The Thousand Islands are a picturesque group of 1,864 islands scattered throughout the St. Lawrence River at the outlet of Lake Ontario and spanning the Canada-U.S. border. Formed 12,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age, the islands are full of rich history and offer world-class fishing and diving within their secluded bays. Throughout the islands can also be found many cottages, lighthouses and historic sites, as well as a national park, making the region perfect for summer weekend explorations with family and friends. Here are nine suggestions to add to your Thousand Islands itinerary.
Kayak Half Moon Bay
Kayaking is by far the best way to explore the countless coves and bays of the islands. One of the most interesting, the aptly-named Half Moon Bay, features an outdoor chapel situated within a crescent moon shaped bay on Bostwick Island. Since 1887, worshippers have come to the bay to watch the service from their boats.
Guided full-day and half-day trips through the islands are available, or paddlers can rent a boat and explore on their own. Multi-day trippers can also stay at one of 10 Parks Canada oTENTiks within Thousand Islands National Park, or pitch a tent at a campsite on one of the National Park islands and wake up beside the water.
Dive on freshwater shipwrecks
The Thousand Islands region is famed as one of the world’s finest freshwater diving destinations thanks to its clear waters and the numerous shipwrecks scattered throughout the islands. If you aren’t up for getting right into the water for diving or snorkelling, some shallow wrecks, like the Briton, a 19th-century coal schooner, can be enjoyed from the dryness of your kayak.
Soar over the islands
With more than 1,800 islands in this section of the St. Lawrence, the best way to see them all — or at least a large number of them — is from the air.
Take in expansive views of the granite islands and blue waters below with 1000 Islands Helicopter Tours. Operating year round, they offer a variety of tours and packages, from a breathtaking flight around Gananoque to the ultimate ice fishing experience.
Cross the Thousand Islands Bridge
Possibly the most iconic landmark in the Thousand Islands is the Thousand Islands Bridge. Opened in 1938, the bridge connects Canada and the United States across a series of islands and sees some two million vehicles per year.
Sightseers can drive across the bridge, pass under it on a boat tour, or walk its 13.7-kilometre length. While crossing, stop on Hill Island and take the elevator to the top of the 1000 Islands Tower for panoramic views.
Visit a fairytale castle
Construction on this majestic castle, commissioned by hotelier George C. Boldt as a gift for his wife and situated on the aptly-named Heart Island on the American side of the border, was begun in 1900 but never completed. Just a few years after construction began, Boldt’s wife Louise passed away. Boldt stopped construction immediately and never returned to the island, as he could not bear to see the structure completed without the love of his life.
For many years the castle and its associated structures sat abandoned, succumbing to damage from weather and vandals. In 1977 the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property, and has spent millions of dollars restoring and completing the rooms and structures of the castle, which are now open to visitors May through October.
Cruise the St. Lawrence
A cruise along the St. Lawrence with Gananoque Boat Line is the perfect setting for a romantic evening dinner or a family adventure. Their many cruise options include shipwreck tours, dinner cruises, island sightseeing and an optional stopover at Boldt Castle.
Paddle a historic waterway
Drift along the historic Rideau Canal and explore its interconnected lakes and locks. Chaffey’s Lock is located about 35 minutes north of the town of Gananoque; from there, Rideau Tours offers canoe rentals for self-powered adventure, guided kayak tours, or pontoon boat rides. Whichever option you choose, you’re likely to observe beavers, turtles, loons, and other iconic Canadian wildlife en route.
Hike or bike an old rail line
The Cataraqui Trail is a 103 kilometre, mixed-use recreation trail stretching from Strathcona, near Napanee, to Smiths Falls. The trail follows what was once a section of the CN rail line and attracts hikers and bikers in summer, skiers and snowmobilers in winter. It passes by lakes, through marshes, forests, and even Canadian Shield landscapes.
Take in a show
Cap off a long day of exploring the islands with a live theatre performance at the Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque. With two fully renovated historic venues situated side by side on the waterfront, the Playhouse hosts a variety of plays and musicals from May through October – one of Ontario’s top-five summer theatre festivals, alongside Stratford and the Shaw.