So Many Fun Ways To Explore The Thousands Islands In Canada
There were so many fun ways to explore the Thousand Islands in Canada. And each offered a different perspective on this great area.
We used Kingston as a base and saw the Thousand Islands in Ontario, Canada. Our trip to the Thousand Island in Canada was just before the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in mid-October. It was almost the end of the season. And the weather was a bit unpredictable.
So we didn’t see everything that was on our original plan. But we saw the Thousand Islands from a few perspectives. And left many other adventures for a return trip!
A little Bit About The Thousand Islands
The St Lawrence River runs between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. It is a busy commercial river. Cargo ships handled 40–50 million annual tons of cargo. And about 50% of this cargo travelled to and from international ports.
This trip to the St Lawrence River was another stop on our tour of the Great Lakes in Canada. The Thousand Islands included more than 1,800 islands in the St. Lawrence River. Islands sat on both sides of the Canada and U.S. border that ran in the middle of the river.
The islands varied in size from over 40 square miles to islands with just one building or just rock outcroppings. To be called an island in this area, it must be above water year-round, be able to have at least 2 living trees and must be at least one square foot.
Today the Thousand Islands were a hub for outdoor fun. There were small towns along the shores on both sides. And many enclaves of exclusive and expensive retreats.
One of the most famous dwellings was the Boldt Castle. In 1900, George C. Boldt started to build an ornate castle on Heart Island for his wife Louise. Boldt was the millionaire proprietor of the world famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. He wanted the castle to be a fitting tribute to the love of his life. When his wife died suddenly, work stopped on the castle. After 74 years, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority bought the Heart Island property and restored it as a tourist site.
The Ways We Wanted To Tour The Thousand Islands
When headed to the Thousand Islands, we had high ambitions and planned to explore the Thousand Islands from multiple perspectives. We watched the weather and started our trip in Kingston when it looked like we would have good weather for a few days. But the good weather fell apart before we did everything we hoped to do.
The top of our list was to see the Thousand Islands by boat. This gave us a narrated trip and got us close to many spots. So we made sure and booked this as our first trip.
The Thousand Islands Parkway ran from about Brockville to Gananoque. Since we had our car, we drove this route for a better view of the small towns on the shores of the St Lawrence River in Canada.
On our boat ride and road trip, we got distant views of the Thousand Islands Tower. The observation decks of this tower stood 130 meters (400 ft) up and provided a panoramic view from above. In addition to this, we wanted to do a Helicopter Tour over the Thousand Islands. But by our third day in the area, the visibility dropped enough that it did not make sense to book either the Tower or helicopter experiences.
By the end of summer when we visited, many of the kayak options to enjoy the Thousand Islands were closed. And we really were not prepared for a cold dip in the St Lawrence River.
We were glad we saw the Thousand Islands in Canada from a few different perspectives. But we know we will return for more adventures one day!
Planning A Cruise To Discover The Thousand Islands
Many different companies offered boat tours of the Thousand Islands in Canada. But late in the season, we found the number of options quite limited. There were more options available on the Thanksgiving weekend. But on our local travels we generally chose to visit mid-week to limit the Covid-19 risk as much as possible.
Boat tours left from Brockville at the mostly easterly point of the Thousand Islands. Rockport also offered boat tours from about the mid-way point. This was the shortest transit to the islands. In normal times, there were even tours from as far west as Kingston. Mid-week we really only had a choice of tours from Gananoque.
There was also a difference in the type of boat. Most were larger boats. But we found one kayaking company that rented out a small pontoon boat for small groups.
We chose to do the Lost Ships tour on the Hornblower Gananoque Boat Line. This was a 2.5 hr tour that covered the key sights along the Thousand Islands. It also provided some insight into some ships that sunk in the St Lawrence River.
The Gananoque Boat Line clearly posted their Covid-19 precautions. Masks and hand cleaning were mandatory. On a regular basis, staff went through the boat and cleaned surfaces. Between trips, the ship was sprayed with disinfectant.
Other than some young men, the small number of passengers on the boat kept their masks on inside and outside. When the staff finally spoke with this group, they seemed to get a little better at keeping their masks on. But the boat had lots of space for everyone. So we felt quite safe on our cruise in the Thousand Islands.
We left our boat tour along the Thousand Islands until very late in the season. But we were happy we found a good option. And the weather was perfect for our tour to explore the Thousand Islands.
Arriving In Gananoque
We took the scenic route on Highway 2 along the river from our stay in Kingston to Gananoque. We headed right to the waterfront. The next day on our drive along the Thousand Islands Parkway we stopped and saw more of the downtown area.
The parking was right across the street from the office and the boats. We bought our ticket online so we did not need to check in with the office. Although even with only 4 cars in the parking lot, we needed to pay for parking!
Even at the end of the season and with low Covid-19 passenger volumes, boats left on a regular basis. We watched as the boat before us left. And then when our boat returned to load for our trip.
After they cleaned the boat, we boarded for our trip up the St Lawrence River.
Sights When Cruising Amongst The Islands
It was a great trip along the river. We had a perfect day and the water was calm as we moved between the islands. In some places the water was quite wide open. In other areas we moved between what seemed like narrow passes. We watched on our offline map and saw the path as it meandered between the Canadian and U.S. sides of the river.
We saw islands of every size and state of habitation. One or two just barely passed the definition of an island. There were some small bridges that connected islands. Even if they did not connect the Canada and U.S. side as the audio presentation said!
Along the shore we saw houses on both sides of the river. These houses varied in size. At one point we passed a stretch known as Millionaire’s Row with large expansive properties. It reminded us of the houses of the rich and famous we found on our visit to Lake Rosseau.
It was the perfect time of year to cruise along the Thousand Islands. The fall colours had started to turn. And everywhere we looked we got a colour show.
Common Sights On The St Lawrence River
The Thousand Islands International Bridge spanned 5 sections between the Canadian to the U.S. side. In these days of Covid-19 and the closed border between Canada and the U.S., we saw mostly trucks on the bridge. On our trip out we crossed under the U.S. side and came back under the span closest to the Canadian border.
We saw lots of small boats on the water. But we also saw one large freighter as it moved under the bridge and past us. It was a reminder that the St. Lawrence was an active commercial route.
We passed by the Thousand Islands Tower on Hill Island. At this time, we still hoped we might get up for a panoramic view.
There was much to see when we took a boat tour to explore the Thousand Islands.
The Wrecks In The St Lawrence
There were more than two dozen shipwrecks in the St Lawrence River. As such, it was one of the best spots for fresh water wreck scuba diving. The wrecks represented a wide variety of sailing ships.
There were 7 different ships presented on our tour. When we came close to a wreck site, a canned audio visual presentation showed up on the small tvs on the inside deck.
When we booked the tour, the brochure talked about showing sonar views. We mistakenly thought this meant there was sonar on the ship and someone talked about the sonar image in real time. Instead there were one or two side scan sonar images as part of the narration on the tv screen.
If you are a ship enthusiast or a wreck diver, there was enough of a teaser to send you searching for more information.
Tour The Thousand Islands And See Boldt Castle
Throughout our boat ride, we watched for the Boldt Castle to appear. The silhouette on the horizon showed when we got close. It was interesting to see another castle-like building on a nearby island. This turned out to be the yacht house for the castle!
The boat did a slow circumnavigation of Heart Island. There was plenty of time as we saw the distinctive features on the island. Our tour started with a view of the granite Peristyle Archway and Alstar Tower. While the Alstar Tower looked like a defence point, it was planned as the spot to entertain guests.
We rounded the island at the Power House and Clock Tower. It was designed to resemble a Medieval Tower. And was connected to Heart Island by a picturesque, arched stone bridge. Today it was purely decorative. But when it was originally designed it housed two generators for the island.
As we moved to the north side, we got an amazing view of the dock with the main building of the castle behind it. At one end we saw the Dove Cote or “Hennery”. What was once a water tower was topped with a dove house for fancy fowl.
The Boldt Castle grounds were closed for Covid-19. Canadians booked tours in normal years to visit. But since the castle sat on U.S. soil, passport control was required. We got our first glimpse of Boldt Castle. But we knew we would return one year to explore Heart Island.
Heading Back On The Cruise At Sunset
As we reached the final part of our cruise along the Thousand Islands, the sun began to sink. Our path became more shadowed. And the sun reflected off the water.
Our cruise was the last of the day. We pulled back into the dock in Gananoque and were tied up. We tried to find a spot to catch the final sunset colours. But we were not at the right location along the river.
It was a great day cruising on the river. We were excited when we headed out by road the next day and travelled along the Thousand Islands Parkway. It was a view of the waterway from a different perspective.
Starting Our Drive Along The Thousand Islands Parkway In Brockville
The Thousand Islands Parkway ran along the north shore of the St Lawrence River in Ontario roughly between Brockville and Gananoque.
On our stay in Kingston, we looked at the weather and assessed whether we wanted to travel east or west along the parkway. We had evening plans to cruise in the Kingston harbour, so that factored into the timing for our day. We knew that even though the drive could be done in under an hour, our many stops made the drive much longer.
Ultimately we decided to do the fast drive along Highway 401 to Brockville. In Brockville we explored the waterfront before we headed to the start of the Thousand Islands Parkway. And then we then drove the parkway to Gananoque before we returned to Kingston.
A Quick Stop In Brockville
We bypassed the town centre in Brockville and went right to the water. We stopped often along the waterfront at the many parks we saw. From that vantage point, we saw the U.S. mainland off in the distance. When we found the fun giant Muskoka chairs, we stopped took in the view.
There were several historic stops along the waterfront. The Railway Tunnel was Canada’s first tunnel built under the city. On our visit to Kingston, we saw lots of interesting railway sites. In Brockville, the train “Caboose” was restored and used as a fun escape room.
On one stop, we saw two people emerge from the water. I shivered at the thought! David scuba dived in Brockville before. And he may or may not have been brave enough to try the water on this trip!
After our short stop in Brockville, we headed out to explore the Thousand Islands in Canada from the land side.
Stops Along The Way
It was mid-week, late in the season and Covid-19 had closed down much commerce. So we were not surprised when we found the Thousand Island Parkway quiet. The Provincial park grounds were all closed. Occasionally we saw bikers on the great paved path that ran beside the parkway. With quiet roads, we stopped on the shoulder whenever we saw something of interest.
There were several stops for picnic areas and small parks. Educational and historical plaques were along the way to learn more about this area. The Thousand Islands Visitor Centre was actually open. So we pulled in for a short break. And wandered along the shore.
Several times we stopped and admired the fall colours. When our GPS showed a road that went closer to the water, we often explored those smaller roads.
When we pulled over, we looked out at the Thousand Islands area we transited by boat the previous day. It was interesting to see the small islands close to shore.
We travelled very slowly and got an interesting perspective of the Thousand Islands in Canada.
A Visit To Rockport
When we did our cruise of the Thousand Islands, we saw the small town of Rockport from the water. This was another of the spots where cruises departed from to explore the Thousand Islands.
We parked the car and wandered to stretch our legs. From this vantage point, we saw both the Thousand Islands International Bridge and the Thousand Islands Tower.
We found what looked like a great spot to stop for a meal or a drink. But ultimately we kept on going. We were on a timeline to return to Kingston for our harbour cruise.
Finishing Our Drive Along The Thousand Island Parkway In Gananoque
We finished our drive along the Thousand Islands Parkway in Gananoque. On our visit for our cruise, we explored the waterfront. On this visit, we stopped and saw a few sights in town.
We pulled in and saw the waterfall by the Legion Riders Memorial Park. This would have been a great spot to take some time out if we were not on a timeline.
We stayed by the water on Highway 2 for the short drive back to stay in Kingston. The one hour drive along the Thousand Islands Parkway took us over four hours with lots of stops. But we were glad we enjoyed a great day outside to explore the Thousand Islands from land.
We Enjoyed A Few Ways To Explore The Thousands Islands In Canada
As we travelled locally in the fall of Covid-19, our travel plans were often made last minute. We watched the changeable weather. And the infection counts around our area. We were happy that major tourist attractions like the Thousand Islands took the Covid-19 precautions seriously. It was actually quite nice to have small crowds. Even if it was hard on the tour operators and local businesses.
We squeezed in our visit to Kingston to explore the Thousand Islands between two trips north of Toronto to Muskoka. We enjoyed a pampering escape to the JW Marriott on Lake Rosseau for the fall colours. And then returned to follow the Cranberry Route around Muskoka.
It was great to see the Thousand Islands from a boat. And again when we drove along the Thousand Islands Parkway. Each offered a different experience. But we were sad we missed the chance to get high above the St Lawrence River. Next year we will plan to re-visit the area much earlier in the season.
Did you explore the Thousands Islands in Canada or from the U.S. side? Did you have a favourite stop in the islands?
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