One of my favorite hikes is through a spectacular forest known as Eagle Mountain Natural Area in Milton. With little more than a few hundred feet of rise from the parking lot to the Hoyt Overlook, this easy trail offers spectacular views across the islands of Lake Champlain to the Adirondacks.
From dazzling displays of spring wildflowers to 360-degree winter views from the top of the mountain, Eagle Mountain is a wildlife watcher’s paradise in all seasons.
The towns of the Lake Champlain Byway are full of easy-to-find hiking gems that visitors and residents alike return to season after season. It’s so hard to pick a favorite, but here are a few suggestions:
The top of Mount Philo State Park in Charlotte offers unparalleled views of the Champlain Valley. Although you can drive to the top, you can’t beat the one-mile, easy/moderate hike to the top. The hike has a dense forest with logs to climb over, wildflowers to identify, and great picnic spots. When you arrive at the top, the view across the Champlain Valley and all the way across Lake Champlain to the Adirondacks is breathtaking. Watch for raptors riding the thermal drafts at eye level!
Eagle Mountain Natural Area and Niquette Bay State Park, are both within 25 minutes of downtown Burlington. Niquette Bay State Park in Colchester is worth every penny of the modest day-use fee charged in season. Although the 550-acre park offers an extensive trail network of both easy and moderate hikes, everyone in the family can enjoy the gentle hike down the sandy road to the rare natural sand beach on the shores of Lake Champlain. Take a minute to dip your toes in the water and watch for small darters in the shallow bay. From the lake, you can hike up through the nearby lakeshore cliffs or walk along an extensive bridge over wetlands full of wildlife.
A great spot for the entire family is a free outdoor museum at the Goodsell Ridge Fossil Preserve in the town of Isle La Motte. This world-renowned treasure trove includes 480 million-year-old fossils of ancient ocean reefs that are trapped in the exposed rock outcroppings. In addition to well-marked trails for fossil exploration, longer trails around the perimeter of the 81-acre preserve offer ideal bird-watching opportunities.
So, when visiting the Byway, remember that some of the best natural assets of the area are best viewed on two legs. A short walk from your car will yield some of the true treasures of the Lake Champlain Byway.
Chris is Executive Director of the Lake Champlain Land Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to permanently conserving the irreplaceable islands and natural areas of Lake Champlain. Eagle Mountain Natural Area, Niquette Bay State Park, and Goodsell Ridge Fossil Preserve are three of the 25-plus natural areas open to the public and permanently protected by the Lake Champlain Land Trust. Almost all are free to the public. For directions, guides, and in-depth nature profiles of these sites and more, go to www.lclt.org.