Lake Willoughby, Vermont, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - New England - Vermont - Northeast Kingdom -

Also known as:  Willoughby Lake

Lake Willoughby is one of those special lakes that are rarely found in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. The action of prehistoric glaciers gouged out a portion of high ridges to create Mount Hor and Mount Pisgah. Between these landmark mountains, glaciations left an exceedingly deep lake: Lake Willoughby. Lying fiord-like at the base of the towering granite slabs that comprise the sides of these two famed mountains, Willoughby Lake’s 300 foot depth holds a wealth of native fish. With natural sand beaches at both north and south ends of the lake, lovely Lake Willoughby is a vacationer’s dream. The source of the Willoughby River, Lake Willoughby’s waters flow north to join the Barton River and drain into Lake Memphremagog on the Canadian border.

The origin of Lake Willoughby’s name is a matter of conjecture. The most likely origin is that it was named after early settlers whose origins have been lost to time. The area of Vermont where the lake lies was settled early, with New Englanders coming to take advantage of the many falls and rapid rivers for running mills and machinery. Nearby Barton was the site of some of the most intensive early industrial development. Lake Willoughby certainly had visitors and even settlers, but the steep terrain along the cliffs of the twin mountains made road-building nearly impossible.

For a period of years, there were no lakeside roads, making industrial mills useless. A lumber mill was built near the south end of Lake Willoughby, but no road was attempted along the shore until sometime after 1850. Once transportation became possible, it wasn’t long before inns and hotels were being built beside the lake. One famed establishment, called ‘The Lake House’ was a very popular, somewhat exclusive resort frequented by the well-to-do. By 1854, the proprietors of The Lake House had cut trails up the side of Mount Pisgah so guests could ride up by wagon in comfort and safety to see the spectacular view. Other resort establishments soon followed and the days of the Vermont resorts lasted in fading splendor until the turn of the century. By that time the availability of rail access to other resort destinations became possible and, looking for something new, the wealthy visitors moved on. Most of the buildings have fallen to ruin and the few hotels that were left had all died out by 1950. By that time, lakefront vacations had taken on a new persona – that of the private home or cottage.

Much of the shoreline of Lake Willoughby is undeveloped. Both Mount Pisgah and Mount Hor are within the boundary of 7300-acre Willoughby State Forest. Willoughby Cliffs Natural Area encompasses the vertical cliffs of both mountains and provides excellent habitat for the study of alpine and cliff-dwelling plants. The sheer cliffs provide excellent nesting habitat for peregrine falcons making the area popular with bird watchers. Less steep areas of the shoreline support summer cottages and year-round homes. Lake lubbers here indulge themselves in water sports such as swimming, sailing, wake boarding, jet skiing, canoeing, kayaking, tubing and pontooning. Adjacent public land provides ample trails for hiking, biking, rock climbing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and wildlife observation. Downhill skiing and snowboarding is available at nearby Burke Mountain. Black bears, bobcats, moose, deer, fox, rabbits, hedgehogs, raccoons, skunks, mink, beaver, chipmunks and squirrels have long been known in the area.

Ice skating and ice fishing are available in winter, but the lake doesn’t freeze as quickly as others in the area due to its extreme depth. The open water is highly prized by fishermen who engage in the hunt for landlocked Atlantic salmon (mainly stocked), rainbow trout (wild and stocked), burbot, rainbow smelt, longnose sucker, yellow perch, lake chub, white sucker, and round whitefish. The latter, alternately known as menominee, pilot fish, frost fish, round-fish, or menominee whitefish has extremely limited natural range in Vermont. Lake Willoughby is likely Vermont’s best trout lake, with some of the largest lake trout caught here year after year. The single remaining dam on the Willoughby River has been modified, allowing rainbow trout to swim upstream to the lake.

With depths exceeding 300 feet, mountainous cliffs rising from the water, and abundant wildlife, it is not surprising that Lake Willoughby is reputed to support a likely mythical lake monster called “Willy,” much like Champ in Lake Champlain. The first sightings of Willy date back to 1868 when a 12 year old boy killed a 23-foot eel-like monster. More recent sightings describe a serpentine creature with humps on its back. Willy’s exact nature is unknown, so pack your camera when you plan your visit to this gem in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

The days of the elegant resort may be over at Lake Willoughby, but there are multiple small resorts and other forms of lodgings available along the shore. The town of Westmore on the northeast shore can provide for immediate needs in the way of groceries and bait. Private owners often lease their properties as vacation rentals, and there are many quaint bed-and-breakfast businesses in the surrounding countryside. The area retains its agricultural atmosphere, and local villages and towns are filled with small museums and historical locations. One of the more interesting of historical settings is the Brick Kingdom Park nearby in Barton. This complex of aging and decaying buildings is of great interest to those with a bent toward industrial history; the entire complex consists of different types of businesses that used the water power from Crystal Falls to build an industrial economy very early in Vermont’s history. A self-guided interpretive trail winds through the complex leading visitors to examples of great industrial diversity over a period of nearly a hundred years.

A few miles north of Barton, outside of Orleans, the Old Stone House Museum provides a small group of preserved and restored buildings centered around a school complex. Constructed by Alexander Twilight, the first African-American college graduate and state legislator, the complex offers a view of life in the early 1800s in rural Vermont. Less than ten miles from Lake Willoughby, one can easily spend an afternoon here for a change of pace.

While touring the countryside around Lake Willoughby, one may find the perfect piece of real estate to purchase for a retirement home or country retreat. Even after more than 200 years of settlement, the Vermont countryside is still picturesque and a joy to view, particularly during autumn leaf season. Only 30 miles north of St. Johnsbury, Lake Willoughby is now truly accessible via modern highway. Come spend a weekend or a week at Lake Willoughby.

Things to do at Lake Willoughby

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Tubing
  • Hiking
  • Ice Skating
  • Rock Climbing
  • Biking
  • Downhill Skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Snowshoeing
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • State Forest
  • Museum

Fish species found at Lake Willoughby

  • Burbot
  • Carp
  • Eel
  • Lake Trout
  • Perch
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Salmon
  • Smelt
  • Sucker
  • Trout
  • Whitefish
  • Yellow Perch

Lake Willoughby Photo Gallery

  • hz2281 aj4549 kayak lake vermont a man paddles his blue kayak on the calm waters of lake willoughby on a beautiful sunny day with blue sky and puffy white clouds above in westmore in orleans county in the state of vermont

Lake Willoughby Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Water Level Control: Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation

Surface Area: 1,692 acres

Shoreline Length: 11 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,169 feet

Average Depth: 120 feet

Maximum Depth: 312 feet

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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