To say there are thousands of things to do and see in the Thousand Islands isn’t a stretch. There’s so much to see and do, in fact, that it’s hard to know where to begin.
The region is a sightseer’s paradise and a destination for those seeking an authentic, outdoor-focused vacation. Vacationers have been coming to the Thousand Islands for more than 150 years to enjoy its scenic beauty. There are a total of 1,864 islands, in case you were wondering. Many of the islands are open to the public and are home to parks, campgrounds and seasonal homes.
As for things to do, visitors will discover lighthouses, historic castles, maritime museums, world-class fishing and diving, quaint downtown shopping, on-the-water dining, family amusements and more.
COVID-19 Note: It’s a good idea to check destination/business websites for the most up-to-date information on hours, capacities, prices, the need for reservations, etc. At this writing, the U.S.-Canada border remains closed to non-essential crossings.
PLACES TO STAY
Accommodations in the region are diverse: You can rent private island homes, stay in waterfront inns and beds-and-breakfast, check in to full-service and locally owned and operated “mom and pop’’ hotels and motels or find a cottage to call home. Those who like to get back to nature will find a mix of public and private campgrounds, many of which are on the water with island views.
Boldt Castle, located on Heart Island, near Alexandria Bay, is one of the area’s top attractions. A visit to the castle shines the light on the magnificence of a bygone era – and on a sad love story. Construction of the Boldt Castle was commissioned in 1900 by millionaire George C. Boldt, proprietor of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. The grand, 120-room castle was intended to be a display of love for Boldt’s wife, Louise. She died suddenly in 1904 and construction of the castle stopped. The castle was abandoned for more than 70 years, until the Thousand Island Bridge Authority acquired the property in 1977.
Boldt Castle is accessible by tour boat, water taxi and personal watercraft through mid-October.
The Antique Boat Museum, located on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in Clayton, features the largest collection of antique and classic boats on display in North America. While visiting the museum you can learn about boating history on the St. Lawrence, row a St. Lawrence skiff in French Bay, tour George Boldt’s historic two-story houseboat and take a speedboat ride through the islands in a triple-cockpit runabout. Visit the museum’s website for information on events and education classes.
Alexandria Bay has been called the heart of the Thousand Islands. The village is on the edge of the St. Lawrence Seaway and visitors love to get out on the water. Taking a boat tour is a great way to get insights on local history and the best way to see things like Boldt Castle and the mansions of Millionaire Row. Several boat tour options are available in Alexandria Bay and seats fill up quickly in the busy summer season.
The best way to get to know Alexandria Bay is to take a walk in the village. Shop for souvenirs at stores and galleries and enjoy a meal at one of the many restaurants. Options include everything from casual, grab-and-go food to more upscale sit-down dining.
Clayton is another charming riverfront community. It’s a major destination for lovers of classic boats (thanks to the Antique Boat Museum), the arts and history. The Clayton Opera House has been part of the community for more than a century. Wildlife art, including decoys, is the focus of the Thousand Islands Museum. The Thousand Islands Art Center, home of the Handweaving Museum, hosts exhibits and classes.
If you’re just looking to relax, take a walk along Clayton’s Riverside Drive and enjoy a meal overlooking the water.
There are tons of ways to explore the vast woods and waters of the Thousand Islands: hiking, camping, boat tours, water sports, go karts, miniature golf – you name it. Pack a picnic and spend the day at one of the region’s state parks. Or take in a movie at the Bay Drive In, a mainstay in Alexandria Bay.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE
The Thousand Islands region is home to more than a dozen winemakers, brewers and distillers, including Coyote Moon Vineyard, Grindstone Island Winery, Wood Boat Brewery and Clayton Distillery in Clayton and St. Lawrence Spirits, Dark Island Spirits and Thousand Islands Vineyard in Alexandria Bay.
The Thousand Islands Agricultural Tour spotlights the diversity of agriculture in the region, which has long been known for its dairy farms and traditional products, like maple syrup and honey. The tour encourages visitors to take a drive in the country and visit farms, food producers and more.
Speaking of farms: Alexandria Bay holds a farmers market each Friday through mid-September. It’s held 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the parking lot of Kinney Drugs, just off Route 12.
The signature food experience of the Thousand Islands region is the traditional shore dinner. Charter boat captains have been serving these feasts to their guests for more than a century – and the tradition continues. The shore dinner is often an option available when chartering a private fishing boat. The day’s catch is the star of the meal, which typically begins with a salt pork sandwich appetizer. Also included is fried fish, salt potatoes, corn on the cob and tossed salad with Thousand Island dressing. Dessert is French toast with maple syrup.
Thousand Island dressing originated in the region, though its origins are the subject of lively debate. Don’t leave without picking up a bottle of the famous salad enhancer.
Source: 1000 Islands International Tourism Council, https://visit1000islands.com
ST. LAWRENCE COUNTY
St. Lawrence County is New York State’s largest county. It covers 2,840 square miles and offers activities for people of all ages, at all times of the year.
Canton, the county seat, is a college town with a historic business district, golf course, parks and museums. It is home to two universities, St. Lawrence University and SUNY Canton.
Many people are drawn to St. Lawrence County for its fresh air and peaceful, wide-open spaces. With hundreds of rivers, lakes, reservoirs and streams, there are endless opportunities to cast a line and fish. Canoeing and kayaking are popular, as well. Like to hike? There are plenty of trails to wander. If you like to camp, you’ve come to the right place. A place as vast as St. Lawrence County has plenty of state parks, many with beaches and campsites with river views and access.
The county also has much to offer visitors in terms of history, art and culture. The Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg is dedicated to the life and work of the renowned artist of the Old West. Smaller museums and galleries can be found throughout the region, and two barn quilt trails, Hammond’s Barn Quilt Trail and Colton’s Barn Quilt Trail, run throughout the county. Blocks painted to resemble quilt squares adorn the exterior of barns and other buildings, creating an art exhibit visible from the seat of your car.
Source: St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, https://www.visitstlc.com
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