16 REASONS TO VISIT THE 1000 ISLANDS

The Thousand Islands Region in upper New York State on the border with Canada has all you need for a great down to earth vacation. Miles of shoreline, scenic islands, fantastic swimming, boating, fishing, and camping can satisfy any outdoor lover. Families with children especially appreciate the area for its endless entertainment provided by nature! There are no lines, no checkpoints, and no out of this world prices. Just show up and enjoy old fashion family fun. Here are the top reasons to visit the 1000 Islands. 

1000 Islands.View with a boat and dock.
If you are a boater, you will love the 1000 Islands.

16 REASONS TO VISIT THE 1000 ISLANDS

1. Unique and picturesque scenery
2. Down to earth relaxation
3. Fantastic boating and watersports
4. Swimming everywhere
5. Outstanding fishing
6. Stunning campgrounds
7. Golfing
8. World-class diving
9. Cargo ships
10. Millionaire Row Houses
11. Boldt Castle on Heart Island
12.  Singer Castle on Dark Island
13. Wine tasting
14. Inexpensive vacation
15. Walking the 1000 Islands Bridge for the best views
16. Ability to see two countries with one visit

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Over the years, I brought my family and groups of friends to the 1000 Islands numerous times, even though not everyone liked the idea of camping. Most of the adults did it for their kids, but guess what? They enjoyed the area almost as much as their children did. I specifically remember one friend saying with genuine enthusiasm, this is better than Disney! I could not agree more. (Sorry, Disney fans!) So grab your loved ones and explore thousands of acres of nature awaiting your arrival on both sides of the border.

Thousand Islands – Basic Information

The 1000 Islands is a rugged wilderness carved by receding glaciers more than 12,000 years ago that marks the international border between the United States and Canada. It is consists of 1,864 islands on the Saint Lawrence River as it emerges from Lake Ontario for about 50 miles. The Canadian islands are in the province of Ontario and the US islands in the state of New York. The islands range in size from over 40 square miles to smaller islands occupied by a single residence, or uninhabited outcroppings of rocks. To be considered an island, the land has to stay above water 365 days a year and support a living tree.

1000 Island, NY. Sunset.
One of the top reasons to visit the 1000 islands, is the region’s incredible sunset.

16 reasons to visit the 1000 Islands

1. Unique and picturesque scenery

Without a doubt, the outstanding scenery is the top reason to visit the 1000 Islands. The region offers a fascinating combination of water, islands, endless sky, and rugged coastline that create picture-like scenery. One of my favorite parks in the region is Robert G. Wehle State Park, where you can hike along Lake Ontario and enjoy jaw-dropping views from rocky cliffs.

2. Down to earth relaxation

When you’re vacationing in the Thousand Islands, you’re on “river time” where things move at a leisurely pace. With nature being the region’s primary attraction, you do not have to rush anywhere. Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence River, and the islands have no opening and closing hours, and you do not buy a ticket to enjoy them.

3. Fantastic boating and watersports

There is no better way to experience the beauty of the region than from the water. For more than a century, visitors have ventured onto the crystal-clear waters of the St. Lawrence River in search of summer activities. These days, you will see all kinds of watercraft there, from cargo ships and million dollars speedboats to kayaks and canoes. If you do not have your own boat, you will find many companies that rent boats in the 1000 Islands, in the USA and Canada. You can even rent a houseboat in Gananoque, Ontario.

Cruising the 1000 Islands aboard a guided boat tour is among the most popular reasons visitors come to the region. Tours include trips past dozens of islands, fairytale castles, lighthouses, island mansions, and wildlife all accompanied by true tales of pirates, bootleggers, and the Gilded Age rich and famous who all spent time here. Cruises vary in length from one-hour tours to upward of five hours. Many include lunch or dinner.

If you are a boater, you will love the 1000 Islands.This is just another way to spend a beautiful day on the water at the 1000 Islands, NY.

4. Swimming everywhere

Be sure to bring your swimsuit, as a dip in the St. Lawrence River is a must! The best part about swimming in the river? You can do it almost anywhere. Jumping from a boat is especially popular among kids. The swim areas are mostly granite rock formation, but some New York State parks offer man-made sandy beaches too.

5. Outstanding fishing

This is another very important reason to visit the 1000 Islands, fishing! Guided fishing trips are a tradition in the region, but many visitors prefer to fish on their own. The St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario are famous for bass, northern pike, and muskellunge, as well as brown trout and salmon.

6. Stunning campgrounds

The 1000 Islands region provides an abundance of campgrounds, many with views of Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River, and inland waters. The area boasts more than 100 private and public campgrounds, many with full camping amenities and extras such as play areas, marinas, and fully stocked stores. On the US side, you will find many state parks right on the shores of the St. Lawerence River. I recommend Wellesley Island State Park and Kring Points State Park for their outstanding waterfront location and stunning views.

1000 Island, NY. Beautiful campsite.
Beautiful waterfront campsites await visitors at Kring Point State Park in the 1000 Islands.

7. Golfing

With more than 30 public courses in 1000 Islands, golfers can enjoy a variety of experiences. You’ll find championship-caliber courses, nine-holers that are a little less challenging, and even several island courses. You will love the relaxed pace of the region and be pleasantly surprised with the affordable greens fees.

8. World-class diving

The Thousand Island region is known for having some of the best freshwater wreck diving in the world with a dozen wrecks at the bottom of the river. The water of the St Lawrence River and Eastern Lake Ontario is remarkably clear, thanks to the resident algae-eating zebra mussels, meaning visibility is excellent. Several dive businesses in the area can provide services for divers.

9. Cargo ships

Seeing cargo ships may not be the ultimate goal of your vacation, but these ships can certainly add a level of excitement especially when they pass you by on the river. But remember to stay out of their path! Just the wake they create can be dangerous, and believe me, I lived to tell you that!

While extended length ships of 1200-feet sail the Upper Great Lakes of Lakes Michigan, Superior, Huron, and Erie, only Seaway-max ships of 600-feet length sail into Lake Ontario. The term refers to vessels that are the maximum size that can fit through the canal locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway, linking the inland Great Lakes of North America with the Atlantic Ocean.

1000 Islands New York. Boldt Castle and a cargo ship.
Beauty and the beast on the waters of Saint Lawrence River.

10. Millionaire Row Houses in the 1000 Islands

If you love architecture, then that is certainly another reason to visit the 1000 Islands. For centuries, the region has been a popular summer escape for wealthy families. They built elaborate summer homes on privately-owned islands along the St. Lawrence River. This collection of island homes eventually got its name, Millionaire’s Row. While some of these homes appear quite modest, others boast as many as 30 or 50 rooms and feature in-ground pools, basketball courts, small theaters, bowling alleys, and more. The best way to catch a glimpse of this beautiful architecture is on a St. Lawrence River boat tour.

11. Boldt Castle on Heart Island

While most of the mansions in the region are private properties, two castles are open for public tours.

Famous Boldt Castle, tells a tragic story. In 1893 the Boldt family visited Alexandria Bay in 1000 Islands Region. The wife, Louise, fell in love with the area. That triggered her husband, George to build a dream castle as a tribute of admiration to her. The gift was scheduled to be delivered on February 14,1905, Louise’s birthday. Unfortunately, she died of heart failure before that and did not get to see the project. Devastated George ordered the construction to stop and never came back to finish it. Today, the castle is restored and open to the public.

1000 Island's primary attraction, the Boldt Castle.Visit the Boldt Castle, a gift of love.

12. Singer Castle on Dark Island

It is the only remaining castle on the river to be completed, fully furnished, and resided in during the heyday of the great builders and industrials in New York. The castle remained in the possession of the original owners, the Bourne family, from its construction in 1905 until the mid-1960s. Frederick Bourne was the fifth President of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, which is where the name “Singer Castle” came from. Today, trained tour guides lead visitors daily through the various halls, rooms with antique furniture, the old castle library, the squash court, and more.

You can stay in this castle! Learn more here.

13. Wine tasting

The 1000 Islands Wine Region, even though not as popular as nearby Finger Lakes, offers a growing number of choices for wine enthusiasts. Make sure to do some tasting! It is a great activity for a rainy day.

14. Inexpensive vacation

Let’s face it, a family vacation can drain your wallet. Disney or beach escape, for example, would cost thousands of dollars. That is not the case with the 1000 Islands, where nature is the main attraction, and it will welcome you for free. If you choose to camp at one of the beautiful campgrounds, even your accommodation will not cost you much.

How cute is this house on St. Lawrence River in the 1000 Islands?

15. Walking the 1000 Islands Bridge

The bridge provides stunning views of the St. Lawrence River dotted with islands. Pedestrians may cross the American span of the bridge using the sidewalk on the west side of the bridge (adjacent to southbound). Parking is available at the 1000 Islands Welcome Center located at the mainland end of the bridge.

16. Ability to see two countries with one visit

Visiting the 1000 Island gives you availability to see two countries during one visit. If you are arriving from the USA, you can see Canada in two different ways.

Seeing Canada from the water (no passport required)

You can catch sight of Canada up close from the boat without stepping your foot on Canadian soil. Of course, it is not the same as actually visiting it, but you will be able to see Canadian islands, wave to our friendly neighbors, and admire their stunning houses. This scenic trip gives you the best view of this truly unique geographical area shared by two nations and you don’t even need a passport!

Visiting Canada (passport required)

Visit observation tower on Hill Island
Essentially on the US- Canada border, but formally located on the Canadian side, the tower provides panoramic views over the Thousand Islands of both nations, from a height of 400 feet above the St. Lawrence River.

reasons-to-visit-1000-Islands-New-York-international-bridgeYou can walk the bridge for the excellent views of the 1000 Islands.

Visit the town of Gananoque, Ontatrio

Local attractions include boat cruises to the Thousand Islands and Boldt Castle, live theatre, the summer theatre festival of The Thousand Islands Playhouse, the Arthur Child Heritage Museum, and the OLG Casino Thousand Islands. The Thousand Islands – Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve, designated in November 2002, is part of UNESCO’s program on Man and the Biosphere.

Visit the town of Kingston, Ontario
The city’s lakeshore location has earned it a reputation for some of the best freshwater sailing in the world and one of the oldest cities in Canada. Kingston is also home to the world-renowned 1000 Islands, and UNESCO-designated Rideau Canal and Fort Henry, its major attraction.
Top reasons to visit the 1000 Islands, NY.

Where to stay in the 1000 Islands

Despite my mature age and need for comfort, I still believe that camping is the best way to enjoy the 1000 Islands. You can find excellent camping in these state parks, Wellesley Island State Park and Kring Point State Park.

Vacation Rentals

If camping is not your thing, you will find many houses for rent in the 1000 Islands in the USA and the Canadian side. But make sure to make your decision early, many of them are booked well in advance.

1000 Islands, beautiful house.
Many houses in the 1000 Islands are just to be looked at.

Hotels in the 1000 Islands

Finding a good hotel in the heart of the 1000 Island Region can be difficult since it is occupied by state parks on the US side and the national park on the Canada side. In general, better hotels are located in the cites further away from the St. Lawrence River. Still, if you plan early, you will have a good choice of top-rated hotels in the 1000 Islands in the USA and Canada. The hotel that stands out for me is the 1000 Island Harbor Hotel in Clayton, NY for the best mix of locations and modern facilities.

If you are looking for a royal experience, Singer Castle on Dark Island will give you an opportunity to stay in exquisite Royal Suite complete with a private modern bath, luxury furnishings, and bedding, designer carpeting, and of course, million-dollar views of the Canadian sunset and American sunrise. Package includes a private tour, accommodations, and catered dinner and breakfast. Rates: USD 700 plus tax per night for the VIP suite, including breakfast and dinner. Make your reservation here.

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