In our seven years of charter sailing, we have been lucky enough to hoist our sails in spectacular spots around the world, and every one of these places had a single thing in common: The big, blue, beautiful ocean.

Until now.

Our recent trip sailing on Lake Champlain, which is nestled between the Adirondack mountains of New York and the beautiful, green rolling hills of Vermont, was our first time renting a boat for a week on a lake. It was also my first time in that part of New England and I was eager to find out if it lived up to the storied images of weathered farmhouses and a lush, inviting countryside.

Happily, it is exactly as beautiful and charming as you think it will be. The sailing? It was surprisingly relaxing, entirely enjoyable, and, well, easy. Sure, there were a few weather moments, but all things considered, sailing on Lake Champlain presents a stress-free environment that we were wishing we’d known about years ago when we were first learning to sail. Here’s why:

1. Deep Water

I’m not going to say it is impossible to run aground sailing Lake Champlain, but it is not really something you need to be wary of in the same way as, say, the Bahamas or Belize. The lake is deep, so aside from a few notable areas that you might sail to, Mallet’s Bay for example, monitoring your depth is not going to be an all-encompassing effort, which leaves you to focus on honing your other sailing skills.

2. Uncrowded

We sailed on Lake Champlain in late June, which is considered early season on the lake, as many of the summer live-aboard couples and families had only just arrived a week or two earlier. That said, we were assured that it never reaches a crowded state, which is ideal for new sailors who might prefer lots of room to put up and take down sails and to assess their next move. Plus, many of the sailors are typically just there for the weekend, so if you plan to start your sailing on a Monday you will have even more space to yourself.  While it is always important to stay alert, pay attention to others on the water, and be mindful of the rules of the road, there is typically a great deal of room to maneuver.

3. No Tidal Considerations

In many of the places we’ve sailed – British Columbia, the Bahamas, and Thailand, for example – the tide is a very big deal. If you don’t understand the tide charts and factor the changes into your anchoring and location, the consequences could be dire. On Lake Champlain, this is a non-issue, leaving sailors to focus on the skills of anchoring and monitoring the weather to ensure they are staying in the best, most protected spots.

4. Good Holding

We found good holding in a few spots, and the generally uncrowded nature of the lake meant stress-free anchoring. If you are brand new to sailing, there are many places to practice anchoring and get the hang of it without feeling like your efforts are on display for those already at anchor and enjoying mid-day cocktails. Our one caution is to understand the customary scope for the area. Our experience was that local sailors prefer a 4:1 scope over, say, a 7:1 scope. Check with your charter company and locals to ensure all boats are similarly anchored.

Finally, always check the weather and be sure to choose an anchorage that is protected against the wind and errant thunderstorms that can materialize in a hurry on the lake.

5. Transient Moorings at Burlington Harbor

Most of the moorings on Lake Champlain are private and used by seasonal boaters. They are not for you. The exception is beautiful Burlington Harbor, a place we loved so much a dedicated blog post will be published soon. For now, know that they have public mooring pendants (not mooring balls) on the South end near the break wall. If you are seeking a more secure spot during an evening that might have periods of rough weather, this is a great option. Plus, after a quick dinghy ride over to pay your mooring fee at the Burlington Community Boat House, you can head up the hill and enjoy this excellent town.

6. Prioritizing Sailing Over Itinerary

The lake is its widest between Burlington Harbor and Willsboro Bay, about 15 miles. Up and down each side of the lake are terrific spots to anchor for lunch or for the night. Consider using Burlington Harbor as a home base, keeping it within reach if you want the security of a known mooring option. Unlike other sailing locations, where you might have a fixed itinerary and need to “get there”, often requiring motoring if the wind isn’t up to speed, the nature of the lake is that everything is somewhat close and you can let the wind direction dictate your day.  Have plenty of anchoring options on deck so you have choices depending on where the wind takes you. Make it about the sailing, not about a specific destination, and you will get to enjoy all of your new sailing skills while not worrying so much about traversing a predetermined course.

7. Easy to Get To

We chartered with Navtours which is conveniently based at the Plattsburgh City Marina. This Marina is incredibly easy to get to by air or, what we recommend, by train. The train station is approximately 200 meters from the marina office, making the option to fly into Montreal (or a number of other locations) for the weekend then head to your sailing adventure on Sunday night a great choice. You can check in and wake up on Monday to a lake that will be mostly all yours.

8. History

Lake Champlain boasts a rich history and was pivotal in the revolutionary war and the war of 1812. There is also the story of Champ, the lake monster, who according to our fun-loving friends at Navtours, causes the otherwise unexplainable waves each afternoon. We’d like to believe this is true.  The stories of historic battles and Champ sightings are a terrific addition to any Lake Champlain trip.

9. On-Land Excursions

Lake Champlain is more than 100 miles long, which offers plenty of sailing space, so you’ll want to sail as much as you can. But there are many great on-land opportunities on both the Vermont and New York sides. Bring your hiking shoes for the trails around Valcour Island and don’t miss Shelburne Farms featuring the former Vanderbilt mansion a short dinghy ride from anchoring at Quaker Smith. Our advice? Make reservations for dinner or breakfast and plan to spend an hour or two walking the lovely trails of the conservation-oriented farm.

10. The People

If you are a new sailor and you still have a lot to learn, that’s ok! We have been sailing for more than seven years, and we learn something new on every trip. On this particular trip, most of our learning was weather related and was provided by some simply wonderful summer live-aboard sailors who had been sailing on the lake for more than 47 years. What we found on Lake Champlain was a sailing community of boat owners who were incredibly kind, welcoming, and helpful. The friendly folks at our charter company were also terrific, providing provisioning direction and giving us great tips on sailing destinations up and down this beautiful lake.

Regardless of your experience level, Lake Champlain is a great place to sail. We can’t imagine a better trip than we had, but we are going to give it a try in the fall next year to see if we can catch some of the changing colors before the season ends.


Lea Maxwell

Lea Maxwell is the sailor and scribe behind Escape Under Sail, a web|blog project that connects new and future charter sailors with the resources, information, and motivation they need to competently and confidently sail beautiful destinations around the world.

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