As we bid farewell to upstate New York and headed east to Vermont, the road signs upgraded the deer crossing cautions into moose crossings. During our brief nine days in Vermont, we sadly did not see a single moose despite what the signs indicated as a possibility. We crossed into Vermont on US Highway 2 (Bridge Road) which leads over Lake Champlain, just one short mile south of the Canadian border. Our stay at Lake Carmi was filled with reminders of our proximity to Canada, specifically the French Canadian region around Montreal, as some of the signs were printed in both English and French, and we overheard many fellow campers speaking French regularly. I did not attempt to test my measly two years of high school French with any fluent speakers, but I did occasionally annoy Ashley by reading the French signs in my unrefined accent.
Lake Carmi boasts 1,375 acres of surface area, making it the fourth largest natural lake entirely within Vermont. Averaging 20 feet in depth, the lake drains north into Quebec’s Pike River and then into Lake Champlain. According to the camp brochure, Lake Carmi used to be much larger but in the thousands of years since the last ice age, the southern end of the lake silted in “creating wetland forests and the third largest peat bog in Vermont.” So there you have it – the fourth largest natural lake AND the third largest peat bog in Vermont – guess you can’t ask for much more than that.
The bog spans 140 acres, nearly all contained within the state park. As a designated State Natural Area, the bog is protected and preserved for its unique ecological, geological, scenic, and contemplative values. The bog is characterized by black spruce trees (described as “spindly” in the campground literature) interspersed with fewer tamarack trees. Shrubs, mainly mountain holly, form a dense, nearly impenetrable understory. The ground plants include sedges, sphagnum mosses, carnivorous pitcher plants, and other typical bog plants. The bog is largely undisturbed, but you can get a glimpse of what it might be like throughout by walking out the short boardwalk in the campground that leads into a small section of the bog.
The Lake Carmi campground was developed throughout the 1960s after the land was purchased in 1959. The camp now features 140 primitive campsites, 35 lean-tos, and two cabins. None of the campsites offer electricity, and they are fairly crammed together but separated by a small amount of vegetation. You won’t find much privacy at Lake Carmi, so if you prefer a quiet, spacious campground, you might want to look elsewhere. The campground does have flush toilets and showers, but as appears to be a theme in Vermont, the showers are coin-operated (generally 25 cents per five minutes) – luckily, the toilets are not. We parked in site 141 with plenty of room for our 24-foot RV, however, the turn into 141 was a little tight and if we were any longer, we probably wouldn’t have made it. Also, the cell signal in camp is pretty weak to non-existant but the Park Office has guest WiFi so we road our bikes to the park entrance when we wanted to get online.
The campground features three swimming areas – two small beaches in camping Areas A and B, with a larger beach in the day-use area, as well as a boat launch.
The beach in Area B (across the road from site 141) just happens to be positioned in such a way that you can look over the lake to the northeast and see The Pinnacle, a mountain outside of Frelighsburg, Quebec roughly ten miles away (as the crow flies). The mountain is easy to see in person, but it doesn’t show up as clearly in my amateur-quality snapshot below. Look in the center of the photo over the treeline behind the lake and you should see The Pinnacle’s outline in the distance. Originally inhabited by the Abenaki tribe, The Pinnacle is considered one of the few remaining unspoiled mountains in southwestern Quebec.
During our stay at Lake Carmi, we participated in two of the workshops presented by the park naturalist Miah King. Ashley was interested in the “Bountiful Backyard” class, focusing on wild edible plants of the area. While she attended that workshop, I checked out some of the short trails around the campground, mostly just mowed paths through a large meadow and a short walk through a section of the woods beside the peat bog.
Miah lead Ashley and the small group through areas around the Nature Center, pointing out various plants and explaining their uses. The photos below are for entertainment purposes only – please don’t use these as a field guide for your own wild harvesting adventures. Find someone trusted and knowledgable to show you the way, or consult multiple official plant identification guides if you feel confident. With that out of the way, here we go!
The second workshop was a guided sunset paddle along part of the lake. This, of course, was the most popular workshop and hopeful participants had to sign up earlier in the day to reserve a spot. All of the workshops are free (with paid admission to the park), so you could essentially get a free hour or two of a kayak, canoe, or rowboat rental with this workshop.
After everyone was secured in a water-faring vessel and properly fitted with flotation devices, Miah lead the fleet along the shoreline while pointing out various wildlife along the way. He has a perfect record for spotting bald eagles on each of these sunset paddles, and this instance didn’t break his streak. In fact, we spotted three bald eagles and two osprey, all vying for fishing rights in one section of the lake. Miah said that was unusual – not only seeing so many, but also seeing them interact in this way. He showed us how to identify a young bald eagle (their feathers are mottled brown and white) and paddled out closer to the middle of the lake for a better view of The Pinnacle. While the campground was nice, these workshops were definitely the highlight of our visit and made the entire experience more memorable.
Finally, we spent a fair amount of time at the various swimming areas, especially on the day of the eclipse. The solar show wasn’t as impressive since we were pretty far north of the path of totality, but we enjoyed the afternoon outside with other hopeful eclipse-watchers. We were even visited by some of the local waterfowl, one of whom showed entirely too much interest in my very last beer from the Finger Lakes that I was saving for this specific occasion. I did not share.
As I mentioned earlier, Lake Carmi is very close to Canada, so anyone (with a passport) wishing to explore the north could use this state park as a home base. While this may not have been my favorite park so far, it does offer plenty of swimming, fishing, and boating opportunities and if the workshops are in session during your visit, try to participate in any that seem interesting. Just remember to take your quarters if you want a hot shower – and if not, well – a dip in the lake is always free.