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Lake Champlain virtually laps at your feet for long sections of the 13.4-mile Island Line Rail Trail. Rolling through waterfront parks in Burlington and Colchester, the trail crosses the lake on a spectacular 3-mile causeway that requires a ferry ride to cross a 200-foot gap to destinations on South Hero Island.
The Rutland-Canadian Railroad built the Island Line in 1899 to connect coastal markets in New England with the Great Lakes, eventually reaching Lake Ontario. As rail transportation fell into decline, the railroad scratched its passenger service in 1955 and freight service in 1961. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the idea of a pedestrian trail took hold; now more than 150,000 visitors use the trail each year.
The southern 8 miles of trail are paved, and the remainder is hard-packed crushed limestone. Since 2015, Burlington’s section of the rail-trail (known as Burlington Greenway) has been undergoing a face-lift with new paving and landscaping. You’ll notice improvements between Perkins Pier downtown and North Beach Park. If you encounter work on the trail, look for signs to the detour around the project.
The southern terminus at Oakledge Park in Burlington—a good place to begin your journey—has plentiful parking and restrooms. Heading north along a sandy beach, you’ll get your first view of New York’s Adirondack Mountains across the lake. At the park’s north end, 14 granite boulders in Burlington’s Earth Clock create a calendar, clock, and compass—an example of this town’s artistic reputation.
You’ll pass some industrial sites and a rail yard for the Vermont Railway, a short line railroad. Just after passing the ferry docks on King Street, you’ll see Union Station, built from brick, limestone, and granite in 1916. Used as an office building now, it’s also the base for a tourist train, as well as local bike advocacy group Local Motion. A block past the station is Waterfront Park, which can get congested if a concert or festival is scheduled.
In 4.5 miles, you come to a boardwalk through Delta Park and a 600-foot pedestrian bridge over the mouth of the Winooski River. Here the trail becomes the Colchester Bike Path and Causeway.
In 2.4 miles, after passing Airport Park, you come to the marble causeway that many consider the highlight of the route. American elms rise from the shoreline but don’t interrupt the view east to the Green Mountains or west to the Adirondacks. At 2.7 miles, the causeway ends at The Cut, but you can ride a ferry on weekends and holidays in the spring and fall and all week in the summer. (Find rates and hours at localmotion.org.) The trail continues for another mile once you get to South Hero Island.
After getting off the ferry across The Cut, it’s another 0.4 mile to the shoreline. Here the trail becomes Allen Point Fishing Access and proceeds as a road for state fish and wildlife vehicles until it ends at Martin Road in 0.8 mile.
To reach Oakledge Park in Burlington from I-89, take Exit 13 onto I-189 toward Shelburne/-Burlington. Follow I-189 W 1.4 miles, then turn right onto US 7. In 0.5 mile turn left onto Flynn Ave., and follow Flynn Ave. into Oakledge Park. Parking is at the end of the road in 1 mile.
To reach the Airport Park trailhead in Colchester from I-89, take Exit 16 onto US 7 N/US 2 W toward Colchester. Head north on US 7/US 2, go 1.7 miles, and turn left onto SR 127. Go 3.7 miles, and continue straight on W. Lakeshore Dr. 1.8 miles (it becomes Holy Cross Road after 0.8 mile). Bear left slightly onto Colchester Point Road, go 0.6 mile, and then turn right into the parking lot (just before Buckingham Dr.).
To reach the northernmost parking in South Hero from I-89, take Exit 17 and head west on US 2. Go 8.5 miles, crossing over Lake Champlain, and turn left onto South St. In 2.5 miles turn right onto Martin Road. Go 0.3 mile, and turn left into the trail access road. Look for parking to your left.
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