In 1609, 11 years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, French explorer Samuel de Champlain “discovered” the long, thin, sparkling blue lake that now bears his name. Shortly after his arrival he killed two Iroquois with a single blast of his arquebus, thereby establishing the tenor of European–Native American relationships for centuries to come.
One hundred and ten miles long and 400 feet deep in spots, Lake Champlain is the largest freshwater lake in the United States after the Great Lakes. Encompassing 490 square miles, it stretches from New York north into Canada and east into Vermont.
Even bigger than the lake itself is the basin in which it sits. On the New York side, that basin extends as far west as the Adirondack Mountains and as far south as Hudson Falls. About 25 percent of Adirondack Park lies within the Champlain Valley.
Compared to Lake George, the shores of Lake Champlain appear sparsely forested and surprisingly undeveloped. The countryside becomes especially magnificent north of Port Henry, where the raw jagged High Peaks of the Adirondacks rise to one side, the moody rounder peaks of Vermont’s Green Mountains to the other.
Throughout the 19th and much of the 20th centuries, Lake Champlain supported numerous iron-ore and manufacturing plants, most of them along the shore. Many of these have closed in recent years, which helps account for the region’s current high unemployment rate.
Away from the shore, the valley opens into rich farmland. Red barns, silver silos, and a patchwork of green fields spread out over one gentle slope after another. Dairy farming is especially big business here.
Near the Lake Champlain Bridge connecting New York with Vermont stands the Lake Champlain Visitors Center (814 Bridge Rd., off Rtes. 9 and 22, 888/843-5253, www.lakechamplainregion.com, 9 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri.). Inside you’ll find a multitude of brochures and several exhibits.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition