Burlington Bike Path

It’s no surprise that Trip Advisor’s #1 attraction in Burlington is the Burlington Bike Path. Alternatively known as the Greenway, or the Island Line Trail,  it is often described as the crown jewel of the Queen City.

The Bike Path is a walking/bicycling pathway along the shore of Lake Champlain with great views of the lake and the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York.  In Burlington, it is 8.9 miles long and connects several city parks with beaches along the lake shore including Oakledge, North Beach and Leddy Park as well as Waterfront Park downtown.


The pathway has a 12 foot wide paved surface throughout most of its length with two-foot-wide running paths on each side. Since it hugs the shoreline, it’s relatively flat. It’s also free of cars, making it perfect for a leisurely walk, a jog, or rideTwo Bikers on the Burlington Bike Path on bikes, e-bikes, or inline skates. And that’s exactly why it’s so popular.


The Bike Path has an interesting history starting with a grass roots citizens effort that literally launched the political career of Governor Howard Dean. In 1980 Tom Hudspeth, an environmental professor at UVM proposed converting an abandoned railroad right-of-way in Burlington’s New North End into a bike path.  Rick Sharp, a young environmental attorney fresh out of Georgetown Law School, joined Dean and Hudspeth to form the Citizen’s Waterfront Group to advocate for a bike path along the lake downtown instead of two 18-story condominium towers that had been proposed just north of College Street on the waterfront.

The Burlington Bike Path received the support of 75% of City voters in a ballot item in 1981 and was fully funded by 1984.  But it also spawned a lawsuit that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Ultimately, that lawsuit resulted in the preservation of thousands of miles of rail beds for rail-trails nationwide.  But it also delayed progress on the Burlington Bike Path for years.  It was finally completed from Oakledge Park in the south to the Winooski River in the north in 1990.


Bicycle advocates across the Winooski River in Colchester then proposed a bike bridge across the river to connect Colchester to Burlington.  The original railroad bridge had been demolished in the 1970s.  The bridge would allow the pathway to be extended another 6 miles out onto the old railroad Causeway that runs 4 miles out into the lake off Colchester Point and connects the mainland with the Champlain Islands.  That proposal was vigorously opposed by residents in the Biscayne Heights subdivision in Colchester because the pathway would have to be routed along town streets through the subdivision to get out to the Causeway.  A small butA Causeway Aerial - Biking vocal group of opponents known as the NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard), wished to use the Winooski River as a moat to keep out the “riff-raff” from Burlington.  They killed a ballot item for a bridge in 1992.

But that didn’t stop Colchester bicycle advocates.  After clearing the Causeway of underbrush revealing a nice cinder bed, they proposed a bike ferry to ferry bicyclists across the river to access the Causeway.  Governor Dean was the keynote speaker at the dedication of the Causeway as a bike trail in 1994.  He agreed to earmark $20,000 for a bike ferry from the State Transportation budget.  The river bike ferry operated for 3 years transporting over 40,000 people across the river to access the Causeway.

Three people waiting for the Local Motion bike ferryFollowing that success, Governor Dean was then able to get state funding for a bridge to span the river that would replace the temporary bike ferry.  The Winooski River Bridge was completed in 2004 connecting the entire trail from downtown Burlington to the Causeway. The rail was then renamed The Island Line Trail and was inducted into the Rails-To-Trails Hall of Fame in 2010. 

The small group of Colchester bicycle advocates that ran the river ferry, led by Brian Costello and Chapin Spencer, then formed Local Motion, a non-profit bicycle advocacy group now known in cycling circles as one of the most effective walk/bike advocacy groups in the U.S. today.  Local Motion currently supports walk/bike programs throughout the state and runs another bike ferry that bridges the gap in the Causeway called the Cut and allows pedestrians and bicyclists a sustainable transportation route to the Lake Champlain Islands.Causeway Bike Path Bridge

Local Motion supports their programs by renting bikes and ebikes for the 10-mile ride out to the Causeway on the Island Line Trail.  Burlington is now a biking community supporting three other great bike shops downtown that rent bikes and ebikes for use on the path and around town.  The trip to the Cut takes about an hour on an ebike, longer if you are pedaling.  The trip to the Islands is an all day experience with lunch available at farms and vineyards along the way.  It’s a wonderful way to spend a sunny summer day in the Champlain Valley!