Burton Island State Park
This is the best place in the state to experience the waters of Lake Champlain. Life is slow on Burton Island — watch the boats dock at the marina while sipping coffee from the Burton Island Bistro. Spend your days swimming, exploring the miles of trails and hidden coves, paddle boarding or relaxing around a campfire. The park is only accessible by boat, so if you don’t have your own, hop on the Island Runner that makes several trips a day.
Button Bay State Park
If swimming, boating, fishing, and hiking don’t tickle your fancy, perhaps the unique geology of Button Bay will excite you. Round, flat, button-like rocks line the shores of Lake Champlain. Besides perfect skipping rocks, Button Bay has trails to hike, boats to rent, and a swimming pool to cool off in. Find it in Ferrisburgh, thirtyish minutes south of Burlington.
Smugglers Notch State Park
Smugglers Notch State Park — named for the winding road once used as an illegal trading route between the US and Canada — is as much beautiful as it is historic. It offers outdoor recreation opportunities all year: Go hiking, caving, camping and swimming in the summer, and skiing, snowmobiling, and ice climbing in the winter.
This spot in Middlebury has the perfect balance of rugged wilderness and comfortable civilization. It will make most adventurists, big and small happy. If you’ve got kids in tow, the interpretive program will amaze them. The historical hike has cemeteries, bridges, and cellars to discover. And the clear water will beckon you to jump on in.
Mt. Philo State Park
A visit to the Champlain Valley wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Mt. Philo. The park consists of a little mountain with well-maintained trails and even better views. The access road allows cars to drive to the top during peak season, which means the incredible views of the valley and lake are accessible to everyone. Combine a trip to Mt. Philo with a stop at nearby Folino’s pizza and Fiddlehead Brewery.
Quechee Gorge State Park
You will find Quechee State Park right in the town of Hartford, right on the border of Vermont and New Hampshire. The park is home to the Quechee Gorge, Vermont’s deepest gorge. Catch epic views of the gorge from the Route 4 Bridge, and then descend into the park for some hiking, camping, and water hole swimming.
Emerald Lake State Park
Sitting pretty in a valley between the Green Mountains and the Taconic Mountains, Emerald Lake State Park is a lesser-known and serene state park. The translucent green water is the main draw; enticing swimmers, boaters and anglers. But don’t let that be the end of your exploration. There are over 100 quiet campsites surrounding the lake, empty trails to hike and secret coves to discover.
Grand Isle State Park
Outdoor enthusiasts will be hard pressed to find a better place in the state to explore and relax in the outdoors. Grand Isle State Park is on the largest of all the Champlain Islands — Grand Isle — and has water access for swimming, fishing and boating. An entry to Grand Isle State Park also gets you into Knight Point State Park and Alburg Dunes State Park.
Mount Ascutney State Park
Hiking to impressive outlooks, paddling on a winding river and jumping into a natural swimming hole are all in a day’s fun in Mount Ascutney State Park. The summit trail up Mt. Ascutney was the very first hiking trail in Vermont. This state park is also one of the top hang gliding spots in New England — it’s pretty darn cool watching the hang gliders launch off the peak.