Champ the Lake Champlain Monster

Chances are you've heard of the Loch Ness Monster, the long-necked water serpent that lives in the Scottish Highlands. You've probably also heard of the hairy, ape-like Bigfoot that wanders the forests of North America, or its cousin the Himalayan Yeti. Maybe you've even heard of the Kraken, the long-armed sea monster that terrorized Nordic sailors. But have you ever heard Champ?


Lake Champlain is a 490 square-mile body of freshwater that was formed at the end of the last Ice Age and is situated where Vermont and New York states intersect with the Canadian province of Québec. First Nations peoples including the Algonquian and Iroquoian tribes settled in the Champlain Valley area centuries ago; when European colonizers arrived, the valley became a notable meeting ground between them - until the native population plummeted due to displacement and disease.

The lake is named for French explorer and cartographer Samuel de Champlain who encountered it in 1609 during an expedition to create a new French colony on the shores of the Saint Lawrence River. The lake later served as an important military asset, first as a means of transportation to and from Canada during the Revolutionary War and later for ship-building during the War of 1812. By the end of World War II, however, it began to reinvent itself as a tourist and recreation destination.

Vermont countryside, looking towards Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains

As more and more people began to visit Lake Champlain there began a growing number of sightings of a mysterious, giant creature that lived beneath the surface of the lake. Legends about the creature dated back for as long as humans had inhabited the region; the Abenaki tribe called it "Tatoskok," and in 1819, Captain Crum, sailing the lake near Bulwagga Bay, reported spotting a dark-colored monster, nearly 200 feet-long, eyes the color of "a peeled onion," with three teeth and "a white star on its forehead and a belt of red around the neck."  (Some have expressed amazement at the level of detail in this description, given that the creature was reported to be over 200 yards away...)

It seems the monster had a big year in 1873, with multiple sightings flooding in after more than fifty years of apparent dormancy. The first came from a railroad crew claiming to have witnessed an "enormous serpent" with shiny, silver scales. The second came from Sheriff Nathan H. Mooney, who reported an "enormous snake or water serpent" he estimated to stretch 25 to 35 feet in length. The third was rather dramatic: a steamship full of tourists ran into the monster... and the boat nearly capsized!

Photo courtesy Adirondack Coast Visitors Bureau

To date, hundreds of people have reported seeing the creature - now known rather affectionately as "Champ" or "Champy." In the 1980s, both the state of New York and then the state of Vermont passed resolutions in their state governments saying that Champ, should she/he/ze exist, should be protected from harm. And three back-to-back reports in June of 2003 led the Discovery Channel to air a television special titled "America's Loch Ness Monster." The moral of the story is... it's best to be prepared! Who knows, the next time you're cruising the lakeshore bike path or sailing on a ferry across the lake's surface, Champ just might resurface!

Check out Backroads Vermont to Quebec Bike Tour. Vermont Walking & Hiking Tour or Vermont Bike Tour, each of which starts in the city of Burlington Vermont... right on the shore of Lake Champlain.

...and while you're in the area, keep your eyes peeled for Champ!

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