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Everything You Need to Know About Lake Willoughby in Vermont

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If you’ve never heard of Lake Willoughby, it’s time you learned about this breathtaking area of northeastern Vermont. Although not large, it’s second only to Lake Champlain in depth in the entire state.

Whether you’re staying in Brighton, Barton, Derby, or Lyndon, Lake Willoughby is within driving distance to spend a day on the water. Let’s look at why you should visit its beautiful clear waters.

Where Is Lake Willoughby?

A narrow lake in the north of Willoughby State Forest, it’s situated along the west side of Highway 5A in northeastern Vermont. It’s less than a 40-minute drive south of the Canadian border. It’s about the same distance north of St. Johnsbury, Vt. Crystal Lake is just a few miles west, and Long Pond is just a few miles east.

What Is Lake Willoughby Known For?

Originally formed by glacial activity, Lake Willoughby has some of the deepest water in Vermont, reaching over 320 feet in some places. It’s also known for its narrowness at only one mile across.

Although small in size, it’s a nature lover’s paradise. Its clear and chilly waters are home to various fish species, from rainbow trout to yellow perch to round whitefish. Peregrine falcons enjoy nesting season in the cliff-alpine plants that line the banks.

A Peregrine Falcon perched on a tree branch, looks intently at something to its left.
Peregrine falcons nest around the lake.

Can You Swim in Lake Willoughby?

There are public beach access points around Lake Willoughby, so swimming is permitted. And since it’s in a more remote area of Vermont, visitors won’t be battling crowds like in other parts of the state.

Along the north shore is one public beach, but be warned — the water is cold! The second public beach is on the south coast, tucked in the Willoughby State Forest. This beach is clothing-optional, so families may want to stay at the north end.

Why Is Lake Willoughby So Clear?

Because rivers running downstream carrying mud and sediment don’t feed it, its waters are clearer than most lakes. Underground springs keep the water clear and cool, so visitors can enjoy a refreshing swim even in the summer heat. You can usually see several feet below the surface.

Willoughby Lake shines like glass on an autumn morning.
Underground springs keep the lake water clear.

What Should You Do at Lake Willoughby?

Lake Willoughby isn’t just about public beach access and swimming, though. If you’re not going to dip your toes in the chilly water, there are other things to do. But no matter what, you’ll embrace its natural beauty.

Climb Mount Pisgah

The Mount Pisgah Trail is a moderate 4.1-mile out-and-back trail in the Willoughby State Forest. It has an elevation gain of 1,653 feet and is quite steep in some places but offers great views.

You hike through forests for most of the first part of the trail until you reach Pulpit Rock overlooking Lake Willoughby. It’s simply breathtaking.

Overlooking boast anchored off the South Beach shore of Lake Willoughby from high up in the trails o Mount Pisgah.
Lake Willoughby South Beach from Mount Pisgah Overlook.

Watch the Sunset at Sentinel Rock State Park

About 1.5 miles northeast of Lake Willoughby, Sentinel Rock State Park offers visitors beautiful views of the town of Westmore and the Green Mountains. Its signature feature, Sentinel Rock, is a huge glacial boulder and a great location to sit and watch the sunset.

You can also walk to the former site of a farmhouse while visiting Sentinel Rock State Park.

Get Treats at Willoughby Lake Store

Rated number one for restaurants in Westmore by Tripadvisor, the Willoughby Lake Store is full of local goodies, from souvenirs and gifts to beer and wine. The store also serves sandwiches, pizza, salads, appetizers, and breakfast.

One reviewer says, “What’s there not to LOVE about this place?!? The Willoughby Lake Store has everything to include great service. We spent 4 days at the lake and visited the store at least once every day, sometimes twice! Whether you’re looking for breakfast, ice cream or supplies for s’mores, they’ve got you covered! They even have your basic fishing needs or souvenirs to take home. The staff are personable and knowledgeable about the area. Great people, fabulous location!”

After spending a day on Lake Willoughby, it’s the perfect location to grab a sweet treat.

Two young friends digging into sandwiches for lunch outside.

Hike in Willoughby State Forest

Besides hiking to Mount Pisgah, there are miles of other trails in the Willoughby State Forest. The Lake Willoughby Southshore Loop is an easy 2.1-mile trail that should take about an hour to complete.

For a more strenuous hike, the Moose Mountain and Mount Hor trail near Sutton, Verm. is an 8.2-mile out-and-back hike with a 2,260-foot elevation gain. You have chances for birding, wildlife viewing, and beautiful views throughout the Willoughby State Forest, no matter which trail you choose.

Ride on the Kingdom Bike Trails

The Kingdom Trail Association provides “a more than a 100-mile network of quality, non-motorized, multi-use trails for all levels of ability, incorporating the best of our local scenery and natural diversity.” The network travels over 100 private landowners’ properties, and you can only access it with a Kingdom Trail Association membership.

Hikers, bikers, and horseback share the trails. Before you find a place to begin, purchase a one-day membership from the online store and enjoy Vermont’s beautiful scenery.

A family of three heads out for a hike on well groomed trails running through the forest.

Campgrounds Near Lake Willoughby

If you want to bring your tent or RV, you’re in luck. There are several campgrounds nearby to offer convenient access to the lake and other area attractions.

Belview Campground

Just a few miles west of Lake Willoughby is Belview Campground. Rated 4.7/5 stars on Google, this park has views of Crystal Lake and is just a short walk to Pageant Park, the closest beach.

Tent sites are $30 to $35 per night, and RV sites are $45 to $55 per night. RV sites include water, 30amp electric, sewer hookups, a picnic table, and a fire ring. However, the maximum RV length is only 34 feet.

Brighton State Park

Brighton State Park is a little more than 30 minutes northeast of Lake Willoughby. Also rated 4.7/5 stars on Google, this state park has dozens of tent and RV sites. Most sites are $19 to $28 per night.

You can camp at Brighton State Park and have access to hiking trails, a playground, swimming areas, and picnic tables. The park is great for fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and boating. There’s a dump station on site but no hookups.

Campers in lounge chairs playing and petting with a dog on their lap.

White Caps Campground

White Caps Campground is on the shore of Lake Willoughby. Rated 4.4/5 stars on Google, the campground was recently rated as one of the top 10 campgrounds in New England by Campspot.com.

Tent sites range from $35 to $37 per night, and RV sites range from $47 to $62 per night. Partial hookups and full hookups are available. Watercraft rentals are available at the campground and a country store, making your visit convenient and comfortable.

Enjoy the Beautiful Lake Willoughby

Even with its remote location, Lake Willoughby is a popular destination for a reason. It’s beautiful. The clear, chilly waters welcome visitors year after year, and the surrounding Willoughby State Forest is a nature lover’s paradise. If you’ve never visited northeastern Vermont, it’s time to plan a trip. 

When will you book a stay near Lake Willoughby to enjoy all this Green Mountain State region has to offer?

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