Silhouetted sailboats against a mountain backdrop. The haunting cries of loons echoing through a rising mist. The splash of water as it rolls off your kayak paddle on your way back to your waterfront campsite.
This is the quiet side of Vermont’s most underappreciated asset — its mountain-rimmed lakes.
Vermont may be a landlocked state, but its beautiful and varied lakes make up for its lack of ocean shores.
If you are thinking about a lake vacation this year, don’t overlook Vermont, where you can paddle to remote campsites, rent a gorgeous waterfront cabin, or plan an urban vacation in Burlington on the shores of Lake Champlain.
Here are some beautiful lakes in Vermont for your next getaway, from the popular to the obscure.
Lake Champlain: America’s Sixth Great Lake
Lake Champlain is a glittering gem of a lake that delineates the border between Vermont and New York.
This massive Vermont Lake is 107 miles long and 14 miles wide at its widest point. The Adirondack Mountains rise up from Lake Champlain’s western shore, making for dramatic sunsets from the Vermont side.
Because of its size, Lake Champlain attracts all types of adventurers, including sailors, fisherfolk, bird watchers, paddlers, and beach bums.
There are numerous spots on Lake Champlain that are perfect for a Vermont lake vacation.
Where you decide to set up your home base will depend on what you want to do while you’re here. There are quiet coves for paddling, islands that you can camp and hike on, open water for sailing, and even an ancient fossil reef (the oldest reef system in the world).
Here are our favorite spots for a Lake Champlain vacation:
Button Bay State Park, Ferrisburgh: Button Bay makes a great camping home base for exploring the area south of Burlington. The park itself is great for paddling, camping with kids and dogs, and mountain sunsets. There’s a pool with a lifeguard and several camping cabins that are always booked when we want to reserve one.
From Button Bay State Park, it’s an easy drive to Kingsland Bay State Park for swimming, Mount Philo for hiking and picnicking, and Vermont Cookie Love for the best maple creemees in Vermont!
Burlington: Vermont’s biggest city makes a great Lake Champlain vacation for foodies and urbanites, but it’s also got a fantastic bike path, beautiful parks, and cool shops. Here are some of the best things to do in Burlington during the summer.
Burton Island, Saint Albans: Burton Island State Park is another incredible spot for camping on Lake Champlain. Leave your car on the mainland and relax near the water, hike easy trails, paddle to your heart’s content, and enjoy the short Vermont summer. The local Burton Island Bistro sells beer and wine and makes fantastic pancakes and coffee. Burton Island has waterfront lean-tos and camping cabins, but reserve them early as they are very popular.
Lake Champlain Islands: The Lake Champlain Islands is the collective name for the islands of Isle La Motte, North Hero, and South Hero, plus the peninsula of Alburgh. The area is home to about 7,000 people, as well as eight state parks, and numerous ways to enjoy the water.
A vacation on the Islands is perfect for bicycles and history buffs. Discover the Chazy Reef in Isle la Motte, the oldest commercial winery and vineyard in South Hero, and Vermont’s largest sand dunes in Alburgh. Farm stands dot the landscape and there are beautiful views everywhere you look.
Lake Willoughby: Vermont’s Deepest Lake
From Vermont’s largest lake to its deepest, Lake Willoughby was carved by glaciers thousands of years ago. Two steep mountains, Mount Hor and Mount Pisgah, rise up on either side of it, giving Lake Willoughby the appearance of a Norwegian fjord.
There are two public beaches at the northern and southern tips of the lake, and you can hike up either Mount Hor or Mount Pisgah on either side for incredible views of the lake and the surrounding landscape. I included both hikes in the 3rd edition of AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont.
Vacation homes dot the northeast shore of Lake Willoughby, and the paddling is good as long as the wind isn’t blowing too fiercely.
The best way to explore Lake Willoughby is to rent a cottage on the lake and explore more of the Northeast Kingdom. It’s a beautiful destination for hikers and those who want to get off the beaten path to explore the wilds of Vermont.
Be sure to visit the Old Stone House Museum & Historic Village in nearby Brownington.
This is a collection of old buildings that tells the story of African American Alexander Lucius Twilight. Mr. Twilight was the first African American college graduate and state legislator in the United States and he built the namesake Old Stone House which he called Athenian Hall.
Lake Bomoseen: The Largest Lake Entirely Within Vermont
The large, shallow Lake Bomoseen has a surface area of roughly 2,4000 acres in the towns of Castleton and Hubbardton. Lake Bomosoeen is surrounded by forested foothills that eventually turn into the northern Taconic Mountains.
There are several public beaches on Lake Bomoseen, as well as marinas and boat launches where you can buy bait, launch a watercraft, or rent a kayak. Bald eagles and osprey are common on the lake and we hear the fishing is great too!
Aside from water-based recreation on Lake Bomoseen, be sure to visit Hubbardton Battlefield State Historic Site where you can learn about the only Revolutionary War battle fought on Vermont soil.
Taconic Mountains Ramble State Park is a day-use park that features meadows and woodland hiking trails as well as a peaceful Japanese garden.
Looking for the perfect lakefront vacation rental? This 1920s Lake Bomoseen home features a wall of windows looking out to the lake, a gorgeous bedroom with a queen-size bed, and a pool table. Plus it’s dog-friendly!
Lake Saint Catherine: A Gem of a Lake for Summer Vacationers
Beautiful Lake Saint Catherine is surrounded by small mountains on the western border of Vermont between the towns of Poultney and Wells. Small vacation cottages dot the shoreline, but Lake Saint Catherine is otherwise a quiet lake, perfect for family vacations.
The area consists of three interconnected lakes: Big Lake, Little Lake, and Lily Pond. Lake Saint Catherine State Park has a small beach/picnic area and a 61-site campground on the lake’s eastern shore. Book a lean-to for the weekend and spend it swimming and paddling the lake in between naps in your hammock and hikes on the nearby trails.
Provisions and a few restaurants in Putney provide all you need for a low-key Vermont vacation. Grab a pint of craft beer at Poultney Pub, which also serves up quality eats, plus live music several nights a week.
Forgot your steamy beach read for lakeside afternoons? Not only is Hermit Hill Books a perfect rainy-day hideaway, but you’re also sure to find a bargain book you never knew you needed.
For endless views plus a fun trek through several diverse forest communities, visit the Lewis Dean Nature Preserve and hike the 1.8-mile loop. Western views from the rocky ledge include all of Lake Saint Catherine and the Taconic Mountains.
Emerald Lake: A Small, Beautiful Lake in East Dorset
This small lake in Southern Vermont is part of Emerald Lake State Park, a beloved local park in Est Dorest that is considered one of the best swimming lakes in the region.
When the light is just right, Emerald Lake really does take on a turquoise hue. Rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard to meander around the small island, where you can snack on blueberries, catch frogs, and jump into the water from a secret rope swing.
While most locals come to Emerald Lake to picnic and swim on hot summer days, there’s also a nice campground with tent/RV sites and lean-tos. There is an easy hiking trail around the lake and another that leads to a vista overlooking the lake.
Emerald Lake State Park is close to dining and shopping in Manchester and Dorset.
Lake Memphremagog: NEK Lake Straddling Vermont and Quebec
This large glacial lake straddles the border between Newport, Vermont and Magog, Quebec, and totals 687 square miles. Not only is this a massive lake, but it’s also the third deepest in Vermont, with 21 islands.
Most of Lake Memphremagog lies within Quebec, but the city of Newport is located on the southern tip just across the Vermont border.
Newport is a vibrant town in the summer, with a bustling waterfront, several public parks and trails, and a marina where you can dine on the water, take a themed cruise on the Northern Star, or just relax and watch the boats come and go.
If you want to camp, swim, or rent kayaks, head to Prouty Beach.
This four-bedroom waterfront home on Lake Memphremagog sleeps 10 people and features a large outdoor deck with incredible views, steep steps down to the lake, and a gorgeous layout.
Lake Whitingham: A Recreational Gem in Southern Vermont
Also known as the Harriman Reservoir, this man-made Vermont lake is large enough for serious recreation, but small enough that you can really get to know it.
Lake Whitingham is managed by Great River Hydro Company, and the shoreline is completely forested and undeveloped.
Small sailboats frequent the lake, as do motorboats, jet skis, windsurfers, and paddlers. There are several public picnic areas with water access and boat launches, but there is no camping on the shores of the lake.
Wilmington is a beautiful town with a small downtown area full of cute shops and restaurants. Grab a meal at both Dot’s and Aspenglow Bistro, and spend at least an afternoon meandering around the shops.
Green River Reservoir: Paddle to a Remote Campsite
The 653-acre Green River Reservoir is part of an undeveloped state park in Hyde Park, Vermont.
The reservoir is designated as a “quiet” lake under Vermont’s “Use of Public Waters Rules.” Boats powered by electric motors up to 5 mph and human-powered watercraft (canoes, kayaks, etc.) are allowed.
The highlight of Green River Reservoir is paddling to the remote, undeveloped campsites that dot the lake. Paddling is permitted for day use as well but in limited numbers.
There are 27 remote tent sites that must be reserved in advance. You will need your own canoe or kayak, as there are no rental facilities in the park. Campsites are primitive and include a fire ring and access to a pit toilet. Water must be filtered from the reservoir.
The highlight of our recent canoe camping trip at Green River Reservoir was getting to see an amazing array of wildlife, including the moose pictured above, at least a dozen beavers, bald eagles, osprey, and loons.
We spent our days swimming, paddling, and swinging from a hammock, and our nights stargazing and listening to the quiet. This is one of our favorite lakes in Vermont for escaping into the wild.
Waterbury Reservoir: A Wonderful Lake for Your Family Vacation
The first thing Waterbury Reservoir has going for it is its location. In the heart of the Northern Green Mountains, this beautiful 850-acre lake is situated right off Route 100, near the mountain towns of Waterbury and Stowe.
This is a man-made lake, created by the CCC in the 1930s to protect towns along the Winooski River from floods.
There are two Vermont State Parks on the reservoir – Waterbury Center State Park is ideal for day-use activities like paddling, fishing, swimming, and picnicking. Canoe and Kayak rentals are available at Waterbury Center until Labor Day.
Little River State Park caters to overnight campers, with 70 tent/RV sites, 20 lean-tos, and 5 camping cabins. The beautiful beaches and interactive ranger-led programs make Little River State Park one of the best for families.
For those looking for a more remote experience, there are also several paddle-in campsites at the northern end of the reservoir.
Lake Shaftsbury: A Tiny Lake for Swimming and Paddling
Lake Shaftsbury may not be much more than a pond, but this picturesque park is worth exploring in all four seasons. Located on Route 7A in Southern Vermont, this is the spot you need for an afternoon swim, family picnic, dog walk, or day of trout fishing.
Lake Shaftsbury State Park rents kayaks, canoes, and paddleboats, and there is a sandy beach with lots of picnic tables. The Healing Springs Nature Trail is exactly a mile around the lake and brings you through a small wetland full of birds.
There are group campsites right on the water and one lovely cottage that you can rent for a relaxing family vacation.
Lake Shaftsbury is equidistant between Bennington and Manchester, both with lots more opportunities for hiking, shopping, and eating out.
This incredibly gorgeous and luxurious cabin in Shaftsbury is just a short drive from Lake Shafstbury State Park.
Not Quite Lakes in Vermont: Ponds Worth Exploring
There’s no real consensus about what makes a lake a lake and a pond a pond. Some very small ponds in Vermont are called lakes and several large bodies of water are known as ponds. We won’t argue about the nomenclature on these pages.
Lakes or ponds, we love them all. Here are a few more favorite spots for swimming, fishing, and paddling – these Vermont ponds are special spots that you won’t want to miss!
Grout Pond: Not Quite a Lake in Green Mountain National Forest
Grout Pond is another one of those special places that you just can’t appreciate until you explore it properly.
In the summer Grout Pond makes a great spot for primitive camping, paddling, and swimming. In early October, this is one of the best spots to hike with a camera, as the fall foliage reflecting in the water is like nothing I’ve ever seen.
Reserve your waterfront campsite on Recreation.gov, just be aware that you either need to hike or paddle into your spot. It’s an easy walk to the campsites, as long as you aren’t carrying a loaded cooler and lots of gear.
There is a small picnic area with a boat launch (for canoes and kayaks) and a nice 2-mile trail around the pond. Grout Pond is one of our favorite destinations in the Green Mountain National Forest.
Adams Reservoir: Quiet Pond in Woodford State Park
Woodford State Park maintains the small pond known as Adams Reservoir, as well as a busy waterfront campground and an easy hiking trail through the woods and along the shore. While plenty of locals head up to Woodford State Park for a day of picnicking, hiking, and paddling, it’s more popular with campers from out of state.
The campground is open through the second Monday in October, with 76 tent/RV sites, 20 lean-tos, and four camping cabins. This is the highest-elevation campground in the state of Vermont, and the reservoir, while small, is surrounded by wild forest, making it a great spot for birds, moose, and otters.
Camping at Woodford State Park is perfect for those who want to explore more of the Southern Green Mountain National Forest, hike a section of the famous Appalachian Trail, or explore the towns of Bennington and Wilmington.
Kettle Pond: Groton State Forest’s Best Primitive Camping
If you’ve never explored the beautifully wild Groton State Forest, it’s time to put it on your list. This magical destination encompasses almost 30,000 acres of woods, mountains, and ponds, as well as seven unique state parks.
There are several beautiful lakes and ponds in Groton State Forest, but we love the remote campsites around Kettle Pond. You can reach the waterfront lean-tos by hiking or paddling, and from there, use your campsite as your hiking and paddling home base to explore the rest of the area.
There is an expansive trail system in Groton State Forest, so if you’re summer recreation plans include hiking, this may be the spot you’ve been dreaming of. We’d also recommend exploring Peacham Bog, swimming at Boulder Beach, and visiting the Groton Nature Center.
Spectacle Pond: Paddler’s Paradise in Island Pond
Brighton State Park on the shores of Spectacle Pond is another small pond surrounded by wooded campsites. This remote area is perfect for a summer or fall vacation, especially if you are a fan of fishing, paddling, and boating.
Wildlife is abundant in this part of the state, and you will find the highest concentration of moose, as well as fast-running trout streams, nesting loons, bald eagles, foxes, and bears.
Choose from five cabins, 54 tent/RV sites, or 23 lean-tos in Brighton State Park. There are several short hiking trails, a sandy beach, kayak/canoe rentals, and a small nature museum.
Be sure to take a side trip to Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge, Bluff Mountain Community Trail, and the small town of Island Pond.
There are dozens and dozens of gorgeous lakes in Vermont that are just waiting to be explored, but the ones mentioned above are our favorites. Do you have a favorite Vermont lake that you think we should include in this post? Leave a comment below!
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Tara Schatz is a freelance writer, and the founder and editor-in-chief of Vermont Explored and Back Road Ramblers, an American road trip blog. She is also the co-author of the 3rd edition of AMC’s Best Day Hikes in Vermont, which was released in May 2023, and the author of 100+ Wonderful Ways to Experience Vermont.