Grand Isle State Park

An Adventure guide to camping in Vermont

Words and Photos by Tina Picz-Devoe

Listening from inside our tent after midnight, the leaves are rustling rather loudly, moved by the constant, cool breeze coming off Lake Champlain on this Independence Day weekend. All else is pitch black and quiet, aside from snores drifting over from a nearby tent site. Now and then, footsteps of other campers are heard, tromping the pebbly, dirt roads to the bathrooms. This is our first time camping at Grand Isle State Park in Vermont, an island about 30 minutes north of Burlington, situated on Lake Champlain. I’ve seen this body of water many times before and spent an ample amount of time visiting Vermont since my childhood, but this particular area is new to me, and I am enthralled by its beauty. I’ve never been this far north in Vermont, only one hour from the Canadian border. The area has an extremely calm, slow pace; quiet and teeming with bright green corn and cow fields, lush mountains, family farms with tiny, roadside farm stands, lake inlets, boat docks, ice cream stands and quaint, red antique barns, filled with unique furniture and treasures of old. I love Vermont, recalling my youth of skiing here with my family and visiting the Ben and Jerry’s headquarters in Waterbury. Sharing it with my daughter and husband these past few years has been a whole new experience.
One of the most appealing aspects of this state is the plethora of small, family-run businesses in every town, supported strongly by the locals. Lots of organically grown produce and locally made goods gives each business a sweet, old-fashioned charm that screams, “America” like apple pie and ice cream (sweetened with Vermont maple syrup, of course). We always make a point of checking out new, local eateries, brews, shops and farms whenever we visit Vermont, and this time was no different. We started the trip heading straight up from Boston to Burlington, Vermont and stopping at our favorite, local co-op for some last minute groceries and bug spray. The Onion River Co-Op has a huge selection of natural and organic products and locally grown food, and we love that Vermont has recently passed a bill of transparency to label GMOs. It’s great to see all of the small brands, family farms and local companies selling their goods here with such emphasis placed on sustainable practices. On almost every rural road you drive in Vermont you will see a farm stand or a sign on a lawn with homegrown goods for sale; from eggs, to blueberries, to grass-fed meat, to bread and furniture. This state has a way of transporting visitors back to a simpler time, when most homes offered some of the fruits of their labor to surrounding neighbors and passersby. 

Next we headed up to Grand Isle State Park, where we planned to meet our friends at the campground and were amazed at how gorgeous this string of small islands and state parks was. Our campsite was clean, spacious and rather private, with many trees between the surrounding tent sites and us. It was a quick stroll to the lakefront, where we saw lots of sailboats, kayakers and swimmers. My daughter swam a lot, finding many native clams and we took our canoe in just once with lots of waves to make it interesting. We were able to cook some good, hot breakfasts over the open flame and sat by the fire with our buddies for s’mores and brews at night. We were excited to head out on the last day to hit up our favorite spots on the way home.

We stopped again in Burlington for lunch and a lakeside stroll. We are always so enamored by this small city, bustling with action during every season due to the wide variety of outdoor activities, sports, art and music events offered. We ate at our favorite city spot the Skinny Pancake, where crepes and local brews such as kombucha and cider are specialties. And if great music is what you’re after, they turn into a bar and music venue at night.  I also can’t seem to visit Vermont without having a heaping mound of poutine - a Canadian dish, originating in the province of Quebec, made with French fries and local cheese curds topped with a light brown (vegetarian) gravy. 

After this, we headed south along the lake, passing the town of Vergennes and its many solar panel farms. Vergennes is also home to our favorite veggie burger ever at Bar Antidote, which boasts a “local food pledge” as well as a great wood-fired bakery and espresso bar called Vergennes Laundry.  Next we were on to Ferrisburgh’s Dakin Farm Store where visitors can sample lots of jam, cheese, syrup, honey, and chutney, and then grab a maple soft serve on the way out. In Vermont, these soft serves are called Maple Creemes, and simply cannot be missed. One of the top spots for this treat is Village Creeme Stand in Bristol. We passed through the tiny town (cool shops and eateries) on our way down to Warren Falls in Green Mountain National Forest, a favorite swimming hole and waterfall area in Warren. On the drive from Bristol to Warren, there are many inlets to park alongside Mad River, where people swim, jump off of rock cliffs and have all-day picnics and parties. This was my 7-year-old’s first time swimming here, and she said, “This was the best swim I’ve ever had in my life!”  The cool, flowing mountain waters are crisp, clean and extremely refreshing on hot summer days in July. It’s a nice, relaxing way to wash off the camping grime after three days with no showers.

After a swim, we headed to the Warren Store where we always find some delicious home-baked goods, sandwiches and prepared foods – great to take to the falls for picnics too.  A couple of days before, Senator Bernie Sanders was there for the Warren parade in his beautiful home state. There’s a wonderfully restored bed and breakfast across from the store called the Pitcher Inn, if you’re looking for a romantic, weekend getaway. Once we were full of yummy treats and all cooled off, we hit the road back to Massachusetts, saying farewell to the beloved Green Mountain State, until our next adventure.