Lake George

Lake George
Lake George - from Tongue Mtn Range - 11/11/2011

Sunday, February 16, 2014

XC Ski on Valcour Island (near Plattsburgh, NY) - 2/16/14

I was driving home from work on Thursday afternoon, listening to the radio, when I heard that Lake Champlain was 99% frozen for the first time in many years.  My immediate thought was that it would be a great time to xc ski to Valcour Island.
Valcour is just south of Plattsburgh NY and lies just .6 miles offshore.  I believe the entire island is owned by the State.  The island contains 895 acres and is about a mile wide and two miles long.
In recent years the lake hasn't been frozen to allow winter access to the island.  My wife, Leesa, has been wanting to do this trip, and now was the time.
The island has a fascinating history beginning with the Revolutionary War.   It also has a neat lighthouse on Bluff Point.  For a nice map, check out Andy Arthur's map.  One more thing to look at is this newspaper article from the Press Republican from 1992 talking about skiing to Valcour.
The stars aligned for this trip.  We had bluebird skies, 20 degrees F, light winds, 8-12 inches of fluffy snow and a frozen lake.  If you ever have the chance to do this trip under similar conditions, it's a great day. 

Sign for the Peru boat launch
We pulled into the Peru boat launch site at 9 AM and got our gear together.  There were 2 guys in the lot getting ready to pull a portable ice fishing shanty out onto the lake.  Our dog Rev was excited, as usual for a new adventure.  

Looking towards Valcour Island from the boat launch
The skiing was easy on the windblown snow on the lake and it only took us less than 15 minutes to reach the island.   
Leesa and Rev on their way towards the island
We "landed" just south of the Bluff Point Lighthouse, and went to check that out first.  The lighthouse was locked up, but it appears to be in pretty good shape.

The 1874 Bluff Point Lighthouse
Nice trimwork

Osprey Nest in a former communications tower


The view west

Rev at the lighthouse


A two seater!

The trail network on the island is essentially 3 loops:  a northern loop, a central loop, and a southern loop.  We decided to head for the southern loop first, and if the skiing was good, we would consider doing the entire perimeter loop instead of the sectional loops.  This is what we ended up doing.  The snow was just perfect for skiing.  About half of the perimeter was broken out.  I broke trail on the rest, but it wasn't difficult.
After an hour form the car, we were skiing south on the western shore of the island.  45 minutes of skiing brought us to the SW corner, after having passed an impressive old stone house.  It was windy but as soon as we hit the southern end of the island and turned east we were sheltered from the wind.  After 30 minutes more, we reached the SE corner of the island.  We stopped there for some snacks at a sunny warm spot. 

Different trail markers.  Valcour gets it's own branding!
Custom picnic table decorating
Old stone house on the SW portion of the island
Next we made our way up the east coast of the island.  This side of the island had some nice bays and harbors.  We explored the nooks and crannies.  Tiger Point was especially nice (at least in winter).

Tiger Point on the right

Ice art

Rev on Tiger Point
We were still feeling good halfway up the eastern side, so we continued north and ignored the bailout loop options heading back westward across the island.
There weren't many trail discs on this side of the island, but the location of the trail was pretty obvious and it hugs the edge of the water pretty closely.

Old fireplace near Spoon Bay
The tough part of the day came at the northern end of the island.  As we reached the NE corner of the island and turned eastward, we were greated with a severe windblown shoreline.  There were snowwaves with high drifts followed by ice or little to no snow, then more drifts.  Leesa found herself on the ground at one point after slipping on the ice with her skis.
As we reached the NE corner of the island and began to head south, things got a little better, but the skiing was not as easy as on the south or east side.


Leesa working hard on the home stretch
A field from an old farm site on the NE part of the island 
We soon returned to the lighthouse and got back out onto the ice just south from there.  Again we had a quick 10 minute ski across the ice back to the car.
We both really enjoyed this trip.  The terrain is pretty much beginner level, but it's a unique experience skiing around the island and it's not often that it can be done.  It's definitely worth keeping in mind for the right conditions (as we had today)! 
If you want to see even more pictures from this trip, I've got them posted on a Picasa Web Album.   
XC Ski Stats:
Ski Distance:  10 miles
Ski Time:  6.5 hours
Total Vertical Gain:  ~ 600' 

The route (skied counter-clockwise)  Click image to enlarge,
As viewed on Google Earth


  1. Wow. That's an awesome ski adventure. The photos and maps are great as usual. I look in wonder at the ski hours - 6.5! You are ready for the Olympics! It's fantastic that you can bring your dog along on these outings. Cheers from Canada. The cross country skiing here has been excellent too, although we have had many weeks of extreme cold this winter.

    1. This was a very easy ski in terms of difficulty. I could have easily done this trip in less than 5 hours. We were out taking it easy and enjoying ourselves. It was great to get in a bunch of ski trips the last 2 weeks. Sounds like that is about to change, at least for the short term.

      Thanks for reading. Glad you've had some similarly good snow.