Woods Island is one of the coolest and most remote state parks in Vermont. I’ve been going there almost every summer since I was a kid, and I love it. My favorite time of year is always heading up to Lake Champlain at the end of July with my family, spending two weeks fishing, water skiing, knee boarding, swimming, and running around with the neighbor kids. (Even as an adult, I still run around with the kids!) It’s always been a special treat to head out in the boat with my family to Woods Island, where we have a picnic lunch and spend the day hiking and splashing around in the sandbar. The shallow peninsula jutting out from the east side of the island is a great place for small children and puppies to stay cool in shallow water; the sandbar stretches out well over 100 yards into the lake.
Woods Island State Park wasn’t always a tiny beautiful wonderland. Before the 125 acre island became a state park in 1985, it was farmed. For what, I don’t know. But after it was a farm a private developer started building an air strip. For why, I don’t know. Fortunately the air strip was never finished and that’s all gone and you can barely see any trace of civilization now that the island is back to growing wild and free. (You know, except for the large swaths of trail they mow for the convenience of day hikers.)
I have no concept of how long the trail system is, as the state park website doesn’t indicate. I can tell you that the island is only 1 mile long and 1/4 mile wide, and the trail basically does a circle around the outside of the island with an additional trail cutting through the middle. I recently did the upper loop and it only took about 30 minutes.
It doesn’t cost a thing to take your boat to Woods Island State Park and hang out for the day! You do, however, have to pay some cash to camp there over night.
VT RESIDENT CAMPING FEES: $20/night for up to 4 people + $7 reservation fee. Add $5 for each additional person per night.
NON RESIDENT CAMPING FEES: $22/night for up to 4 people + $7 reservation fee. Add $5 for each additional person per night.
Grab a life jacket because you can only get to Woods Island by boat. There are no docks so you’ll have to either anchor off shore or beach your boat. You can park your boat anywhere around the island, but the recommended approach most people take is to pull up on the East side of the island, just north of the sandbar. If you are coming up from the south, make sure to give the island a SUPER wide birth, as the sandbar juts out way further than you think it will, especially this year (2016) since the lake is so low. While there this summer, I saw a boat marked “LAKE SURVEYOR” run aground on the sandbar. Yup, someone who works for the lake ran their boat up on the most well known shallow area in the region. Probably a new guy.
There are 5 campsites on Woods Island, each of which has a fire ring and a nearby compost toilet (see pictures below). Fires are only allowed in the fire pits, so don’t go rogue and build your own. Each campsite is situated on a small bluff along the edge of the island. For campsite locations, check out this map I stole from the VT State Parks website:
I have to say, when I approached the compost toilets I was *shocked* that they didn’t smell absolutely awful. They were some of the cleanest restroom facilities I’ve ever seen in a state park, and I guess the composting method of toileting somehow makes it so the refuse doesn’t smell absolutely terrible. So do not fear– these won’t smell up your campsite.
Camping fees at Woods Island are a bit higher than I’m used to, (see FEE section above), but I love the island so much I would easily pay it to spend a couple nights there. The island is so clean and lush, it’s easy to see that the state spends a lot of money keeping the trails maintained, the campsites in order, and the toilets clean. I was very impressed, especially considering it’s an island, and therefore I’d be willing to shell out a few extra bucks for it.
There is a 2 night minimum stay for camping, and a 2 week max. If you somehow managed to paddle yourself and your camping gear to the island in a boat without a motor, congratulations! You earned the right to have a 1 night minimum stay.
MAKING OVERNIGHT RESERVATIONS:
If you’d like to make camping reservations, hit up the following folks:
More than 2 weeks in advance: 1-888-409-7579 (M-F, 9am-4pm EST)
Within 2 weeks: 1-802-524-6353 (7 days/wk, 10am-Sunset EST)
The trails are flat and wide, without a hint of elevation gain. If you are able to get in and out of a boat you should be able to do the trails and get into a campsite, even with a walker or wheelchair. The outhouses, however, all have steps. They are raised for the composting element, and the stairs unfortunately don’t have railings.
Woods Island State Park is a memory-filled wonderland. However, one of those memories is how many mosquitoes and black flies are there. Bring your highest DEET bug spray possible, and maybe some of those bug bracelets as well. They weren’t bad this year, but I have some vivid memories of running out of the woods surrounded by a thick cloud of mosquitoes. So bring that spray if you plan on heading into the center of the island for a walk, or just stay by the shore where the bugs are virtually non-existent.
If you have a boat and kids, don’t miss the opportunity to check out Woods Island! About half of my childhood memories are of that sandbar. It’s so much fun when you’re a kid, and as an adult you’ll have a lot of fun watching boats run aground, so bring your popcorn.
– C. Egli