Many Ways To Explore The Thousands Islands In Canada

Cruise The Thousand Islands And Drive The Thousand Islands Parkway

Ways To Explore The Thousands Islands.jpg

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.

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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.

Tower.jpg

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.

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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!

Gananoque Boat Lines.jpg

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.

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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.

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Cruise Path.jpg

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Cruise Sights Lighthouse - Cruise Explore The Thousands Islands In Canada Ontario.jpg

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!

Cruise Sights Islands.jpg

Cruise Sights Islands.jpg

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Cruise Sights Islands.jpg

Cruise Sights Islands.jpg

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.

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Cruise Sights Houses - Cruise Explore The Thousands Islands In Canada Ontario.jpg

Cruise Sights Houses.jpg

Cruise Sights Houses - Cruise Explore The Thousands Islands In Canada Ontario.jpg

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.

Cruise Sights Fall Colours.jpg

Cruise Sights Fall Colours.jpg

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.

Thousands Island Bridge - Cruise Explore The Thousands Islands In Canada Ontario.jpg

Thousands Island Bridge.jpg

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.

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We passed by the Thousand Islands Tower on Hill Island. At this time, we still hoped we might get up for a panoramic view.

Thousand Islands Tower - Cruise Explore The Thousands Islands In Canada Ontario.jpg

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.

St Lawrence River Wrecks - Kinghorn.jpg

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!

Boldt Castle - Cruise Explore The Thousands Islands In Canada Ontario.jpg

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.

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Boldt Castle Alstar Tower - Cruise Explore The Thousands Islands In Canada Ontario.jpg

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.

Boldt Castle Power House - Cruise Explore The Thousands Islands In Canada Ontario.jpg

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.

Boldt Castle.jpg

Boldt Castle Hennery.jpg

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.

Cruise Sunset - Cruise Explore The Thousands Islands In Canada Ontario.jpg

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.

Gananoque Sunset.jpg

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.

Brockville Waterfront - Parkway Explore The Thousands Islands In Canada Ontario.jpg

Brockville Waterfront.jpg

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.

 Brockville Waterfront Tunnel.jpg

 Brockville Waterfront CP Caboose Escape Room.jpg

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!

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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.

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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.

Parkway Drive Visitor Centre Mallorytown Landing.jpg

Parkway Drive Visitor Centre Mallorytown Landing.jpg

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.

Parkway Drive Fall Colours.jpg

Parkway Drive Fall Colours.jpg

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.

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Parkway Drive Islands.jpg

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.

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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.

Parkway Drive Rockport St Brendans Church.jpg

Parkway Drive Rockport Bridge View.jpg

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.

Parkway Drive Gananoque Town Hall - Parkway Explore The Thousands Islands In Canada Ontario.jpg

Parkway Drive Gananoque Mural.jpg

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.

Parkway Drive Gananoque Gananoque Falls - Parkway Explore The Thousands Islands In Canada Ontario.jpg

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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About TravelAtWill 579 Articles
Travel blogger and photographer! Scuba diving, luxury cruising, chocoholic, sea and sunshine addicts, camera attached and just generally curious! Join us on our adventures!

52 Comments

  1. Wow! what a great trip! I’ve never heard of the Thousand Islands but I would love to go. Great story, great pictures.

  2. Another thing to add to my Canada list! Do you have any information about camping? Is it allowed everywhere or only at designated sites? Can you also give a little information about prices or fees such as camping (if I have my own tent vs renting a tent), docking or beach fees (if any)? Thank you for always publishing such detailed posts!

    • Trisha, I don’t have any information on camping. But the external links in the blog might get you an answer. Along this route it looked like there were camping spot. Glad this blog post gave you some ideas. Linda

  3. The Thousand Islands are truly a beautiful location! I was able to take a 1000 Cruise pre-COVID from the US side and explore Boldt Castle. It is definitely worth the visit! I would love to visit from the Canadian side and be able to experience the different views, including the helicopter and tower views. It is unfortunate that you were unable to do these-but it gives you all the more reason to return! It is a great area to visit.

  4. There are so many impressive photos in your story, they convey all the beauty of the beautiful places of Canada, in which, unfortunately, I have not yet been. My friends were in Canada, they were delighted with the trip.

  5. I’ve never heard of the Thousand Islands (only the salad dressing, lol). Heart Island looks really cool, and in general it looks like a lovely place to travel. Canada is such an expansive and beautiful place!

  6. I have never been to Canada, but it’s some where that I would love to visit someday. This looks like you had a great trip and a great starting point for anyone looking to visit. Great post and great photos.

  7. I heard a lot about Thousands Islands lately. I guess one good thing about Covid, people are exploring locally more often. I’m impressed to see the houses around the islands, even in the small islands. I wonder if people bought the island or rent it for some years from the government (like 100-200 years.) Now I want to visit the Thousands Islands myself.

  8. I have always wanted to visit the Thousand Islands. I love islands! This was very helpful. I would want to visit in the summer so that I can go kayaking. I would also like to go into the castle. We visited a library near Darby Line, Vermont that the front door is in the US and the back in Canada. It was very interesting.

    • We were happy we got to visit before the area closed down for the season. We too would like to go back when we can tour the castle. Glad this post provided more info for you. Linda

  9. The St Lawrence river looks so intriguing with its many islands and shipwrecks! I love the idea of a cruise in the fall, the colours on the riverbanks are so beautiful. You covered that area very well!

  10. I have visited the Thousand Islands and I loved it there. It was so picturesque and everything was beautiful. And it was so funny and interesting to find that the group has more than 1800 islands and not exactly 1000 islands. Also there was one particular island that just had only a small house and nothing else. That was super cute. I wish I had more time there and I think I need to go back.

    • Raksha, We were happy we made it to the Thousand Islands this year. I can’t believe we had not visited before this! I too was surprised with how many small islands there were. And at the variety of the houses on the islands and on shore. A fun few days! Linda

  11. So I was all with you guys and kept thinking that this was an amazing way to explore the thousand islands in the St. Lawrence until I saw David jumping into that freezing water!! I am usually an insane traveler but that is some crazy stuff cause I HATE the cold!
    But with that said, I think taking the Lost Ships tour on the Hornblower Gananoque Boat Line sounds like the perfect way to explore this part of Canada! I loved all the houses and of course the Boldt Castle is perhaps the biggest highlight for us. I really dont understand what the Tower is though.
    For my wife, added bonus with all the train stuff too! She would love to try the escape room in the Brockville Caboose!

    • Eric, I will let you in on a secret. David really did not go all the way in the cold water! We did love the chance to see the Thousand Islands from the water and from the land. We hope to go back when we can actually land and see the Boldt Tower. I hope you guys get to visit one day. Linda

  12. This looks absolutely gorgeous. I’d love to explore this part of Canada. Alas at the moment it’s too far from the left coast, but maybe one day I’ll get there. I had no idea the St Lawrence had so many islands!
    Alison

    • Alison and Don, I do hope you get to visit this area one day. I am pining to head to the “left” coast but it too is not in the cards for now. So much to discover in Ontario when you get here. Linda

  13. I have never been to Canada it is so high on my list and now you have given me another reason to go. I can’t believe there is 1,800 islands in St Lawrence. You could literally visit a different island every day for at least a few years and still not have to return twice. I just love Boldt Castle, I would definitely be booking a tour to go there. Hopefully once the covid is over that it will reopen. Such a beatiful part of the world.

  14. This looked like an interesting trip. I loved the story of the millionaire and the wife. The photos gave a lot of idea, how Canada looks in fall? I liked the clock tower and the medieval feel to it. The way to explore 1000 island on the boat seems like a good idea.

  15. I have never heard of this area, but it is adorable. I love all the variation in the islands and buildings! I think a helicopter ride around the area would be awesome, but also fun to just get a small boat and rie around to see everything.

    • Lia, I agree that travelling around on a small boat would be fun to explore at will. Might have to watch crossing back and forth over the border. Or stopping too long. We are really sorry we missed the helicopter tour. But great reasons to go back. Linda

  16. What a fun adventure! The castle looks especially intriguing. I grew up on the American side of Lake Erie, but haven’t had nearly enough time to explore the Canadian side. This makes me want to get up that way soon. Thanks!

  17. I have not heard of the Thousand Islands before now and I am completely enchanted by your impressive photos. There are so many islands and I would love to explore each one of them. I have bookmarked your post so I can refer to it when I visit Canada next.

  18. Being based in a city with Europe’s third-largest harbor, waters as such are not that special to me. However, I enjoy cruises in the country side between woods and villas. Gliding on water is such a serene way of ‘travelling’ – you can easily immerse into the nature and relax – something I would love to do right now.
    When I make it to Canada, I’ll make sure to visit the Thousand Islands 🙂

  19. I had never heard of this area but it looks like a gorgeous place to explore, especially with the autumn colours on display. I like the idea of the cruise & sounds like coming in as sunset approached was the perfect time to go. Thanks for adding another place to my list…when I can eventually make it back to Canada that is!

  20. This trip looks absolutely beautiful! I did not know that St Lawrence had so many islands. I would love to visit this place once the pandemic is over. Lovely post and gorgeous pictures! 🙂

  21. What a fascinating area! I can’t believe this is the first I’m hearing of the Thousands Islands, but it looks incredibly stunning. I was following along checking my map as I read. It really is unusual to see an archipelago in a river like this, but it made for some really amazing shots, Boldt Castle especially!

  22. Wish I had discovered your posts before I went to Canada. You just keep highlighting places we were so close to but weren’t aware of. I would have loved to visit the 1000 islands. Those houses are perfect for social distancing, lol.

    • Sarah, I am working on compiling my post on road tripping around Ontario to capture all the great places we have seen at home. If you make it back, you will have it as a checklist. Linda

  23. Have never been to Thousands Islands. They look so intriguing. I love the idea of cruising along the various islands while absorbing the sights. I will surely visit these when in Canada.

  24. A cruise to discover the Thousand Islands of Canada seems to be a perfect weekend idea. I would love to try this way of traveling. It’s great that you recommend the company and share your experience! Boldt Castle is so impressive. I would like to photograph it.

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