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Lake Effect: Get Your Feet Wet With Our Lake Champlain Primer

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Burlington Bay - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Burlington Bay

Just as mountain activities are a virtual prerequisite for surviving the winter months in Vermont, doing summer right in BTV means taking advantage of Lake Champlain. The best way, of course, is to own a boat — or befriend a sailor. But if those options are beyond your means — or social graces — don't despair. There are still myriad ways to enjoy the state's most precious natural resource that fit any budget or lifestyle. Here are a few of our favorites.

Life's a Beach

North Beach - FILE: JOHN JAMES
  • File: John James
  • North Beach

By far the easiest and cheapest way to get some lake time is to hit the beach. Burlington's coastline is teeming with a variety of sandy strips. Leddy Park's shallow waters make it an ideal family spot. North Beach guarantees a lively atmosphere — and a snack bar! — and is popular with the young and beautiful. Oakledge Park offers a sandy beach and secluded rocky nooks. Wanna beat the crowds? Spring for a membership at the St. John's Club. The blue-collar social club has cheap drinks and a private beach. FYI, alcohol is permitted at all public beaches — but glass bottles are not!

Blazing Paddles

FILE: CALEB KENNA
  • File: Caleb Kenna

If you're looking for a more active approach to water recreation — and an ab-shredding core workout to boot — why not try standup paddleboarding? Paddlesurf Champlain offers hourly, half-day and full-day rentals, plus lessons to help keep you upright — because no one wants to face-plant in front of throngs of Oakledge sunbathers.

If you like the pace and exertion of SUPing but could do without all that standing, Umiak Outdoor Outfitters at North Beach rents solo and tandem kayaks in addition to paddleboards. Or check out the canoe, kayak and rowboat fleet at the Auer Family Boathouse off North Avenue, where they'll also sell you bait.

Sail Away

Don't know the difference between a mainsheet and a mainsail? Don't sweat it. The seafaring folks at the Community Sailing Center on the Burlington waterfront will show you the ropes — and knots and sails and keels — of sailing and have you tacking, jibing and talking like an old salt in no time. For experienced sailors, CSC offers a variety of dinghies and keelboats for rent, in addition to canoes and paddleboards. Would you rather let someone else do all the work while you sip wine spritzers? Grab 11 of your closest pals and book a charter sail with Whistling Man Schooner aboard the wooden-masted sloop Friend Ship.

What Lies Beneath

What's the only thing cooler than being out on the water? Being under it — with a supply of oxygen, that is. The Waterfront Diving Center will teach you to avoid the bends with scuba lessons. The highly trained staff also leads diving excursions to check out the many shipwrecks resting at the bottom of the lake. Watch out for Champ, the storied local lake monster.

The Spirit That Moves You

Burlington Bay
  • Burlington Bay

You can't truly appreciate the beauty of Burlington until you've seen it from the middle of the lake. Docked by the Burlington Boathouse, the 363-passenger Spirit of Ethan Allen III offers narrated sightseeing cruises several times a day — we recommend the spectacular sunset cruise. Vermont's largest cruise ship also hosts a variety of themed voyages, including the Captain's Dinner Dance cruise, the Lobstah on the Lake Dinner cruise and, our favorite, the Murder Mystery Dinner cruise.

Survival Tip: Lake Champlain is home to zebra mussels with sharp shells. If you're swimming or wading, beware — and protect your feet with water shoes.

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