The early evening’s setting sun cast a tangerine glow over the grassy outfield of University of Vermont’s Centennial Field. It was a cool August night and we were checking out the local ballpark to watch a minor league baseball game while vacationing in Burlington.
Minor league baseball games are one of a handful of things that we’ve stumbled across that we can all enjoy as a family. My wife and I have a few beers and relax, my older son searches for food vendors and foul balls and our youngest, who has a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, excitedly narrates all the hits and throws in frenzied two or three word sentences.
There was the usual anxiety as we walked to the ticket handler and waited to see just how high up we’d have to climb in the bleachers. Our son’s CP makes walking, especially stair climbing, a tedious if not treacherous activity.
The girl taking our tickets looked like a local high school student. She quickly glanced at our younger son and then at our tickets and said, “hey, wait here a second” and came back to escort us to a ground-level section of handicap-accessible seats. Later in the third inning she came over to our seats to relocate us to a front row bleacher seat right behind the dugout. We were grateful for this cool kind of understanding on her part.
That understanding of the challenges families traveling with kids who have special needs was a welcome presence throughout our trip to Burlington and it’s part of the reason we are going back this year.
North Beach Campground
Our first visit to Burlington was a brief overnight stop a couple of years ago as we road-tripped in our Vanagon from Maine from Montreal. The single night that we spent camping at North Beach Campground on the shore of Lake Champlain just north of downtown Burlington was enough to convince us that we had to come back for a longer visit.
So last spring we booked a full week at North Beach campground. The campground is conveniently connected to downtown via a fantastic bike path that runs along the shore of Lake Champlain.
North Beach Campground is a fantastic, popular and understandably busy campground with a wonderful sandy beach on Lake Champlain. It offers a killer view of the mountains on the New York side of the lake. The campsite is well run, has laundry and showers and allows us to spend all day swimming in the lake just down a hill from our campsite. Better yet, the campground is enlightened enough to permit VW campers on tent-only sites so we don’t have to be camped out among the RVs and their generators.
With a full week on our hands in Burlington you would think that we would have done a bit of planning. In the back of my mind I knew I wanted to swim in the lake and hit the food trucks/Artsriot event downtown on Friday night. Aside from that, we didn’t have too much of a plan. And that was pretty much just fine as Burlington had a bunch of stuff to do to keep us busy.
• Bike rides on the bike path
• There is a skate park half way between downtown and the campground on the bike path
• Boat ride on the Ethan Allen. We were going to just take the ferry which was a little bit cheaper but we ended up learning a bunch on the Ethan Allen’s narrated lake cruise.
• Ben and Jerry’s on Church Street and, well, everything else on Church Street (especially the gear exchange if you’re into buying used gear as I am)
• Amazing, enormous, fantastic farmers market at the end of church street
• Minor league baseball game at Centennial Field
As we have on several of our trips, we used Care.com and reached out to the local universities/colleges to find a babysitter who could give us some assistance watching Jack. After a few false starts with local college kids we found on care.com, we ended up locating a great sitter for the week.
The sitter didn’t have a car which meant driving into Burlington every morning to pick her up and then driving back in the afternoon to drop her off but she was an angel of a babysitter and happily spent all day with Jack in the calm, warm water of Lake Champlain. This kept Jack entertained and gave us a few hours each day to lounge on the beach or go for a run on the bike path.
This babysitter also turned us on to the Farmers Market in downtown Burlington. On her suggestion we went down to check it out mid-morning on Sunday and it was a blast. Dozens of food vendors filled the air with the smell of fresh donuts and sausage and peppers and coffee. We had a great time just walking around and checking out the scene.
Because of the convenience to downtown via the bike path, we rarely ate dinner at the campground and instead would just ride bikes to downtown Burlington. I brought along the Xtracycle and could taxi Jack around, even up the steep hills in downtown while he sat on the back of the bike. Also, if was getting too dark, we’d pack up the Vanagon and drive into town. Either way, there are so many great restaurants downtown that it was hard to go wrong.
Grand Isle State Park
Just to do some exploring, in the middle of our week in Burlington we packed up camp and head up to North Hero Island for a quick overnight and a highly recommend Grand Isle State Park. The drive was amazing–beautiful scenery once we got up onto the islands in Lake Champlain. Very isolated and not much development.
The state-run campground is very well-maintained. It seems to be a favorite spot for families with kids through the swimming isn’t nearly as accessible and easy as it is at North Beach.
After setting up camp we drove into the small town and by small town I mean gas station/restaurant and bagel shop that were located at the one stop light intersection of the area. We had a GREAT dinner and as we were in Vermont the beer selection was also stellar.
The side trip was worth it to do some exploring of a new area but we were glad to get back to Burlington and the great beach at the campground.
The only thing we’d change about North Beach is their no-hammock policy. It would have been great to be able to nap under the trees on the beach in my backpacking hammock (which, with 2″ wide straps doesn’t hurt the trees!) but I got reprimanded by one of the rangers for doing so. Maybe they’ll have a more enlightened policy this year, who knows?
Anyway, we totally dug Burlington so much that we’re going back for another week this summer. If you have questions or suggestions make sure to get in touch!