Thousand Islands

Absolutely beautiful, one of the premier
tourist desinations in the entire province



thousand islands The Thousand Islands region of Ontario has long been considered one of the most beautiful parts of the province and is one of its most popular tourist destinations.

Stretching for almost 80 kilometres (50 miles) from their starting point near the City of Kingston this collection of 1864 islands vary in size from Wolfe Island, the largest of the group at 100 sq. kilometres (40 sq. miles), to tiny uninhabited parcels of rock that barely pierce the waters surface.

There is in fact a criterion that must be met to be considered an island of the 1000 island group, which is:
  • Above the surface of the water all year round
  • Must support at least 1 living tree
  • Must have an area of at least 1 sq. foot (0.093 sq. metres)
Created in myth by the legendary Paul Bunyan and his ox: Blue, the First Nations people who originally occupied the region called it the "Garden of the Great Spirit". Famous for the salad dressing named in honor of them they are more than a culinary footnote and are considered by some one of the most beautiful places in the world and are in fact a part of the UNESCO Frontenac Arch World Biosphere Reserve.



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Location of the Thousand Islands




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Getting to the Thousand Islands:

As the Thousand Islands are not one destination in particular it is advisable the visitors decide where they would like to start their journey into the area. The three main individual destinations in the Thousand Islands are Kingston, Gananoque and Brockville. Please visit my individual pages for each of these communities to see the various ways of arriving at each.


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1000 islands Sitting in the St. Lawrence River that forms the international border between Canada and the United States the islands are found on both sides of the border between the Province of Ontario and the State of New York.

Canada has set aside 20 of these islands to form its smallest National Park, check out my St. Lawrence Islands National Park page for more information. The United States portion of the island includes two state parks: Robert Moses State Park - Thousand Islands and Wellesley Island State Park.

The Thousand Islands area had long been a summer resort playground for the wealthy on both sides of the border and there are a number of grand historic hotels and homes scattered throughout the region. Many have now been opened to the public and provide a glimpse into the lifestyles of the well heeled from a bygone era.

Most are located on the American side of the border but can be accessed quite easily as the Thousand Islands Bridge crosses the St. Lawrence River at Wellesley Island. In Ontario you can view quite a few of these grand homes from across the river by driving along the scenic Thousand Islands Parkway.

This 37 kilometer (22.5 mile) long parkway stretches along the river from Gananoque to Brockville and is one of the most scenic drives in the province. I myself have made the short detour from Highway 401 and driven this route over a dozen times at various times throughout the year and am always amazed at the stunning scenery before me. If you happen to be in the area, whether just passing through or for a more prolonged time, make sure you don't miss a trip along this stunning stretch of road.


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Thousand Islands Attractions and Activities



In Ontario, the main communities associated with the 1000 Islands are Kingston, Gananoque and Brockville. Visit my pages about these beautiful communities for more information.

Boating

The 1000 Islands region has long been a centre for recreational boating and a major tourist destination and you will find that many of the small riverside communities on both sides of the border provide free dock space for boaters to come ashore and stroll through their downtowns.

Excluding Kingston, here partial list of places to anchor your boat while enjoying the scenery onshore:
Visitors will find the waters of the St. Lawrence quite busy during the summer vacation months as many boaters from across the Great Lakes region make the journey to visit the islands or the nearby Rideau Canal system at Kingston. In additional to pleasure craft of varying sizes the waters also play host to numerous boat tours and are of course always busy with commercial freighter traffic as this is part of the St. Lawrence Seaway System.

Boaters that make the journey to the Thousand Islands should use extreme caution when navigating the waters as they can be treacherous and there are many hazards that can be encountered. In addition to the above-mentioned boat traffic there are also many rocks and shoals that lie just beneath the surface. Many shipwrecks lie at the bottom and boat captains must make sure they stick to the well-market navigation channels and never try to navigate after nightfall.


Boat Cruising

One of the most popular activities for visitors to spend the afternoon on the water navigating between various islands is to take a boat cruise. There are operators from each of the main ports on the Canadian side of the Thousand Islands region and they offer cruises varying in length from 1 hour to 5 hours. There are a number of options as to what you will see and visit depending upon your personal interests. Some of the cruise options include:
  • A visit to Boldt Castle on Heart Island
  • Singer Castle on Dark Island
  • A sunset dinner cruise
  • Shipwreck cruise
Very reasonably priced I would highly recommend that any visitor to the Thousand islands area definitely schedule a 1000 islands cruise on their itinerary. It is a great way to experience the beauty of the region and enjoy a sunny and warm Canadian summer day. For more information about taking a Thousand Islands cruise visit:
Fishing

The waters of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River are world-renowned fishing destinations and visitors to the Thousand Islands have a number of options to participate in this incredible experience. Boat rentals are available in numerous locations but fishing from on shore can be just as good.

For those wishing a more intense experience there is a couple of charter fishing companies based out of Gananoque that will lead you right to the best spots to land those large trophy fish. For more information visit:
Canoeing/Kayaking

Utilized for thousands of years by the First Nations people to navigate throughout the continent the Thousand islands region has long been one of the main transportation routes from east to west. Canoes were the mode of transportation then and on any given summer weekend you will undoubtedly still see thousands of them plying the various channels between the scattered islands.

It is wise however for paddlers to stick close to the shoreline and stay out of the main navigation channels as the St. Lawrence is a big river with deep water and swift moving currents. Additionally the main channel is also the main shipping route of the St. Lawrence Seaway system and giant freighters plough through on a regular basis. These massive ships cannot maneuver and stop very quickly and slow moving canoeists should be vary wary of getting in there way as even their wake's will quickly overturn your small craft.

A unique way to experience the 1000 Islands up close and personal for those wishing two participate in this activity 1000 Islands Kayaking has rentals and tours available at its two locations in Gananoque and Brockville. For more information visit: http://www.1000islandskayaking.com


Biking

There is a multi-use paved path along the northern side of the Thousand Islands Parkway running parallel to the St. Lawrence River that stretches for almost 40 kilometres (24 miles) from 10 kilometres (6 miles) west of Brockville to Gananoque. Along its route you will pass a number of clearly marked scenic lookouts, the two small towns of Mallorytown and Rockport, a beach, part of the St. Lawrence Islands National Park, and a number of campgrounds and historic sites.

The path is very popular during the busy summer months and will take the average cyclist 2-3 hours to complete one way. The over 75 kilometes (43 miles) round trip journey can easily be completed in 1 day while making a few stops at places of interest to you. You can therefore safely park your vehicle at your desired starting point and return upon completion of your adventure. It should be noted that there are several rest stops and numerous places to get food and beverages along the way or enjoy a picnic if carrying your own supplies.


Swimming

The frigid waters of the St. Lawrence River may be too cold for some people but for others they provide a much-needed relief after undertaking some activities under the hot Ontario sun.

There are many spots along the length of the Thousand Islands region that you can hop in the water to take a dip but only a few are marked and clearly designated as swimming locations. One is in St. Lawrence Islands National Park and the other is in Brown's Bay Park located along the Thousand Island Parkway. This small day-use park has an excellent public beach that is perfect for swimming.


Hiking

The multi-use Thousand Islands Parkway Trail is also used as a hiking trail and its 37 kilometres (22.5 miles) is part of the more-extensive 780-kilometre (485 mile) waterfront trail that stretches along the entire northern shore of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River from the Quebec border to Niagara-on-the-Lake in the Niagara Peninsula. For more information visit: www.waterfronttrail.org.

There are also many hiking trails located in the Landon Bay Centre. See the Landon Bay Centre section below for more information.


Camping

There are a few primitive public campsites available in the St. Lawrence River National Park, other camping in the immediate area can be found at either: Insiders Tip: Please note that the Thousand Islands region is one of Ontario's main tourist destinations and the campgrounds tend to book up early. It is advisable that you make reservations in advance.


Scuba Diving

There are many shipwrecks located in the waters of the Thousand Islands region and it has been a popular diving site for many years. The above listed campgrounds serve as a home base for many divers and both Gananoque and Brockville has a number of business's that cater and supply to this market.

There is a shipwreck museum located in the small town of Rockport and in addition to the artifacts on display you can also get maps of the various wrecks that can be explored.

It should be noted that divers must be extremely cautious when diving in the waters of the St. Lawrence as they are fast moving and there is heavy boat traffic especially in the designated navigation channels.


Landon Bay Centre


Located on the Thousand Islands Parkway this 91 hectare (225 acre) protected area is an ecological reserve centered on the beautiful Landon Bay and provides facilities for camping, hiking, swimming and an education center for those interested in learning more about the UNESCO Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve for which it is part.

The highlights of the park are:
  • The scenic lookout with its phenomenal panorama over the beautiful Landon Bay
  • Rosette Pavilion with its well maintained raised gardens
  • Camping facilities – 125 campsites with facilities including
  • Electricity (75 sites)
  • Running water (75 sites)
  • Flush Toilets
  • Showers
  • Park Store
  • Access to the St. Lawrence River for swimming and canoeing/kayaking

Hiking Trails

One of the best places in the region for hiking there are a number of trails located within the parks boundaries including:
  • Look-out Trail

    Winding though a small forested area hikers will see an abundance of birds and wildflowers before coming upon the highlight of the park, the lookout over Landon Bay. Of moderate difficulty it is never the less well worth the effort and some people make the journey to the park just to come to the lookout itself.

  • Garden Trail

    A very easy trail to navigate it runs through the forest along Halstead Creek. You will pass through some wetlands and will easily see a beaver dam and maybe even spot this iconic Canadian animal.
  • Riverview Trail

    A short and easy to navigate trail it runs along the St. Lawrence River and offers some fantastic views.

  • Halstead Creek Trail

    Of moderate difficulty it winds its way through forested areas along Halstead Creek. On this trail you may spot deer and Osprey's as you will past a nesting area.

  • Bay Trail

    Of moderate difficulty this trail skirts the shores of Landon Bay. You will spot many birds and may even catch the sight of an osprey diving for fish.

1000 Islands Skydeck

Standing 122 metres (400 feet) above the St. Lawrence River on Hill Island near the Thousand Islands International Bridge the skydeck observation tower gives visitors a great view over the beautiful surrounding countryside. Definitely worthy of a short diversion and visit, get more information at www.1000islandsskydeck.com


Thousand Islands Castles


Long a playground for the fabulously wealthy the 1000 islands area is home to many stately homes from a bygone area. While the majority are located across the border within the United States they nevertheless are draws to many tourists to Ontario who make the short drive over the border or take one of the many cruises that depart from Ontario ports. Known locally as "castles" there are two in particular worthy of a visit.

  • Singer Castle

    Located on Dark island just across the international border "The Towers" as it was long known was constructed in the early 20th century by the president of the Singer Sewing Machine company Frederick Gilbert Bourne. It features secret passageways that were used for spying on guests and during prohibition it was a popular stopover for rum-runners on their way to the United States from Canada. This long time private residence is now open for tours and many cruises departing from Ontario have a stop at the Singer Castle on their itinerary.


  • Boldt Castle

    The magnificent Boldt Castle sits on Heart Island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River just across the international border in the State of New York. George C. Bolt, owner of the famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, began construction on this beautiful 6 storey, 120-room edifice in 1900. In 1904 construction was abruptly halted when his wife suddenly died. Grief stricken, Boldt never again visited the island and the unfinished mansion sat neglected and forgotten for over 70 years.

    It was eventually taken over by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority in 1977 and millions of dollars were spent finishing and restoring the castle to its originally envisioned splendor. Modern technologies were also incorporated and today Boldt Castle is open to the public for tours and events. A definite must visit when in the area for more information visit the castles official site at: www.boldtcastle.com.


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