Water, fresh air, wonderful dining venues, and fascinating pieces of history can all be found in the Thousand Islands.
The Thousand Islands, sometimes referred to in writing as the 1000 Islands, are the many tiny islands dotting the Saint Lawrence River as it approaches Lake Ontario. The area is also known for the salad dressing. Yes, Thousand Island salad dressing was first created here. More recently, it has become popular for its wineries, breweries, distilleries, and gastropubs.
The fertile agricultural land and humid, moist air create the perfect climate for growing cold hardy grapes and grains used to produce signature craft beverages. Red wines including Frontenac and Marquette, and whites such as Frontenac Gris and La Crescent are produced from these so-called northern grapes.
If you visit in the spring, you can smell the sweet aroma of maple sugar shacks on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. A fall visit will include savoring cider and fresh-made donuts. Apple orchards are scattered throughout the region offering visitors many choices in autumn.
Foodies, craft beer fans, wine lovers, outdoor adventurists, and history lovers all have lots of reasons to love the Thousand Islands area. Here are my top recommendations based on my time there.
See All The Tiny Islands Via Boat
Some of the Thousand Islands are just barely big enough for a shed to fit on them; others are large enough for several houses. Some of the houses on the islands are summer homes, but many are year-round residences. The only way to get to many of the islands is via boat.
A great way to see many of the islands is via boat tour. Cruising among the Thousand Islands on a boat is one of the most popular activities visitors enjoy. The tours cruise past dozens of islands, fairytale castles, lighthouses, and wildlife, along with a bit of history. You can find tours from both the American and Canadian sides of the Saint Lawrence. There are also tours that combine seeing the various islands with a visit to Boldt Castle.
The cost of the tours depends on length and what is included. Some tours include lunch or dinner.
Visit Boldt Castle
Boldt Castle is near Alexandria Bay, New York. Millionaire hotel magnate George C. Boldt started building the castle, which is situated on Heart Island, around 1900 as the ultimate romantic gesture and a tribute to his beloved wife, Louise. It was a castle rivaling those of Europe. The six-story, 120-room castle, complete with tunnels, a powerhouse, Italian gardens, a drawbridge, Alster Tower (also known as the Playhouse), and a dovecote was basically a summer home, and the rich and famous visited.
The powerhouse provided all the electricity for the island and everything on it. It stands at the entry of the island.
They had a butler’s pantry that was bigger than many kitchens in homes today. They held many parties and festivities in the huge dining room with seating for 18.
There was also a large patio where dances and other events were held. They held a huge July 4th celebration every year at the castle. During the gatherings, the men often congregated in the Alster Tower billiard room for gaming, discussing politics, and enjoying cigars.
When I visited, I wondered if perhaps the game of Clue was fashioned after this castle given the library, billiard room, dining room, conservatory, et cetera.
Louise Boldt passed away suddenly in 1904 just months before the completion of the castle. Mr. Boldt was heartbroken and immediately stopped all construction on Heart Island. He never returned to Heart Island after her death, and the property was vacant for over 70 years.
Many of the rooms on the upper floors were never finished. When you visit, you can see the construction plans and items were left just as they were when construction stopped.
The castle was at the mercy of the weather for many years as it stood empty. The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority (TIBA) now owns and operates Boldt Castle and the Boldt Yacht House. They use the money from visits to restore and maintain the grounds and the castle.
The grounds are beautiful with fountains and flowers everywhere. Over 20,000 different plants decorate the grounds. Many weddings are held on Heart Island.
Boldt Castle is only accessible by water. Transportation is available from both Canada and the U.S. by personal pleasure craft or boat tour.
Visiting is like taking a step back in time as you see and feel the lavishness and magnificence of a bygone era.
Try The Slots At Shorelines Casino
Shorelines Casino is a full-service casino offering patrons slot machines and table games. They often have other entertainment and the casino is home to a wonderful restaurant, The Windward (more on eating here below).
Shorelines Casino has free parking and provides free non-alcoholic beverages to guests on the gaming floors.
You must be 19 years of age to be admitted. You must have proof of identification with you for entry.
Other Reasons To Visit Thousand Islands
Other fun things to do include visiting historic sites, such as the 1000 Islands History Museum, the Thousand Islands Boat Museum, and the Fort Henry National Historic Site.
If you are into outdoor activities, you might enjoy fishing or visiting one of the more than 15 New York State Parks along Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River and on several islands. Thousand Islands National Park is one of the oldest national parks in Canada and is made up of 21 different islands in the Saint Lawrence River and three mainland properties on the 1000 Islands Parkway.
There are also lots of open roads that run along the shorelines for cyclists and motorcycle riders to enjoy.
Enjoy a taste of the rural life on the 1000 Islands Agricultural Tour, which includes stops at more than a dozen farms, wineries, and crop stands.
Eating In The Thousand Islands
There are restaurants in abundance in the area.
Thousand Island salad dressing originated here, and it is served in most restaurants and can be purchased in the gift shop at Boldt Castle. There are two tales of how it originated, but both end with the Thousand Island dressing being served at the famous Boldt Castle to the rich and famous guests, and the rest is history.
A traditional meal in the Thousand Islands includes fresh fish filets served with a garden salad topped with Thousand Island dressing plus salt potatoes and locally grown sweet corn. Dessert is French toast with locally made maple syrup and sometimes cream with a shot of whiskey or a flavored spirit.
It feels like there are almost as many restaurants as there are islands in the area. Below are our favorites.
The Windward Restaurant at Shorelines Casino has an excellent selection of delicious casual fare. I admit I agreed to eat here because I thought it would be convenient, since we were at the casino for the evening. I thought my meal would be ho-hum. Boy was I surprised! I had the grilled Atlantic salmon served with a beurre blanc sauce. It was fantastic. There were five of us, and we were all impressed with our meals.
They have dining specials each evening, and you can eat at the restaurant without gambling.
The Boathouse Country Inn Restaurant
You will find historic charm at the Boathouse Restaurant and riverside patio (seasonal). A casual family restaurant on the water, you can enjoy a meal or a glass of wine as you watch the tour boats come and go. They also have docking facilities for visitors.
The Boathouse is where we boarded our Thousand Island cruise and Boldt Castle tour. It is a very convenient place for lunch or dinner after your cruise.
Places To Stay In The Thousand Islands
We found the ideal place to stay for our visit was in Gananoque, Ontario, Canada. We were close to all the things we wanted to see and do and there were several places to stay.
Holiday Inn Express Hotel And Suites Gananoque
This is where we stayed when we visited the Thousand Islands. The hotel is conveniently located in the heart of the Thousand Islands and the location was perfect. It’s the only hotel in Gananoque and the Canadian Thousand Islands area with an elevator, interior corridors, an indoor heated pool, and fitness and business centers.
It is open year-round and has some pet-friendly rooms. We found it to be immaculate, and the front desk attendants were helpful.
The Woodview Inn
This boutique hotel, also in Gananoque, has both rooms and suites, many with fireplaces. Newly renovated, it is a 10-minute walk to downtown. The hotel is open year-round and provides a healthy breakfast every morning.
Four Points By Sheraton
This hotel is in neighboring Kingston, Ontario. Each room offers picturesque views of Kingston or Lake Ontario. Located just steps from many historic sites, it has a restaurant onsite and a pool, sauna, and fitness center. The Four Points is open year-round and they have pet-friendly rooms.
The Thousand Islands is a fun and friendly destination with something for everyone. A weekend won’t be enough, and I promise you will want to visit again.
Pro Travel Tips
- Plan to spend at least several hours at the Boldt Castle. There is much to see inside and on the grounds.
- Wear sturdy walking shoes since some of the ground is uneven.
- If you are allergic to flowers, take your allergy medicine. There are flowers everywhere.
- If taking a boat tour, you may need a jacket even in summer.
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