1,000* things to do in the 1000 Islands

*Okay, just six — but it’s a start toward exploring this expansive border-straddling region of rocky islands, sparkling coves and hidden history

  • Published Dec 06, 2022
  • Updated Dec 07
  • 913 words
  • 4 minutes
As one of the most picturesque locations in Ontario, the 1000 Islands contain more than 1,800 islands just waiting to be explored. (Photo: Madigan Cotterill/Can Geo)
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Crystal blue waters, quaint lakeside towns and even a heart-shaped island at the centre of a tragic love story: all of this, and more, is just waiting to be explored in the 1000 Islands, a surprisingly underrated destination in southeastern Ontario.

Straddling the border of Canada and the United States, the 1000 Islands are actually a collection of 1,864 islands located along the St. Lawrence River between Kingston and Brockville. A sightseer’s paradise, the area is known for its beauty, world-class fishing, rich history, and of course, Thousand Islands dressing.

There are as many things to do in the 1000 islands as there are islands, from touring Boldt Castle to participating in a food tour around Kingston and even watching a waterside play in Gananoque. Scattered throughout the islands and surrounding deep blue waters are also shipwrecks, museums, and mansions that reflect the history and culture of the area. Wondering how you can experience it all? Start with these six top activities and attractions.

Panoramic views from the top of the 1000 Islands Tower. (Photo: Madigan Cotterill/Can Geo)
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1000 Islands Tower

For sky-high views of the 1000 Islands at a slower pace, consider the 1000 Islands Tower. Located on Hill Island, the tower was built in 1965 for tourism purposes and rises to 121 metres. It takes just 40 seconds to get to the top by elevator, after which visitors can admire the breathtaking scenery from any of three observation levels. “For us, it’s one of the most beautiful spots in the world,” says Heidi Linckh, the current owner of the tower. Linckh and her husband Konrad bought the tower in 2013 and have welcomed visitors ever since. “If you go up the CN Tower in Toronto, you can see what mankind can do,” says Linckh. “But if you go up this tower, you can see what nature can do.”

Kingston Trolley tour

Whether you’re two years old or 92 years old, Kingston Trolley Tours is for anyone who wants to see the highlights of Canada’s first capital. Aboard the bright red 32-passenger trolley, you’ll visit Fort Henry, the campus of Queen’s University, and pass the Kingston Penitentiary. While driving past the empty Rockwood Asylum, you might even catch a glimpse of a ghost peeking through one of the hundreds of empty windows.

The Rockwood Asylum, one of the highlights of the Kingston Trolley Tour. (Photo: Madigan Cotterill/Can Geo)
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Inside one of Kingston's infamous trolleys. (Photo: Madigan Cotterill/Can Geo)
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Inside the Thousand Island Boat Museum's magnificent triple cockpit Gar Wood that visitors can experience on a 30-minute ride. (Photo: Madigan Cotterill/Can Geo)
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The Thousand Islands Boat Museum

The true lifeblood of the 1000 Islands is the St. Lawrence River, so no visit to the area would be complete without an experience on the water. The Thousand Islands Boat Museum in Gananoque offers visitors the chance to discover the heritage of the St. Lawrence River and the 1000 Islands through hands-on exhibits and interactive panels. Then, hop in one of the museum’s lovingly preserved crafts and enjoy an exciting 30-minute ride around the 1000 Islands. The museum also includes an authentic working boat shop where youth can sign up for boat building and restoration classes.

Kingston Food Tours

Calling all foodies! The limestone heart of Canada’s original capital is home to a wide array of restaurants, bars and cafes just waiting to be explored. With the insight of a local guide, Kingston Food Tours offers guided walking tours of the city focusing on the unique shops, artisans, farmers and restaurants that make up Kingston’s thriving local food scene. From beer-battered haddock tacos with avocado cream on a soft corn tortilla from Dianne’s Fish Shack to locally sourced beef cheek that has been braised for eight hours in red wine, garlic, and celery and drizzled with truffle oil served over gnocchi, this tour will leave you satisfied and stuffed. The tour takes two to three hours to complete and includes stops at places like the famous Pan Chancho Bakery and Kingston Olive Oil Co., where you can taste unique olive oil flavours like chocolate, orange and even coconut.

1000 Islands Helicopter Tours offers rides from 10 minutes to an hour in length. All tours provide breathtaking views of the 1000 Islands area along with an exhilarating ride. (Photo: Madigan Cotterill/Can Geo)
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1000 Islands helicopter tour

For visitors looking for a real thrill, a helicopter flight can’t be beat. Offering arguably the best views of the 1000 Islands on flights ranging from 10 minutes to one hour, 1000 Islands Helicopter Tours and Kouri’s Kopters will show you the highlights of the region from above, including Boldt Castle, Kingston, and even a couple of shipwrecks in shallow water that can be seen from the air.

Boldt Castle

Located in the centre of the 1000 Islands is Boldt Castle, one of the area’s most intriguing landmarks. In 1900, George Boldt, general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, ordered the construction of the castle on the aptly-named Heart Island as a gift for his wife, Louise Kehrer Boldt. Featuring a powerhouse where two steam generators were kept, stained glass ceilings, a grand entryway and even a separate children’s playhouse, Boldt Castle was a remarkably grandiose structure featuring 120 rooms and beautiful Italian gardens. In 1904, however, tragedy struck — Boldt’s beloved wife suddenly passed away without ever having set foot on the island. After Louise’s passing, Boldt halted construction, leaving the island abandoned for 73 years. During that time, the structure was significantly damaged by wind, rain, snow and vandals. It wasn’t until 1977, when the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property, that repairs began to be made and Boldt’s vision completed. Standing as a testament to loss and love, Boldt Castle is one of the most popular attractions within the 1000 Islands and is accessible by shuttle or ferry.

Boldt Castle's powerhouse pictured beside an old illustration of the property. (Photo: Madigan Cotterill/Can Geo)
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Boldt Castle and Heart Island as seen from the sky. (Photo: Madigan Cotterill/Can Geo)
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