Friday, 26 August 2016

The Island Line Trail: Cycling across Lake Champlain, Vermont.

The Island Line Trail: Colchester Causeway
Trail - The Island Line Trail  - consisting of the Burlington Bike Path and the Colchester Causeway.
Location - Burlington to South Hero Island, Vermont, USA.
Distance - 45 kms (28 miles) return.
Terrain -  Asphalt for about half the distance and then compacted gravel.
Difficulty - Easy, this is a ride /walk you can take the family on.
Highlights - Cycling the Colchester Causeway and hopping on the Bike Ferry across the Cut to link up with South Hero Island
Website and map - Click here for a link to download a PDF map and here for detailed trail notes.


We have come to the end of our Washington DC to Maine (and back) road trip and cycling adventure. In our 43 days on the road we drove  5,876 kilometres (3,651 miles), and cycled 687 kilometres (427 miles). We explored 14 rail trails and bike paths, suffered 5 punctures, snapped 1,801 digital photos, ate 23 soft-shell Maine lobsters and visited 9 historic homes and gardens.  My plan was to write in the evenings, cataloguing sightseeing and cycling as we went. In the event, exhaustion got the better of me. Most of the time I was too tired to write and many evenings we  simply collapsed into our hotel room at the end of the day, glad of a hot shower and a soft bed.

I haven't forgotten my promise to share the trails we discovered. Over the next few months, interspersed with our other travels, I will write up the bike paths we cycled.

The Island Line Trail
The Island Line Trail

The Island Line Trail


Of all the bike paths and rail trails we cycled, the best was the Island Line Trail, the second last trail we cycled. The trail consists of the Burlington Bike Path and Colchester Causeway and runs from Burlington, to South Hero Island in Vermont. We cycled the trail on a magnificent blue sky day. There is nothing in the world quite like cruising along next to the water with the sun on your back and the wind in your hair.

In the early 1900s the Rutland & Burlington Railroad built a rail line across Lake Champlain by means of a system of causeways and trestle bridges.  The line connected Rouses Point, New York on the north-western shore of Lake Champlain with Burlington, Vermont on the south-eastern shore. The last train ran in the early 1960s leaving a disused corridor part of which became the Island Line walking and cycling trail. 


The Island Line Trail: Burlington Bikeway
David, reading a history board on the trail.

The trail runs from just south of Burlington along the shore of Lake Champlain to Colchester, where it abandons the shoreline and strikes out across the lake in a narrow corridor along the Colchester Causeway. After almost 3 miles of cycle path, with water on both sides, the causeway ends - abruptly, at a 60 metre (200 foot) stretch of water appropriately named 'the Cut'. To cross the Cut cyclists and walkers board the Island Line Bike Ferry operated by the non-profit biking and walking advocacy group Local Motion. From the northern side of the Cut the trail runs another couple of kilometres where it comes to an end in the quiet back streets of South Hero Island.


We stopped at North Beach on the return trip for a rest and an ice cream. Almost everyone on the beach seemed to be French speaking holidaymakers from Canada.

Burlington to Colchester - 14 kms (9 miles)


The trail begins two miles south of Burlington at Oakledge Park on Flynn Street. The TrailLink website notes there is plenty of parking here, however David and I parked just north of Burlington and cycled a mile or so south to the beginning of the trail before doubling back and heading north toward the Colchester causeway and South Hero Island.

Between the beginning of the trail at Oakledge Park and Burlington we cycled along a corridor marred by graffiti and general ugliness but once in Burlington the drabness was replaced with lake views, waterfront parks, beaches, small boat harbours and brief stretches of woods.  For a while we even biked next to a working rail line. There is nothing like the sight of actual trains to drive home the fact that the network of rail trails throughout America owes its existence to the predominance of railways as a mode of transport in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Island Line Trail
There is nothing like a train coming to make you take notice of your surroundings.
The Island Line Trail at Lake Champlain
Lake Champlain -The lake views are lovely

At the seven mile point, we crossed the Winooski River trestle bridge and a few miles further on stopped to explore the Colchester Log Schoolhouse at Airport Park. The bridge was completed in 2004 to replace a ferry service joining the Burlington Bikeway section with the Colchester Causeway. The schoolhouse circa 1815 is now a museum and information centre with the interior set up as if the school day is about to begin.

The Winooski River trestle bridge.
Crossing the Winooski River trestle bridge.
Colchester Log Schoolhouse
The Colchester Log Schoolhouse

The Colchester Causeway - 4 kms (2.5 miles)


I have a soft spot for cycle paths which run alongside water - they are almost always scenic. Here on the narrow isthmus reaching out across Lake Champlain, I was in scenery heaven. The causeway is about 12 feet wide and with the lake stretching out on either side it was almost as if we were skimming across the surface of the lake.

The Island Line Trail: The Colchester Causeway
The Colchester Causeway

Upon arriving at 'the Cut' we were debating whether to board the bike ferry for a five-minute trip across to the northern section of the path, when we realised David's bike had developed yet another puncture. This was his 4th or 5th flat tyre, in a couple of weeks. After spending half an hour repairing the tyre, and with no spare inner tubes left, we abandoned the idea of the bike ferry and turned for home.

The Island Line Trail: the Cut.
The Cut - no cycling across this!

The Island Line Trail bike ferry.
The Bike Ferry we didn't go on!

Tips and tricks and things to know: -


  • The bike ferry across the Cut costs $8 for a round trip and $5 one-way. Season passes cost $40. Click here for a schedule and list of fares. Note: If you purchase your ticket on the causeway you will need cash.
  • The Island Line Trail is both a cycling and a walking trail. 
  • The Colchester Log Schoolhouse doubles as an information centre and is well worth calling in at. It is open Fridays to Mondays from 11am to 3pm.
  • There are plenty of places to park your car along the trail. Click here for a link to download a map with parking areas marked.
  • There is parking at the Mile 9 point, not long before the beginning of the causeway, if you just want the experience of cycling out into the lake.

I publish a new post every Thursday or Friday, depending on your time zone. If you want to follow our travels check back each week or enter your email address in the 'Never miss a post: Follow by email' box in the right hand sidebar just below my profile picture.

For all the posts so far 
on our north-east USA road and cycling adventure click - here. 


24 comments:

  1. This looks like a good ride. It looks lovely. I would like to do it in autumn when the fall colors are there.

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    1. We have done a few US rides in Autumn and they are always magical but you risk the weather a bit more. By planning our cycling trips for summer we get a lot less bad weather.

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  2. What a gorgeous place for a cycle. Vermont is high on my wish list.

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    1. It is a beautiful state and great for walking and cycling.

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  3. I have never been to Vermont and have been meaning to. Plus, I have been doing more biking, so this sounds perfect! Thanks for sharing and linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

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    1. The Island Line Trail is one of the loveliest trails we have done - just beautiful.

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  4. Everybody knows my obsessive love of bicycles, so this looks absolutely super. Though I must admit, the title had me wondering if paddle wheels had been affixed to the bikes.

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    1. Haha - I was trying to make the title sound interesting. I actually considered 'Cycling on Water' but decided it was a bit too much like click- bait.

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  5. Such a fantastic journey you've been on. And this looks like a good way to end it (or at least close to the end). I look forward to reading about more of the trails. #wkendtravelinspiration

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    1. I have 13 more trails to write up and at one a week it will take me a while. Meanwhile D and I are off to see the wildflowers in Western Australia and do a bit of cycling there so I may still be writing up the New England trails in a year's time - lol.

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  6. I was in Burlington earlier this month and wish I had known about this ride. I really like the Rails to Trails movement, and this looks like an excellent execution of the idea. Cycling with water on both sides must have been so pleasant. And getting to ride a ferry and visit a one room schoolhouse would be nice breaks along the way. Thanks for sharing on #WkendTravelInspiration.

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    1. Burlington is such a beautiful place, I am sure you had a good time even without knowing about the trail. There is a website - http://www.traillink.com/ - where you can search for trails in any state. It is a really useful resource next time you are headed somewhere new.

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  7. We didn't cycle in Vermont, but had a wonderful road trip through this stunning state.

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    1. It might have been a bit tricky cycling in winter. Have you seen the snow bikes they sell in the U.S. They have massive tyres. I have even seen a couple in our local bike shop in Sydney - apparently they work on sand as well.

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  8. I'd love to do this bike route. We saw it last trip to Burlington, I love how it along the water. Glad you enjoyed your time in New England and did the best things- eat lots of lobster!:)

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    1. Haha - the soft-shell lobsters are one of the main reasons we keep going back. Lobsters are so expensive in Australia, it is almost cheaper to hop on a plane and pop over to New England to have them.

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  9. Looks like such a gorgeous trail Lyn. I would have been fit to be tied with all of the flats though.
    I saw in a comment above about the Fat bikes. I want to rent one this winter to try it out. Looks like it will be quite a workout with those big tires. :)

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    1. Make sure you write a blog post on the fat-tyred bikes. I'd love to know what they are like to ride.

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  10. It's been fun following this trip of yours. I've made a lot of new local discoveries. #wkendtravelinspiration.

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    1. I still have a few posts to go, but D and I are off the Western Australia in a couple of weeks so I'm going to swap between the two destinations in my blog.

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  11. The views are absolutely incredible, I would love to go on this trail! #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. We have cycled a lot of rail trails and I can honestly say this was one of the best.

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  12. I can see why you rate this the best, it looks fantastic. It is going on my list of must do right now. Thanks!

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