BURTON ISLAND — It may only be a 10-minute ferry ride from the point of St. Albans, but once you enter the tree-lined paths, shimmering shores and stocked store on Burton Island State Park, the rest of the world and its workdays, stuffy rooms and ice cream-free afternoons fall away.
No cars are allowed on the 253-acre island, and boats (or a very long swim) are the only way to reach it. As soon as you leave the parking lot in Kill Kare State Park to board the Island Runner, the feeling of leisurely seclusion begins.
Even if you’re visiting the island alone, it’s not lonely. While skimming along Lake Champlain towards Burton Island, you find yourself sitting next to couples and families, adventurers and vacationers, first time and weathered visitors from St. Albans, from out of state, and even from other countries. While some sit quietly, other friendly ferry passengers strike up conversations, some in English, others in Quebecois French, exchanging stories about the best campgrounds, walking paths and swimming spots.
After docking and registering for your campground or just picking up a map for a day visit, Juanita’s store, the Burton Island Bistro, is the first stop. The bistro is where you can find whatever you need: popsicles, beer, sunscreen, a toothbrush, toys, fishing supplies, prepared breakfast and lunch, and any number of other items. Juanita told me that she tries to think of everything island visitors may forget. Her business is also a member of the local Healthy Retailer movement.
Juanita, a St. Albans resident who said most people know her by just her first name, seems to be an embodiment of the island itself. With her warm conversation and easy laughter, her relaxed and yet assuring presence, you quickly fall into a carefree (and in my case, giggly) state that forgets schedules, chores and regular busy life.
“She’s a fixture on the island,” Chara Vincelette, a St. Albans resident and longtime-Burton Island visitor, told me.
On a golf cart tour through the island’s dirt paths, Juanita waved to campers and pointed out Burton Island’s features, including the marina, a nature center, and little footpaths. She hopped out at one point and chatted with some friends playing with their daughter in the lake, wading into the water herself before going back to help people in her store.
Upon boarding the return ferry, passengers were faced with a scene difficult to leave behind. A hot sun beating down, store customers wandering around licking ice cream bars, kids and adults swimming and fishing, and the cheerfully calm atmosphere invited everyone to get away from it all on Burton Island.
As Vincelette said to me, “It’s the best place in the world.”
The Facts: Burton Island State Park was purchased by the State of Vermont in 1962 and opened officially in 1964. The park and all its amenities are open from Memorial Day to Labor Day each year, and it has 26 lean-to shelters and 17 tent sites. The cost to park in Kill Kare Park is $3, and a day round-trip ferry ticket is $4. Costs vary depending on type of campsite, gear, and length of stay.