East Coast US, New England, Travels

Fossils + camping on the shores of Lake Champlain – Grand Isle, Vermont

After a fun but rainy few days in Canada, we crossed back into our home country for the final days of our vacation. Customs was deserted so it was a quick border crossing, leaving us most of the day to meander through northern Vermont.

We crossed part of Lake Champlain on the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge (US Highway 2), turning south at the town of Alburgh to follow Highway 2 down the chain of islands that runs through the middle of the lake.

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Border crossing at Champlain, NY
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Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge across Lake Champlain from NY to VT

We drove down the peninsula, veering off Highway 2 and heading slightly west to Isle La Motte. This is a quaint, quiet little island, home to the former site of the French Fort Anne, the tiny town of Isle La Motte, and some nature reserves. We wandered through the fort and then took short walks through both Fisk Quarry Preserve and Goodsell Ridge Preserve, the latter of which is home to many fossils!

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Fort Saint Anne – Isle La Motte, VT
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A very disgusting pond at Fisk Quarry Preserve – Isle La Motte, VT
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A less disgusting pond at Fisk Quarry Preserve – Isle La Motte, VT

These fossils are about 480 million years old and are from the Chazy Reef, the world’s oldest known diverse coral reef. It once stretched from Tennessee to Quebec but here on Isle La Motte is where it’s the most visible. We spent probably about an hour walking the self-guided trail and spotting as many fossils as we could.

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Fossilized coral at Goodsell Ridge Preserve – Isle La Motte, VT
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Fossilized cephalopod at Goodsell Ridge Preserve – Isle La Motte, VT
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Fossilized shellfish at Goodsell Ridge Preserve – Isle La Motte, VT

From here, we headed back to Highway 2, which runs the full length of North and South Hero Islands before crossing to Grand Isle. We’d booked a site at Camp Skyland, which sits on the southernmost tip of Grand Isle, surrounded on three sides by the choppy waves of Lake Champlain.

When we arrived, they told us to just drive out onto the grass and pick a tent site. We were the first ones there (it never filled up that night) so we had our choice and scored the premium site right on the lakeshore. It was fairly wide open and windy, but we had spectacular views! My only complaint about this place is that the bathroom facilities needed an upgrade. Everything worked, they were just a bit outdated.

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Definitely one of the best views we’ve ever had from our tent! – Grand Isle, VT
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Lake Champlain from our campsite – Grand Isle, VT

Our last excursion of the day was to cross onto the mainland of Vermont and head about half an hour south to Burlington. Burlington is the largest city in Vermont (it’s not very large, there aren’t that many people in Vermont to begin with), and is located right on the shores of Lake Champlain, with the Adirondack Mountains rising beyond the lakeshore. In the opposite direction are the Green Mountains, including Mount Mansfield, the state’s highest point.

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Downtown Burlington, VT

Burlington itself is a college town that’s run entirely on renewable energy. It’s quaint, it’s in a gorgeous location, and I think I’d actually enjoy it there. For me, though, my memories of Burlington will always be tainted, because it will forever be remembered as the place where a guy rode his bicycle into my car.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: when a car and a bicycle collide, it’s always the driver’s fault.

Turns out I found the exception to that rule.

As we were driving through downtown Burlington, looking for a place to park, I turned onto a street that runs right in front of the fire station. Well, just as I did so, a fire engine turned its lights on and prepared to pull out of the station. So I – and everyone else around me – stopped to allow it to pass. Well, everyone except the guy on the bike, who clearly wasn’t paying attention when he rode right into the rear passenger side of my car.

He was okay, and my car was okay too. Just a couple minor scratches. But it’s certainly a cautionary tale about paying attention while riding a bicycle.

Anyway, the next morning dawned grey and windy (still), so we gave up all hopes of sunshine as we packed up and loaded our car onto the Lake Champlain Ferry for a ride across the lake to Plattsburgh, New York.

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Lake Champlain from the ferry

Stay tuned for Adventures in the Adirondacks!


The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: Grand Isle is the southernmost in a chain of islands running down the center of Lake Champlain; accessible from the north and south via US Highway 2
  • Fees and passes: everywhere we went was free
  • Camping: we stayed at Camp Skyland, at the very southern tip of Grand Isle, but there are many campgrounds (state and private) along these islands
  • Hiking: this is more of a walking trail/biking type of place; we walked short trails through the two preserves, but there isn’t really any hiking on the islands
  • Other: this area is extremely quiet and rural, so plan for a very low key day if you decide to venture out to the islands

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