Thinking of road-tripping through Ontario this summer? Great choice, because there are some fantastic spots in this province that you won’t want to miss. Around the halfway mark between Toronto and Montreal, near Kingston, Ontario, you will notice signs to the Thousand Islands. Don’t speed by and ignore them! It’s worth making the diversion off the 401 Highway to discover this region and I can guarantee it will be one of the highlights of your trip.
This enchanting area along the St. Lawrence Seaway has been a playground for the rich and famous from both Canada and the United States since the 1980s.
Then U.S President Ulysses S. Grant fell in love with the area while on a fishing trip. No sooner had it been given the Presidential stamp of approval, than it bloomed in popularity.
Huge mansions sprung up, including two full-size castles built by the American industrial barons of the age, and the Thousand Islands was soon deemed as Ontario’s must visit destination.
In addition to the wonderful homes and cottages, the area consisting of 1,864 islands is now part of a UNESCO protected biosphere due to its unique flora and fauna. It’s also an area much-loved by scuba divers because of the crystal-clear waters containing more than 200 shipwrecks.
The best way to enjoy it
With a name like the Thousand Islands, it’s unsurprising that one of the best ways to experience the area is by sight-seeing boat. There are lots of cruise companies to choose from in towns such as Rockport, Brockville, Gananoque and Kingston, and there’s also different types of cruise to choose from. Ranging from party cruises to a sophisticated lunch cruise to a quick sight-seeing zip around within the hour, there are plenty of options to stay a while or enjoy a quick tour.
All cruises will take you out on the water to experience some of the best sights. The romantic Boldt Castle, which is located on Heart Island, is one of the region’s most interesting and picturesque attractions. The cruise also takes in Millionaire’s Row and Zavikon Island. You’ll want to keep your camera to hand at all times – the scenery really is beautiful!
I did a two-hour tour with Rockport Boat Line and it was terrific. It gave me a taste of the mansions and top sights as well as the “more modest” cottages along the Seaway. If you do decide to get off at Boldt Castle, don’t forget to bring your passport, because it’s actually in the United States. Other boat tour companies include www.ganboatline.com, www.rideaukingtours.com, www.1000islandscruises.on.ca, www.stlawrencerivercruise.com, www.1000islandscruises.com.
Stay a while…
If you’ve got more than just a few hours to spend in the Thousand Islands, then great! You could easily spend a whole week here and not get bored. The larger Great Waterway region in South Eastern Ontario is laced together by the sparkling St. Lawrence River, historic Rideau Canal, Bay of Quinte and Lake Ontario. It includes the unique towns, villages and cities of Cornwall, Brockville, Gananoque, Kingston, Belleville and Quinte West.
For those of you that love to get to grips with nature and culture, the region has a fantastic network of walking, hiking and cycling trails that cover the whole area. A lovely way to explore! There is great local theatre, artisanal foods and master chefs peppered among the award-winning wineries of nearby Prince Edward County. Meanwhile you’ll discover incredible heritage experiences to take part in at Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg and Kingston’s Fort Henry. Check out www.thegreatwaterway.com for all the information you need for a memorable trip.
A special memento
You’ve probably heard of (and quite possible enjoyed) tasty Thousand Islands salad dressing, and it’s right here that it hails from. It was originally created by a ship’s steward at the request of George Boldt, the proprietor of New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel as he cruised the Thousand Islands. It turned out to be quite the starting pointing for that steward’s culinary career as he later went on to successfully climb the culinary ranks of the Waldorf Astoria. Today he is also renowned for creating other signature dishes such as the Veal Oscar and the Waldorf Salad. For a nice little memento, don’t forget to pick up a bottle to keep your holiday memories alive back home.
Plan your trip
One of the best ways to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Thousand Islands for yourself is on a fly drive holiday. Spend as long as you like cruising the water and exploring the towns before enjoying the beauty of the rest of Ontario.
The Thousand Islands feature on a lot of our fly drive itineraries including our popular Ontario Taster Holiday and Heritage Trail Holiday.