6. Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge
A short detour on Rte. 78 brings you to this pristine wetland preserve on the broad Missisquoi River delta. The refuge’s 6,642 acres are evenly divided between brush, timber, and marsh, making this a perfect spot to observe wildlife of every stripe, from the migratory waterfowl and raptors that stop here each spring and fall to the white-tailed deer and other animals that inhabit the refuge’s wooded uplands and wildflower meadows. Two well-marked nature trails—about 11⁄2 miles in total length—guide visitors into this fragile mix of habitats. In the summer bring along a bucket and waterproof boots—and insect repellent—for blueberry picking in the bog off Tabor Road.
7. Isle La Motte
Northernmost of Champlain’s islands, tiny Isle La Motte is sparsely touristed, as sequestered in spirit as it is in fact. Fittingly, the one spot that attracts visitors year after year is a place of quiet contemplation: it is St. Anne’s Shrine, site of the first white settlement and the first Roman Catholic Mass to be held in Vermont, in 1666. Despite prayers to St. Anne (mother of the Virgin Mary), the settlers were driven off the island by inclement weather and hostile natives; the area was later reclaimed as a holy place by the Bishop of Burlington in 1892.
Take the serene water’s-edge drive to Isle La Motte’s southern tip, where lake breezes stir the trees and an occasional snowy egret haunts the rocky shores of an old, water-filled marble quarry.
8. North Hero Island
Island-hopping to the east, the drive crosses another bridge and alights on narrow North Hero. Here, just off Rte. 2, sits woodsy North Hero State Park, a mecca for campers on a handsome stretch of land overlooking Maquam Bay. Motoring south across the slender isthmus that connects the north and south sections of the island, and continuing beyond the town of North Hero, the drive arrives at Knight Point State Park. Poised on the island’s very tip, this charming oasis is blessed with a sheltered, warm bay just right for swimming, and a view of the drawbridge connecting North Hero and Grand Isle. More spectacular still are the park’s views of the Green Mountains to the southeast and the Adirondacks to the southwest. Beginning at the sandy beach, a grassy nature trail loops around the oftentimes breezy point to pass through groves of birches, oaks, and maples.
9. Grand Isle
Golden hayfields, fragrant orchards, and lush green pastures bordered by a choppy, wind-tossed lake is the largest of Champlain’s islands. Like its neighbors to the north, Grand Isle has managed to avoid unchecked development—it’s too cold in the winter, too far in the summer—but visitors who manage to pass through these parts are left with fond memories. To best sample this island’s unique charms, take the East Shore Road south along the coastline to Grand Isle State Park, then follow Town Line Road to rejoin Rte. 2 near Keeler Bay, a sheltered cove ideal for boating and fishing. A number of primitive camps—and the occasional upscale summer home—are huddled along the water’s edge.
10. Sand Bar State Park
A narrow mile-long causeway crosses the waterway separating the southern tip of Grand Isle from the mainland. Deservedly, the protected beach at Sand Bar State Park draws hefty crowds on summer weekends, but autumn’s first gasp of chilly air restores this stretch of sand and trees to an uncrowded tranquillity. Spread a blanket on the ground for a breezy picnic beside the whitecaps, or prowl the edge of the adjacent wildlife refuge, which offers some of the best bird-watching south of the Missisquoi delta.