Canadian Roadtrip #4: Thousand Islands

When we were I told people we were spending a night in the Thousand Islands on our Canadian road trip they just looked confused.  Apparently many people think the Thousand Islands is just a salad dressing.  In fact, the Thousand Islands constitute an archipelago of 1,864 islands in the St. Lawrence River that straddle the U.S. – Canadian border.  These islands vary in size from supporting small communities to single residences to uninhabited outcroppings of rocks and have an interesting history from rum-running and pirates to summer residences for the wealthy.

Touring the Thousand Islands by boat

Since my days in college working at AAA making TripTiks (remember those?), the Thousand Islands sounded like an intriguing place to visit.  My mom, who joined us on our road trip, was also interested in exploring this area.  About halfway between Toronto and Montreal, it also made a great way to break up our drive between destinations.  We decided the best way to explore the islands was via a boat cruise.  There are many options from Kingston and other towns but we decided on the five-hour cruise from Gananoque on the Gananoque Boat Line (if you go, print out the coupon for a small savings.)

Gananaque Boat Line | Thousand Islands boat trip

After arriving in town we had a quick lunch at Panache on King Street. This bakery cafe has a limited menu but the bread is delicious and the service was friendly.  While they didn’t have any thousand island dressing (gasp!), they did throw in a cookie for the kid. We then went down to the waterfront to catch our boat.  I thought it would get chilly on our 3-8 pm cruise but there were actually plenty of seats inside.

Lighthouses in the Thousand Islands

During the cruise, our guide pointed out many landmarks and unique residences.  The tour also include a two-hour stop at Heart Island to see Boldt Castle. Millionaire hotel magnate George C. Boldt began construction on the castle in 1900 as a tribute to his beloved wife Louise as their summer dream home. However, Mrs. Boldt passed away suddenly just months before the completion of the castle. Mr. Boldt was inconsolable and immediately stopped all construction on Heart Island, leaving the property vacant for over seventy years. It has recently been purchased by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority and is being restored to its intended grandeur.

Touring the Thousand Islands by boat - Boldt Castle

Boldt Castle

Since Heart Island is officially in New York, we had to bring our passports and go through a very quick immigration stop before entering the island.  We also had to purchase tickets, which were not included in the cost of the cruise, before beginning our exploration.  Living in RI, we’ve visited Newport many times and I had the expectation that the Boldt Castle visit would be similar to a Newport Mansion tour but I was wrong.  To start, there is not a guided tour.  In addition, while I knew that construction had stopped when Mrs. Heart died, I didn’t realize how little of the mansion interior was actually completed.  The two-hour layover was a bit excessive given how much there really was to see.  Most of the first floor is complete, as well as a few of the bedrooms, but the rest is stripped down to the wallboards.

Boldt Castle in the Thousand Islands

The boat house at Boldt Castle

We saw what there was to see and then spent the remainder of our time exploring the grounds and basking in the sun at the dock until our ship was ready to sail. When we arrived back at our dock, we had a late dinner of schnitzel at the Maple Leaf Restaurant before settling in for the night at the Holiday Inn Express. 

St Lawrence River at Sunset in the Thousand Islands

While I enjoyed our brief introduction to the Thousand Islands, I think we would really enjoy an extended stay in the area.  It would be great to rent a cabin on an island and enjoy a week of watersports and relaxation.  If you are a scuba diver, there are also a number of shipwrecks in the area to explore (although I imagine the water is pretty cold!)  If you only have a day, rent a boat and get out there on the water or take a short river cruise and spend the afternoon exploring the town and enjoying the local theater.  The five hour cruise is definitely overkill. For us, we enjoyed our complimentary breakfast (love the automatic pancake maker) and then headed on to Montreal.


Kids Stay and Eat Free

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  1. […] as close to Europe as we could get in North America.  We took some time during our drive from the Thousand Islands to Montreal to brush up on some basic French phrases.  We didn’t do very well, which worked […]

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