Lake Champlain is a 435-square-mile freshwater lake that borders two U.S. states, New York and Vermont, as well as the province of Quebec in Canada. At 120 miles long, it makes up the majority of Vermont’s western border with New York. The lake overall is rather skinny, at just 12 miles at its widest point, which provides great views of the Adirondack Mountains when looking west from the Vermont shoreline between Burlington in the north and Shoreham in the south.
Lake Champlain is part of an 8,234-mile watershed that includes at least 16 major rivers, as well as water from Lake George in New York and supplies drinking water for approximately 250,000 people. The lake drains northward into the Richelieu River and eventually the Saint Lawrence River in Quebec.
There are myriad ways to access and navigate Lake Champlain. Three bridges cross narrow portions of the lake, two at the southern end and one in the north, as well as three ferries that provide crossing between Vermont and New York. While much of the lake shore is privately owned, there are numerous state and municipal parks on both sides of the lake that provide great access and numerous recreational opportunities.
Weather At Lake Champlain
The Lake Champlain Basin is located at a latitude of 44 degrees north, which situates it in a land of extremes. Winter temperatures can easily plunge well below zero for extended periods of time in January and February, sometimes resulting in “closure,” when the lake completely freezes over. Even during winters when the lake doesn’t completely freeze, most of the sheltered bays and shoreline are locked in ice, making for some amazing photographic opportunities.
During the summer months of July and August, it’s not uncommon to experience temperatures well into the upper 80s and 90s, and the lake temperature itself can sometimes reach the mid 70s. Summer thunderstorms can be as dramatic as anywhere else in the world.
I’ve been living and photographing in Vermont for the past 20 years and have come to consider Lake Champlain one of its crown jewels. While most photographers only think of Vermont as a fall foliage destination with rolling hills and farm scenes, Lake Champlain offers amazing landscape photography opportunities.
I prefer photographing wide-angle landscapes from the Vermont side of the lake, looking west. The scenery from Vermont looking toward the Adirondacks is simply more dramatic. But there are also plenty of smaller scenes to photograph along the lake shore as well as from a boat or by getting out on one of the lake’s many islands. The lake is quite diverse, with portions of rugged rocky shoreline with amazing foregrounds to shallow bays, marshes and even sandy beaches and dunes.
In addition to landscape photography, Lake Champlain can be a great wildlife destination. It’s not uncommon to have snowy owl sightings during the winter, and the Champlain Valley is a major migratory corridor for waterfowl with thousands of snow geese stopping over during late autumn.
Best Times To Visit Lake Champlain
My favorite time to photograph Lake Champlain is during the shoulder season between fall and winter, affectionately referred to as “stick season” by Vermonters. It’s a time of year when the fall color is gone from the inland mountains and valleys, but it’s still relatively warm out. Access to the water is still easy, the swimmers are gone, and water recreation is mostly over. It’s also a time of year when there are dramatic stormy skies and big waves on the lake.
While there are plenty of sunrise photo ops, I prefer to photograph the lake at sunset. During winter months, the sun sets in the southwestern part of the sky, and in summer it sets much further to the north, providing a variety of lighting conditions. Winter months can offer very interesting ice formations to photograph, but photographers should be very careful when traversing ice-covered portions of the lake and be prepared for very cold weather conditions. During the summer months, it’s not uncommon to have thunderstorms over the lake, which can provide some amazing cloud formations and dramatic sunsets.
This particular image was made during the winter of 2013 during a January thaw and nor’easter. High winds helped produce 3- to 4-foot waves on the lake, and the clouds catching some sunset light helped complete the dramatic scene of the passing storm.
Contact: Experience Vermont, vermont.org.
See more of Kurt Budliger’s photography at kurtbudliger.com.