August 29, 2021

The Colchester Causeway - A Rail Trail with Magnificent Views in Every Direction

When Alan and I were in Burlington, Vermont, nearly three years ago, one of the activities we enjoyed was biking the Burlington Greenway.  The Greenway is the City of Burlington’s portion of the 13.4 mile Island Line Rail Trail.  We began at North Beach Park which, if I remember correctly, is roughly in the middle of the Greenway.  We continued north until the Greenway transitioned into the Colchester Bike Path and Causeway.  At the time, we were just interested in the Burlington Greenway BUT, if I had only plunged a little bit deeper into my research, I would have discovered that the Causeway is actually the highlight of the Island Line Rail Trail.

A view of Lake Champlain from the Burlington Greenway

We really did have tons of fun biking the beautiful Burlington Greenway, so don’t let my euphoria over finding the Colchester Causeway lead you to believe the Greenway isn’t a worthwhile ride.  It is!  In fact, a desire to bike more of that particular trail is why we decided to return to Burlington earlier this month.  This time around, I left no research-related stone unturned and we learned the story of “the Marble Causeway.”

Large pieces of marble line the Colchester Causeway.

I could not tell you the tale of the Island Line’s history and do it any justice when compared to an excellent article written by Inge Schaefer and published in the Burlington Free Press a few years back.  The article was prompted by the experiences of the author’s family and includes photos from as far back as the late 1800’s, as well as the history of the Island Line.  The aerial photos of the causeway from more recent times are truly impressive and the article would make a superb read for history buffs and bicyclists, alike.  I’ll provide a link to it at the end of this post because I’m just that thoughtful.  Wink, wink.

At the left of the photo, you can see one of several "rest areas" on the Causeway.

What I can tell you is that Alan and I enjoyed the Colchester Causeway portion of the Island Line Rail Trail so much that it immediately shot to the top of the list of my all-time favorite bike trails.  How many trails have you ridden that require transport via a “bike ferry” to complete the ride?  It’s true!  If you want to ride the entire Island Line Rail Trail, you’ll need to pony up 10 buckaroos to take the bike ferry (operated by a local group called Local Motion) back and forth across “the Cut.”  It’s only $5.00 each way, but you do want to return to your vehicle, right?  So, you need to buy a round trip ticket unless you’re a through cyclist.

Approaching the Cut and the ferry docks

The Cut exists where a bridge used to stand, and it provides the only access to Lake Champlain from Malletts Bay on the east side of the Causeway.  Unless you have the skills of Evil Knievel, you’re going to need to take the bike ferry.  (The article I mentioned earlier has a couple of neat photos of the old bridge.  I’m telling you, people, you really need to check it out!) 

The bikes ride in the front of the ferry and have the best views!

Because the Causeway continues only another 0.4 miles before it transitions into a regular road for the purpose of fishing access, Alan and I chose not to ride the bike ferry over and back.  Honestly, we were completely content with our experience on the main part of the Causeway which is 2.7 miles (one way) of hard-packed crushed limestone.  We parked in the small parking lot just before the start of the Causeway, so this was less than a six mile ride for us.  It took us a long time to travel those 5.4 miles, though, because I couldn’t help stopping to take photos.  How could you not keep clicking away with sensational views in every direction?!  If you park at Airport Park in Colchester, it would be a 2.4 mile ride to the Causeway and, so, just over 5.0 miles one way to bike to the Cut.

The view across the Cut to Allen Point and the South Hero bike ferry dock.

I’ll admit to two minor annoyances in reference to the Marble Causeway segment of the Island Line Rail Trail.  One is that the parking lot just before the start of the Causeway is fairly small and fills up quickly.  While there is what looks like additional parking on the other side of the road, there is also a sign referencing the fact that the road is a private one and vehicles may be towed.  It was not made clear whether or not that additional parking area was considered part of the towing territory.  Are vehicles actually towed from the side of the road?  Or is this just an empty threat intended to keep parking congestion from making the road impassable?  I have no clue, but we didn’t want to take a chance and I was happy that Alan managed to fit the truck into the official and almost full parking lot.

Malletts Bay and the Green Mountains of Vermont to the east . . .

The second annoyance is that this is a heavily trafficked trail.  That being said, while we much prefer riding in solitude, I truly do understand why this trail is SO popular with cyclists of all ages and I really can’t complain.  If I lived in the area, I’d probably be walking or biking it every single day that the weather allowed.

. . .  and Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains of New York to the west

Just as the Causeway is the highlight of the Island Line Rail Trail, we had our own additional highlight while riding on the highlight, so to speak.  When we were about halfway across the Causeway, I noticed two little dark “somethings” on the trail ahead of us.  Mink!  Northbound and southbound traffic backed up on and off again as almost everyone stopped respectfully to allow them to frolic in the midst of the trail.  All except for one woman who walked right on through while telling God’s little critters to get out of the way.  Hey!  We were intruding in their territory, not the other way around!  This, my friends, is why we prefer solitude.  Despite the selfish individual who frightened the mink away from all of us, Alan and I enjoyed an amazing ride and commented that it would be a magnificent experience to return another time near sunset.

Two mink and one of the many respectful cyclists

With Malletts Bay and the Green Mountains of Vermont on the east and Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains of New York on the west, the Colchester Causeway puts you right in the middle of jaw-dropping views.  The trail is, quite simply, stunning.  It’s not often I’ll tag an attraction as “do not miss” but this is one of those exceptions.  If you ever find yourself in the Burlington area of Vermont, don’t pass up a chance to walk or bike the Colchester Causeway!

Here’s all the info you’ll need to get there and enjoy the adventure . . . You’ll want to read the article in the Burlington Free Press that I mentioned earlier to learn about the history of the Island Line and the subsequent creation of the Rail Trail (link HERE).  Then check TrailLink for details about the entire 13.4 mile trail and the locations of the parking areas (link HERE).  Note that TrailLink doesn’t list the small parking area at the start of the Causeway, but here’s a hot tip for you:  If you plug “Colchester Causeway Bike Path Parking” into Google directions, it will direct you to 178 Mills Point Road in Colchester, Vermont.  It’s at that point that Mills Point becomes a private road, but you’ll be at the small (official) parking lot at the start of the Causeway.  Last, but certainly not least, if you want to complete the entire Island Line Rail Trail, you can check the bike ferry schedule on the Local Motion website (link HERE).  Enjoy!



  1. Good morning, Mary,
    Fun post! Helen and I visited Burlington about five years ago, sans bicycles. However, I would have rented a pair had I known about this trek. On that same trip, we took the bicycle trip of a lifetime when we rented them for a ride the entire way around Mackinac Island in Michigan. Bicycling is my favorite outdoor activity, coming in slightly ahead of whitewater rafting. Again, thanks for sharing this day with us. Joe

    1. I'll leave the whitewater rafting to you, Joe, but I've loved riding bikes since I was a kid. As I've gotten, um, more mature, I've become more of a bicycling wimp. I'll ride for miles and miles if it's a nice, level rail trail. If I have to work too hard at it then it's no longer fun. We missed Mackinac Island on our first brief trip through Michigan, but a return trip is planned and I'll definitely keep the bicycles in mind!

  2. Oooooh!!! We did that ride in 2019 and loved it too!!! Thanks for the memories .... XOXO

    1. This was such a unique ride that I don't think we could return to Burlington and NOT do it again. I'm not surprised the two of you enjoyed it - lots of water for Philip to dip his tire in! Have fun and travel safely!

  3. We love those rails to trails bike paths, too. It's so nice to not have to contend with cars! You're right, this is a unique trail—we rode it in fall of 2019 and enjoyed it. We're getting ready to ride the 34-mile Virginia Creeper Trail in Damascus, VA in early October. But we're going to split it into two days because I am smarter than I used to be, LOL. And we're going to ride both sections downhill, yay! :-)

    1. The Virginia Creeper Trail in Trail Town USA - we know it well, Laurel! Taking the shuttle to the top of the mountain,are you? Good friends used to live in Damascus and I believe it was the Virginia Creeper Trail that was right outside their front door. I know several major trails run through Damascus (hence it's nickname) including the Appalachian Trail. Our friends were kind enough to host our nephew when he hiked the AT some years back. Downhill both days, huh? You are definitely my kind of bicyclist! Have fun!


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