Bird-watchers flock to Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge (29 Tabor Rd., Swanton, 802/868-4781, www.fws.gov , dawn–dusk daily) for a glimpse of ducks, grebes, and mergansers that make this 6,000-plus-acre preserve their temporary home during migrations to and from Canada. Several interpretive trails take in a mile and a half of wooded wetlands, which are also inhabited by beavers and other small mammals. The refuge can attract up to 20,000 waterfowl during the autumn migration. On-site, Shad Island is the state’s largest great blue heron rookery. Trails are also open to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter months.
On a dark night in December 1876, the canal schooner General Butler lost its steering and crashed headlong into the Burlington Harbor, sinking just as the crew jumped to safety. The Butler is now one of hundreds of ships that line the bottom of the lake, one of the best surviving collections of shipwrecks in the world. Many of them are remnants of the 3,000 schooners built to haul timber, iron ore, and coal across the lake in the active shipping trade of the 19th century.
Currently, nine vessels are open to those with scuba gear and the wherewithal to explore this unique state park. In addition to the Butler, which rests under 40 feet of water in the harbor, other ships include a canal boat loaded down with granite blocks, a rare horse-powered ferry boat, and two long sidewheel steamboats.
For underwater tours and equipment rentals, visit Waterfront Diving Center (214 Battery St., 802/865-2771 or 800/283-7282, www.waterfrontdiving.com ). Basic scuba classes are $295, while two- and three-day summer trips are around $300 per person. The shop also works with a local charter company for day trips at $40 a head. All divers are required to register with a dive shop or the Burlington Community Boat House (College St., Burlington, 802/865-3777).
You don’t have to be a diver to experience the wrecks, however. A few years ago, sailing instructors (and husband and wife) Rachael Miller and James Line began offering dry-foot tours of the deep through their operation, Lake Champlain Shipwrecks (802/578-6120, www.shipwrecktour.com , 1 hour tours daily Jun.–Oct., $18 per person). The tour uses an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) equipped with a camera to view the Butler and other wrecks virtually on a video screen mounted on-board.
Not only is the experience the next-best thing to viewing them through a diving mask, but Miller is also a master storyteller, brining alive the final hours of each wreck in lurid detail.
For more information on the wrecks, contact the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum .
The flat terrain and lack of traffic make Champlain’s blacktop ideal for two-wheel touring. Lake Champlain Bikeways (1 Steele St. #103, 802/652-2453, www.champlainbikeways.org ) runs a clearinghouse in Burlington  with trail maps and information on the 1,300 miles of bikeways around the lake.
Closer to home, the city has recently constructed the excellent Burlington Bike Path (Burlington Parks and Recreation, 802/864-0123, www.enjoyburlington.com ), an eight-mile path that runs along the river and connects several parks perfect for picnicking. A spur leads off the Ethan Allen Homestead .
Located on the bike path, nonprofit Local Motion (1 Steele St., 802/652-2453, www.localmotion.org ) rents out bikes and provides a map to other bike paths in the city.
The sheer size of Lake Champlain makes venturing out in a kayak an unforgettable experience. The lake’s famous changeability, however, requires paddlers to stay on their toes; be sure not to get too far out from shore lest a sudden squall leave you stranded. The Lake Champlain Committee (802/658-1414, www.lakechamplaincommittee.org ) has established the Lake Champlain Paddlers Trail, with suggested routes for paddling.
True North Kayak Tours (25 Nash Pl., 802/860-1910, www.vermontkayak.com ) rents boats and sponsors tours of the lake Kingsland Bay and Button Bay State Parks  south of Burlington, secluded Isle La Motte, and other locations.
If paddling into the lake seems too daunting, sit back on the decks of Friend Ship, the flagship of Whistling Man Schooner Co. (1 College St., 802/598-6504, www.whistlingman.com , three tours daily noon, mid-afternoon, and early evening; hours vary slightly by season, $35 adults, $20 children under 12). Based on the Burlington  waterfront, the boat takes intimate three-hour sails around the harbor with a maximum of 12 people on board.
Runners, beachgoers, birdwatchers, fishermen, and hikers find plenty of activity and wildlife at North Hero State Park (3803 Lakeview Dr., North Hero, 802/372-8727, www.vtstateparks.com/htm/northhero.cfm , late May–early Sept.), a picturesque playground on a quiet peninsula sticking out onto the lake.
Several of Lake Champlain’s smaller islands, however, offer a unique opportunity to really “get away from it all.” Case in point: the former agricultural island that is now Burton Island State Park (St. Albans Bay, 802/524-6353, www.vtstateparks.com/htm/burton.cfm , late May–early Sept., $16–18 nightly base rate). Take a ferry to enjoy its campground, which has 17 tent sites and 26 lean-tos along with its swimming and recreation area; a resident naturalist gives deer-spotting tours. Ferry service is available several times a day from Kill Kare State Park, southwest of St. Albans center.
If even that’s too much civilization for you, take a rented boat to Woods Island (St. Albans Bay, 802/524-6353, www.vtstateparks.com/htm/woodsisland.cfm , late May–early Sept., $14), with five carry-in/carry-out campsites along the beach each with only a simple fire-ring and basic latrine. Permits are available through Burton Island State park.