lake has an average depth of 64 feet (19.5 m), while its deepest point is between Charlotte, VT, and Essex, NY, at 400 feet deep (122 m).
For the most part, Lake Champlain borders Vermont and New York. It lies in a broad valley between the Adirondack and the Green Mountains. However, it has a northern reach into Quebec, a province in Canada. It’s the lowest point within the 6 million-acre Adirondacks and provides drinking water for over 200,000 people.
The presence of the Champlain Canal and the Richelieu River, which connects Lake Champlain to the St. Lawrence Seaway, earned Lake Champlain the moniker “The Sixth Great Lake.”
By contrast, the state’s highest point is at Mount Mansfield, 4,393 feet (1,339 meters) above sea level. The Green Mountains, a section of the Appalachian Mountains, run through it. Mount Mansfield is about 20 miles (30 km) northeast of Burlington and lies within Mt. Mansfield State Forest to the east of Underhill State Park. Mount Mansfield is actually a collection of summits that resemble the features of a human face when combined.
Mansfield, the town annexed to Underhill and Stowe in 1839, inspired the mountain’s name. It’s also a popular resort for winter sports in the region.
History of Lake Champlain
A French explorer named Samuel de Champlain visited the lowest point in July 1609. Champlain and his native allies went up the Richelieu River to expel the Iroquois Native Americans from the lake.
He named the lake after himself and provided the first map and written description of the area.
Before colonization, as it does now between New York and Vermont, the lake used to act as a barrier between native populations. For example, the Mohawk and Abenaki peoples of the Iroquois Confederacy were divided by the lake.
Lake Champlain served as a waterway (and, during the winter, an iceway) connecting the Saint Lawrence and Hudson valleys during the colonial era. As a result, it was more convenient for travelers to go by boats and sleds on the lake than it was to ply rough, muddy roads.
The lake was instrumental during the Revolutionary War for easy movement between the colonies and Canada. It also maintained the cohesiveness and strength of New England. It turned out to be crucial for building ships in the military during the War of 1812, especially in Vergennes.
The 300th anniversary of the lake’s discovery by the French was commemorated in 1909 by 65,000 people. President William Howard Taft and ambassadors from France, Canada, and the United Kingdom were among the dignitaries in attendance.
In 1929, the first bridge across the lake, built from Crown Point to Chimney Point, was opened by then-New York Governor Franklin Roosevelt and Vermont Governor John Weeks. The bridge was used until December 2009, when major degradation was discovered. As a result, the Lake Champlain Bridge was constructed and opened in 2011 in its stead.
After the Second World War, the lake began to attract lots of tourists and people looking for recreational opportunities. The lower St. Lawrence and the harbor in New York City are currently connected by it, and it is a significant route for both commercial and recreational boat traffic.
Interesting Facts About Lake Champlain
There’s more to the beautiful Lake Champlain than meets the eye. Here are some interesting facts about the lowest point in Vermont that you may not know.
#1 Ice Age
Vermont was blanketed in glaciers at the height of the Ice Age. The Atlantic Ocean carved a channel into what is now New England and Eastern Canada, thanks to the compacted rocks caused by the retreating ice.
Despite being known as the Champlain Sea, this channel was primarily freshwater because glacial melt supplied it continuously. The present-day Lake Champlain formed as the land rose again, and the sea gradually shrank.
#2 Bass Fishing
Lake Champlain is regarded as one of the top bass fishing lakes in the Northeast, and it features over 90 different fish species. The World Fishing Network listed Lake Champlain among the top seven lakes in 2014. The network said it is “perhaps the best lake in all of North America for both quality largemouth and smallmouth bass.”
#3 A Great Lake
The lake was officially recognized as a Great Lake in 1998. However, that designation only lasted for 18 days. President Clinton signed a bill on March 6, 1998, to approve the recognition. However, the same bill was revoked 18 days later, on March 24.
The idea of Lake Champlain joining a “collection of lakes” did not seem to sit well with most locals. They believed Lake Champlain was special and deserved to be acknowledged as a “great lake” in and of itself.
#4 Lake Bottom Discoveries
About 300 shipwrecks can be found at the bottom of Lake Champlain. If it’s already the lowest point, imagine how deep the shipwrecks are! The Lake Champlain Historic Preserve System allows divers to explore, but there’s also something for non-divers. The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM) offers exhibits and information about the shipwrecks; the museum has been researching Lake Champlain shipwrecks for over 30 years.
Visitors can watch footage captured with underwater cameras or go on a shipwreck tour. First, they will be taken to the location of a shipwreck by an excursion boat. Then, they can look at a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that transmits images to an inside display.
#5 Champ the Monster
Samuel de Champlain reported seeing a lake monster in 1609 that was five feet (1.5 meters) long and covered in silver-gray scales impenetrable by a dagger. The purported creature had 2.5-foot (0.76 meters) jaws and dangerously pointed teeth. Native Americans reported to have seen similar animals about 8 to 10 feet (2.4 to 3.0 meters) long.
The mythical creature is probably the original Lake Champlain monster. Historians say Champ belongs to the garfish class, including lake sturgeons. Despite being larger than garfish, the fish described by Champ matches this group’s bill. However, this does not account for all reports of gigantic, occasionally 25–35-foot long, “serpent-like” creatures. So the mystery continues.
Champ may have simply been a log of wood, but we’ll never know. The monster continues to be a part of Vermont culture, from books and souvenirs to playgrounds with Champ Lake monster themes. It’s also the mascot of the state’s minor league baseball team.
#6 Migratory Birds
The annual Atlantic Flyway of millions of bird species runs through Lake Champlain. Birds had always depended on the lake as a viable route for their transit long before explorers and troops used the lake for movement. Today, avian enthusiasts throng the coastlines to catch sight of that elusive arctic bird.
#7 Lake Crossing
A ferry has been traveling across the lowest point at the location of the legendary Ticonderoga Cable Ferry for more than 250 years, since 1759, running between Shoreham, VT, and Ticonderoga, NY.
Seasonal service for this ferry is from early May to late October, and six-minute rides are offered every day from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. So you get to experience history and life on the water in one setting.
Activities at Lake Champlain
Whether you prefer boating, swimming, hiking, or angling, Lake Champlain has all you need to connect with nature and enjoy the great outdoors. Although there are more summertime activities than winter, the lake sets you up for premium enjoyment no matter the season. Here are some activities to try on your next visit.
The vast waterways, protected bays, private anchorages, and sandy coastline make Lake Champlain a boater’s delight. Go for a picturesque boat tour or one of the many public launches where you can bring your canoe or kayak.
Various kinds of boats, including ferries, cruisers, sailboats, and fishing boats, can navigate the lake, which is well-known for its many geological characteristics, shoreline habitats, and excellent fishing.
Swimming, canoeing, and sunbathing options are available at private and public sandy swimming beaches in the Lake Champlain Region. In addition, many public beaches have picnic spots, recreational amenities, boat launches, and rentals.
#3 Ice Fishing
The lake is a fishing haven all year round. You can find lake trout and salmon near Champlain Bridge or Port Henry, and head to Bulwagga Bay if you prefer perch and bluegills.
The Lake Champlain Region features lovely short hikes through the villages and forests; many are under a mile long and perfect for hikers of all ages and abilities seeking a less strenuous adventure. There are also challenging routes for the daring ones.
Everyone can enjoy the animals along the 1.15-mile Boquet River Nature Preserve route built following federal accessibility guidelines.
#5 Cross-Country Skiing
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are suitable on the Lake Champlain hiking paths, waterways, and fields during the winter when they freeze and get blanketed with snow. In addition, you can explore the vast Lake Champlain trail network on skis or snowshoes.
Getting to Lake Champlain
Major cities like New York City, Springfield, New Jersey, Montreal, Boston, Toronto, Hartford, and Ottawa, as well as points west like Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, all have easy access to the Lake Champlain Region.
A year-round ferry service running from Charlotte, VT, to Essex, NY, is available for visitors from Vermont. The Adirondacks and Green Mountains are beautifully visible throughout the 30-minute cruise across the lake. In addition, the Fort Ticonderoga Ferry connects Ticonderoga with Shoreham, VT, and runs annually from mid-May until mid-October.
State Route 9 and Interstate 87 are quick links to the towns and villages around Lake Champlain. Motorists from the other side of the lake can get to Crown Point by ferry or through the Lake Champlain bridge.
Alternatively, you can board Amtrak’s daily Adirondack service at New York Penn Station, Albany Rensselaer Station, and other locations along the route. The train stops for Lake Champlain-bound passengers at Ticonderoga, Port Henry, and Westport.
Lake Champlain is a must-visit destination for an exciting day out. Enjoy the historical features and wide range of outdoor activities. Remember to look out for the famed Champ!
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