Lake Champlain is New England’s Great Lake, an inland sea of expansive views and rich history. Twenty thousand years ago, the entire valley between Vermont’s Green Mountains  and New York’s Taconic Range was under more than 400 feet of water, the remnants of glacial meltwater called Lake Vermont. After a few millennia, the Atlantic Ocean backed up the St. Lawrence River valley, filling the lake with seawater. Geologists still find whale fossils along the shoreline. As the sea level fell, the lake gradually dried up, leaving a giant sliver 100 miles long and up to 20 miles wide at its widest points.
Driving northward on Route 7 toward Burlington , you can still feel the presence of the ancient lakebed. The sky opens up and the land flattens, giving the area an almost Midwestern appearance, if it weren’t for the spruce trees among the farms and mountains on the horizon. Despite the remoteness of this area today, it was actually one of the first areas of New England to be settled.
Two hundred years ago, rivers were the equivalent of roads, and the St. Lawrence was a mighty river that gave French fur-trappers access to the interior. Eventually, settlers from New Hampshire  and Massachusetts  came up to cut down the trees and build farms to take advantage of the moderate temperatures (for Vermont!) and the fertile clay soil left behind by the glacial lake, settling around the thriving city of Burlington. . Now with 100,000 people in its metropolitan area, the city is the largest in the state.
Among the early settlers was Vermonter Ethan Allen, who along with the Green Mountain Boys helped foment resistance to encroachment from New York flatlanders. Ironically, today the region looks toward New York  more than to Massachusetts or New Hampshire. It’s still easier to cross the lake than to cross the Green Mountains, which rise much higher here than they do down south.
It’s perfectly reasonable to include a jaunt to the historical sites on the lake’s New York shore , or a hike in the Adirondacks  along with a tour of Vermont’s Champlain Valley. Meanwhile, in terms of demographics, this is not a region of country bumpkins. Vermont’s  two elite universities, Middlebury College  and the University of Vermont in Burlington , span the valley like intellectual goalposts, giving their respective cities an energetic student atmosphere.