Located approximately three hours east of Toronto, the Thousand Islands are scattered like jewels along the St. Lawrence Seaway for roughly 80 kilometres. A favourite for nature lovers, bird-watchers, vacationers, and anyone looking to get out of the city for a day or two, the Islands are one of Southern Ontario’s most aesthetically pleasing attractions.
Downstream from the city of Kingston to just beyond the riverside resort town of Gananoque, the Thousands Islands (there are 1,864 of them, to be precise) stretch eastwards up the mighty river that drains the Great Lakes into the Atlantic Ocean. 20 of these islands form Thousand Islands National Park, the oldest national park in Canada east of the Rockies. Scattered among the islands are imposing vacation homes, some of the more historical ones resembling castles. War of 1812 historic sites also dot the area.
Split between Canada and the United States, these islands are accessible in a variety of ways. Many can be seen from vehicular highways or biking and walking paths on either side of the international border. The Thousand Islands Bridge crosses the border and runs across the largest American island, Wellesley Island, upon which can be found several New York state parks. Vehicle and passenger ferries run from Kingston to Wolfe Island, the largest of the Canadian islands, and Howe Island can also be reached by car via ferries.
The best and most relaxing way to experience the Thousand Islands, however, is by boat. Sightseeing tours depart from Kingston (the nearest port to Toronto for the Islands), Gananoque, Brockville, or Rockport, Ontario, as well as various locations on the American side. Many boat tour companies also offer private charters, dining experiences, and sunset and twilight cruises, so be sure to look into advanced reservations before venturing out to the area.
Kingston is the recommended port of call for these tours not only because it is the nearest to Toronto, but also because the lively historical centre near the tour boat docks offers dining, entertainment, and a unique history to the visitor as well. For longer visits, the Thousands Islands boast a variety of leisurely outdoor possibilities, including sailing, swimming, hiking, fishing, and diving.
Whether for the day or for a longer period of time, the Thousand Islands are a notable and lovely destination not far from Toronto. Visitors to the city should strongly consider adding this beautiful river paradise to their list of must-sees when in the area.