sunset over lake champlain. in the foreground, a large vertical collection of drift wood that could look like a lake monster from a distance. in the backgroun, a small fishing boat. at the horizon, small mountain that look blue contrast with the bright golds of the sunset.
Lake Champlain, formerly known as the Champlain Sea

The Legend of Champ

Legend has it that somewhere in the depths of Lake Champlain lives a cryptid creature, our very own lake monster. Stories of this mysterious serpentine creature date back nearly 10,000 years — before the lake was in its current form. 

Sea Monsters in Vermont?

A grey pencil sketch featuring a row boat with 4 men, and one standing beside it, appearing to have just rowed across the lake. at the shore is a large tree, some small bushes, and a little cabin. in the distance, other row boats can been seen on the water, and further out, mountains like the lake shore.

At the end of the last glacial period, the lake was part of a small Atlantic inlet known as the Champlain Sea. This sea was created by glacial movement over the area of land we know today as Quebec, Ontario, New York, and Vermont. The weight of the glacier depressed the rock beneath it for millennia, pressing the land below sea level. 

As the glacier retreated, the land flooded, and became known as Mer de Champlain, or the Champlain Sea. Over time, the rock beneath the land gradually rose again, bringing these regions back above sea level and pushing the seacoast out to where it sits today. 

The story goes that when the region was still under water, a sea monster slipped inland and made its home in the Champlain Sea. When the waters retreated, the monster stayed behind, happily hiding in the deepest pockets of what is currently known as Lake Champlain.

How a Legend Grows

References to “Champ the Lake Monster” first appear in early Native American stories, though not by his modern name. Early in the 18th century, the Abenakis warned French explorers about disturbing the waters of the lake, so as not to agitate the large horned serpent. 

road mop detailing Port Henry new York and Crane Point Vermont on either side of Lake Champlain
Vermont’s Crane Point and neighboring Port Henry, New York are common places to spot Champ

Documented modern sightings date back as early as 1819 and include one famous account printed in the Plattsburgh Republican newspaper in July of 1819. The newspaper reported a “187 foot black monster, with a head resembling a seahorse, that reared more than 15 feet out of the water. [The spotter] claimed the monster he saw had three teeth, eyes the color of a pealed [sic] onion, a white star on its forehead and “a belt of red around the neck.” 

Another report, some years later in 1873, put Champ in the headlines of the New York Times, and by 1992, sightings totaled 180. In 2003, Champ’s fame grew further when the Discovery Channel produced a special on “America’s Loch Ness Monster” after three new sightings were reported in June of that year. Champ has been written about in Discover magazine and in scholarly journals, and even sparked interest from shows like Unsolved Mysteries and The Today Show.

The mythical "Champ" created from drift wood coming out of Lake Champlain in Vermont.
The mythical “Champ” created from drift wood coming out of Lake Champlain in Vermont

Modern Monsters

Today, whether he exists or not, Champ is a world renowned celebrity. He is protected by law on both sides of the lake with New York and Vermont each declaring their waters a safe haven for the monster. In Vermont, Champ is the mascot for a baseball team known as the Lake Monsters, and in Port Henry, NY, a statue of Champ sits by the water.

Should you visit Lake Champlain, keep your eyes peeled! . Whether you find yourself on the Drawbridge on Route 2, at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, or  visiting the Shelburne Museum, have a look across Lake Champlain. Do you see Champ?