The Magical Sandy Beaches of Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain sunset over Sand Bar State Park by Kristen Jensen
If you’ve ever spent time on the “inland sea” of Lake Champlain (or even looked at pictures) you’ll notice how rocky much of the shore is. (It’s also one reason Button Bay State Park in Ferrisburgh has a pool!) This rocky shoreline is a result of thousands of years of glacial and geological activity in the Champlain Valley, and very noticeable in parks like Button Bay, D.A. R. State Park in Addison, and Kamp Kill Kare State Park in St. Albans.

Luckily, there are always exceptions.

Stumbling across Alburgh Dunes State Park for the first time can be like stepping into an alternate reality. That was my reaction, at least. On a day in early June, I was driving across the top of Vermont from Swanton and into New York State. This drive is flat and sometimes tedious, especially on a cloudy day. Luckily, in a world before GPS, I glanced at my road map and noticed a park symbol nearby. On a whim, decided to stop. From Route 78, it’s only an 8-mile detour on Route 2, which meanders through the Champlain Islands, past farm fields and views of Lake Champlain.

Beach day by Raven Schwan- Noble
Following signs for the park, I parked the car and strolled down the path down to the water. Almost immediately I was transported to the beach. A long expanse of soft sand, beach plants and a cool breeze blowing off the lake completed the feeling. I took a deep breath and exhaled the stress of the drive and the trip, kicking off my shoes and burying feet in the velvety sand. At my last visit in early June, the park was delightfully uncrowded with just a few people talking a jog, and park staff carefully cleaning the beach.

If the coastal vibe is strong, it’s because it once was… and still is, in a way. The dunes and beach form a barrier island, geologically similar to ocean shoreline, and left over from glacial till deposited during the last Ice Age. “Sand from [the] soil settles out in the pocket between the rocky “Point of Tongue” t
o the east and “Coon Point” to the west, forming the beach. Prevailing southerly winds, in the late summer and fall when lake levels are lowest, blow the sand back from the shore, forming dunes.” I certainly didn’t appreciate the geological history during my visit, but I do now.

Sand sculptures on the beach
Sand Bar State Park in Milton is another pleasant surprise, especially for those not expecting to find a long, sandy beach near Burlington. As expected, the park’s name hints at the geological history- a natural sand bar between the town of Milton on the Vermont mainland and the island of South Hero. Currently, water depths between the park and South Hero Island remains shallow well out from shore, which is one reason the park is so popular with families. Without the sand bar, natural lake depths would be over 150 feet!

The Sandbar WMA, directly adjacent to the park, is a mix of upland forest and wetlands at the mouth of the Lamoille River. Much of the park is a refuge with no public access and off-limits to hunting, fishing and trapping, though there are several public access spots. Due to the variety of habitats, Sandbar WMA is an ideal place for wildlife watching in a unique setting. The area is a stopover for migratory waterfowl, seasonal nesting ground and spawning ground for fish. Common mammals include red fox, white-tailed deer, coyotes, beaver, otter and muskrat. There are many birds and bird species to be seen, including a variety of waterfowl such as ducks, great blue heron, osprey, songbirds like wood thrush, eastern bluebird and veery, wild turkey, and ruffed grouse. Several species of salamanders, frogs and bullfrogs, and rare spiny softshell turtles can also be spotted.

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