Lake Champlain by Bike and Ferry
Five of us traveled to Burlington, VT, for a 2½-day tour around (and over) Lake Champlain, one of the most popular cycling destinations in the state.
Bicycle Adventurers: Tad and Lea from New York, Barb and Michael from Pennsylvania, and myself, David, from Maryland.
When: August 2016
Accommodations: We spent our first and last nights at the Starlight Inn in Colchester, VT. This brand new motel was one of the best finds of the trip. Our middle night was at the Anchorage Motel in Rouses Point, NY.
Distance: Our total distance was about 108 miles: a 20-mile “shakedown” ride to Burlington and back on the afternoon we arrived; about 46 miles through Vermont to Rouses Point; and about 42 miles via New York back to Colchester.
Bonus tip for this adventure: If you’re driving up or back from eastern New York State, don’t pass up Patty’s Patch farm stand on Route 4 in Hampton, NY, offering a fine selection of excellent, freshly baked pies and much more. Or try The Ice Cream Man on Route 29 in Greenwich, NY, where the flavors are fine, the prices right, and the scoops generous.
We rendezvoused at Tad and Lea’s home north of Albany, NY, then drove to Burlington. Tad had researched and arranged this trip, and his motel choice in Colchester, just north of Burlington, was a winner. The Starlight Inn is a new motel operated by the owner of the Sunset Drive-In Theater, located right across the parking lot.
Each of the motel’s 11 rooms has a different Hollywood theme. Barb and Michael stayed in the Tom Cruise room; the rest of us shared the Marilyn Monroe room. The room rate includes free admission to the four-screen drive-in. You can also watch some of the screens from your room or the gazebo on the motel grounds, and listen by tuning in on a radio.
After settling in, we saddled up and rode less than two miles to the Island Line Trail (link to .pdf file). We followed this paved trail south over the Winooski River, past lakefront parks, and through Burlington’s waterfront to the path’s end. Local Motion, Vermont’s nonprofit advocate for cycling and walking, offers bike rentals.
After returning, we walked to dinner at Zach’s, a pretty good Italian place. We got back too late for the start of the drive-in double feature, but just seeing movie screens flickering in the night in the nearby field was a relaxing and, for the baby boomers among us, somewhat nostalgic sight.
In the morning after breakfast at The Guilty Plate Diner across the street, we loaded our panniers, obtained permission to leave our vehicles at the motel, then rode back to the Island Line Trail to start the day.
This time we headed north on the unpaved section of the Island Line Trail through parkland and onto the long, narrow causeway arcing out over Lake Champlain.
The Island Line Trail follows the route of a railroad that once served Burlington and the Lake Champlain Islands. Its 14-mile length is abruptly interrupted shortly before its northern end by a 200-foot gap where there used to be a bridge over the Colchester Causeway. Now, for most of the year, a small ferry shuttles cyclists and walkers across that gap. The ferry, run by Local Motion ($5 one way or $8 round trip), operates from spring to fall. Check the ferry schedule on the Local Motion website.
Once off the causeway, we rode up the islands and peninsula that bisect Lake Champlain. You can follow mapped bike routes throughout this area, all the way to the upper end of the lake in Canada.
The route Tad mapped out for us kept us along the shore as much as possible to maximize the scenic views. For the first few miles, we bumped along a badly potholed section of trail, then an unpaved road whose surface ranged from smooth to washboard. But once on pavement again, the going was easy, the hills gentle, and the riding, even along main routes, reasonably safe with adequate to very-wide shoulders.
We passed a unique sight in South Hero, VT: a wooded area festooned with some 600 colorful bird houses. Called “Jelly Bean Suites,” the birdhouses were built to attract tree swallows. You can buy a birdhouse at a roadside stand to take home or add to the “Suites.”
We rode past many fine lakeside vistas and through rolling countryside from South Hero through Grand Isle, VT and North Hero, VT to Alburgh, VT. It was easy to see why this has become such a popular cycling region. We stopped for an ice cream lunch at the general store in North Hero, one of the few places along our route where we found stores and services.
About a mile from the U.S.-Canadian border, we crossed a bridge over Lake Champlain into Rouses Point, NY. Our destination for the night was the Anchorage Motel in Rouses Point. The motel had clearly seen better days, but it was the only one around, right on the lake, and within walking distance of the town’s few restaurants, including Angelo’s Pizza and Grill, where we ate a decent dinner. We amused ourselves by reading the worst of the TripAdvisor comments about the Anchorage Motel, while reassuring ourselves that it wasn’t really that bad.
After breakfast at Rouses Point’s popular Lakeside Coffee Café, we headed back toward Burlington, riding into a fairly stiff wind most of the way. But the weather had been beautiful for the entire trip, so a little wind wasn’t too much to bear.
The riding was mostly rural again and on secondary roads most of the way. We ate lunch at the famous Gus’ Red Hots near Plattsburgh on the way to the large car ferry that took us back across the lake to Grand Isle.
Once on Grand Isle, we returned by a slightly different route to avoid some of the unpaved roads we rattled down yesterday. We made our way back to the bike ferry, which on this Saturday was quite busy, then retraced our way down the causeway and back to the Starlight Inn.
We ate dinner at a tiny Vietnamese/Thai restaurant and bar in Burlington, more of a take-out place than a sit-down restaurant, we discovered. In the evening, while everyone else went to the drive-in, I stayed behind at the motel to relax, work on my trip notes, and enjoy in silence the images flickering on the big screens across the way.
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