The year 2009 marks 400 years since explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed onto the lake that bears his name and claimed the area for France. It was no small claim. Lake Champlain is America’s sixth largest freshwater lake in the Lower 48. It stretches for over 100 miles to form a natural boundary between Vermont and New York State.
Lake Champlain is over 400 feet deep in places - deep enough to spawn legends of its own sea monster. The Iroquois people who lived here for centuries called the creature Tatoskok. Hundreds of documented sightings later, he is known as “Champ.” Champ is described as being thick of body with a longish neck and elongated tail and anywhere from 15 to 50 feet long.
Unfortunately, when visiting Lake Champlain with your dog you are as likely to see Champ as a beach that allows dogs. Your dog is almost universally banned from public beaches in New York and Vermont so this won’t be an outstanding swimming adventure for your dog so it will require a bit of imagination to enjoy Lake Champlain with your dog - but travelers with dogs are used to that. And with a calendar chock full of events celebrating Champlain 400 this is a worthy destination to hike with your dog. Here’s a clockwise look at a sampling of parks for your trail dog, starting on the southern shores...
Crown Point State Historic Site - New York.
Save for an occasional short portage, it is almost possible to travel from Montreal to New York City by canoe, thanks in large part to those 100+miles of water passage through Lake Champlain. The most important of these portages was the two-mile land link between the southern tip of Lake Champlain and Lake George. Whoever controlled this portage controlled the vital highway through the heart of Colonial America. The French built the first fort here in 1758 and dealt the British Army one of its worst defeats ever in North America in defending it. The British returned a year later to overwhelm what they called Fort Ticonderoga. During the American Revolution the British and Americans tussled over Ticonderoga even as its stone walls were being plundered for local building material.
Your dog is also not allowed on Fort Ticonderoga grounds today but a bit further north you dog can explore the Crown Point State Historic Site. At Crown Point the lake narrows to only 400 yards and both the British and French constructed forts here. Ruins of both forts remain as they always have been. The area is practically devoid of trees affording long views of the lake from the ramparts and tops of tremendous earthworks. There is plenty of grass for your dog to romp on. An interpretive footpath of almost three miles leads around the forts and into the interior of two magnificent remains of Georgian-style stone barracks.
Coon Mountain Preserve - New York.
Coon Mountain, with a handful of small rocky summits, has been a local landmark on the western shore of Lake Champlain since settlers arrived. The first colonizer of the towns of Willsboro, Essex and Westport, William Gilliland, perished on the mountaintop in February 1796 after becoming disoriented in the snow. Local lore tells of the Coon Mountain panther that cried like a damsel in distress, luring men into the deep woods where it would spring on its victim. Many dogs were lost to the panther in attempts to hunt it. When it was finally shot in mid-pounce it fell into one of the small pocket ponds on the summit and was never found.
Local teenage volunteers carved a one-mile nature trail to the top of Coon Mountain. This is a relatively easy purchase of spectacular views of Lake Champlain and the surrounding valley. Limited parking increases the odds you will be enjoying those views only with your dog.
Ethan Allen Homestead - Vermont.
Ethan Allen strode across the early Vermont landscape like the folk hero he has become: settling the frontier, helping found the state, executing daring exploits in the battle for American Independence. He spent his final years on this quiet homestead outside of Burlington on the Winooski River.
There are some four miles of hiking for your dog in fields and light woods around the park, much of it within barking distance of the river. Access to the easy-flowing water is possible for a refreshing doggie dip.
Waterfront Park - Vermont.
Burlington is the largest town on Lake Champlain and one of the prettiest anywhere. Waterfront Park isn’t large - about three blocks long and less than a block wide but there are grassy lawns for a game of fetch and it is a great place to enjoy a sunset with your dog.
Snake Mountain Wildlife Management Area - Vermont.
Snake Mountain is a prominent feature of the Champlain Valley, looming above the surrounding level countryside from an elevation of 1,287 feet. A resort hotel operated on the summit in the 1800s, promoting the panoramic views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains. The hotel closed in 1925 and later burned to the ground.
Now owned mostly by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, a three-mile trail along an abandoned carriage road takes visitors to the summit of Snake Mountain. This is a very hikeable route for any dog, passing through mixed hardwoods and a rare bog covered with sphagnum moss.
Mount Independence State Historic Site - Vermont.
After the Americans overran a lightly manned Fort Ticonderoga on May 10, 1775, they quickly moved to defend Ticonderoga’s weak northern exposure. Across Lake Champlain - only 1,300 yards at this point - General Philip Schuyler ordered the clearing of timber and the construction of a sister fort. The horseshoe-shaped battery, protected by steep cliffs, was named Mount Independence following the arrival of a copy of the Declaration of Independence on July 18, 1776. A floating bridge connected the fortified complex.
During 1777, Mount Independence was even better fortified than famous Ticonderoga. But even together the forts were no match for British invaders. On July 5 both posts were evacuated. British and German forces remained at Mount Independence until November, when they burned and destroyed the site after the British surrender at the Battle of Saratoga.
Mount Independence remains an archaeological site with four interpretive trails winding through 400 acres of foundations and ruins. Among the ruins are a general hospital, barracks and a blockhouse. Your dog is welcome to explore this striking promontory on the shore of Lake Champlain.
RETURN TO JANUARY 2009 NEWSLETTER
No Dogs Allowed?
Don’t let this happen to you
Find a new tail-friendly trail every day at the hikewithyourdog blog...