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1000 Islands Kayaking Tour: The Best Way to Get Up Close to the Islands

1000 Islands Kayaking

Embarking on a 1000 Islands kayaking tour is one of the top ways to explore the region, up close and personal. There’s really nothing like a peaceful paddle in this stunning region of Ontario, Canada. As you drift past numerous islands, both big and small, you never know what you’ll discover around every turn. We’re going to show you exactly how to take the best 1000 Islands kayaking day trip with an amazing, knowledgeable guide. This way, you’ll explore the most unique places and learn the stories behind them.

Kayaking in the Thousand Islands truly allows you to explore spaces that are relatively inaccessible otherwise. It’s the perfect activity if you’re spending a weekend or a few days in the area. Add this one to your 1000 Islands itinerary for sure! Even if you aren’t a seasoned paddler, it’s not a problem. This 1000 Islands kayaking trip is suitable for those at a beginner and an advanced level.

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Before heading to the Thousand Islands, Justin and I stayed overnight in Kingston after going stand-up paddleboarding on the St. Lawrence River. These couple of days involved lots of adventures on the water for us. Our next stop was the town of Gananoque to meet our tour guides at 1000 Islands Kayaking.

Day Tour With 1000 Islands Kayaking

1000 Islands kayaking tour

We met the owner of 1000 Islands Kayaking, Scott, and our tour guide for the day, Kelly. Scott was so enthusiastic about kayaking and the region; we could really see his passion for the Thousand Islands. Kelly took us out to the pier and talked briefly about the kayaks and paddles we would be using for the day. We received a quick safety briefing and paddling instructions.

Before long, Justin and I were in the water and paddling away from Gananoque. We were mindful of the larger ferries and boats along the St. Lawrence River. This waterway hosts many larger ships carrying passengers all over the 1000 Islands. Though we did not encounter many vessels, we were certain to always give them the right of way.

Thousand Islands kayaking tour
Thousand Islands kayaking tour

Kelly guided us through a basic “Kayaking 101” lesson, showing us a few different types of kayaking strokes. These short lessons were naturally integrated into our kayaking tour as we meandered down the river. Despite the fact that we had kayaked before, we’d actually never been given a formal lesson. It was really nice knowing how to maneuver our kayaks easily when we needed to change our position (if we were about to glide into a rock…or each other). The most valuable part of this lesson was learning how to stop! Kelly was a great teacher who had such a bright and cheerful attitude throughout the day.

Learning About the Landscape

One tree on an island in the 1000 Islands

The 1000 Islands is actually comprised of 1,864 islands in total. The islands are actually the tops of an ancient mountain range that once stood tall in this region before the last Ice Age. When the glaciers melted and water flowed, it formed the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. Most of the mountain range was submerged, leaving some rocky, granite land masses to protrude from the surface of the water. These are the islands that exist today.

Kayaking in the 1000 Islands
Kayaking in the 1000 Islands
Cottages in the Thousand Islands
Thousand Islands Cottages

Kelly guided us past Sisters Island and Pike Island. We floated along the river, passing many custom built cottages and buildings on our way. One cottage was designed to look as though it was partially submerged into the water. Once we were past the larger mouth of the river, we entered much calmer channels. The water was very still with small ripples forming only when our paddles pierced the surface.

The Wonders of the 1000 Islands

Turtle on a log in the 1000 Islands region

The 1000 Islands are part of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. It is notable for its biodiversity. This region’s Precambrian rock provides habitat for many rare and endangered species, including many reptiles and amphibians. There are also over 250 species of birds that live in this area. We saw many types of birds while we kayaked, including a variety of geese, ducks, eagles, heron, and even an osprey (a species that nearly died out from pesticide use and whose numbers are slowly increasing due to conservation efforts).

Paddling in the Thousand Islands

Kelly showed us the remnants of a sunken shipwreck with an interesting tale. Back in the early 1900s, the ship was purposely run aground. At a New Year’s Eve party in the 1930s, the owners celebrated on the ship and decided to sink the ship once and for all. They lit the ship on fire and fled presumably across the frozen water back to land. As we paddled by, we could easily see parts of the ship visible underwater. The water was quite clear throughout our journey. We continued to paddle around the Admiralty Islands in awe of our beautiful surroundings.

Kayaking to Half Moon Bay

Half Moon Bay, 1000 Islands, Canada

We kayaked to Half Moon Bay, a small cove at the southeastern portion of Bostwick Island. It is a secluded area with tall, rocky cliffs. Unlike some of the other islands, these cliffs are flat, smoothed by the rushing water during the glacial melt. This cove is a natural amphitheater, and also known as the tallest cathedral. Church services of a variety of denominations are held here on a regular basis. Since the 1800s, people have paddled their small boats into Half Moon Bay to worship together.

Our 1000 Islands, Ontario kayak tour continued around Bostwick Island and past Mermaid Island. Our midday destination was Beau Rivage Island where we would eat lunch together.

Lunch at Beau Rivage Island

Beau Rivage Island, Thousand Islands

We informed Scott that we both consumed a vegan diet ahead of time, and he was happy to accommodate our diet. The meal relied heavily on fresh, local produce and could easily be altered into a vegan dish. While Kelly prepared our meal in one of the pavilions, Justin and I explored a section of Beau Rivage on our own. It was a peaceful and quiet island with only a few visitors who traveled there by boat. Camping was permitted on Beau Rivage, though we would only be staying a short while.

Beau Rivage Island, Thousand Islands

Kelly called us for lunch and we were astounded at how amazing this meal looked! It was hard to believe that we transported all of the ingredients stowed away in our kayaks, and Kelly prepared everything so quickly! There were loads of fresh veggies to be placed inside rosemary wraps from a local farmer’s market. The meal used almost all locally produced ingredients from the farms of South Eastern Ontario. Some vegetables, such as the lettuce, came right from Kelly’s own backyard garden! She made a zucchini hummus and a quinoa/kale salad. There were also plates of fresh fruits that were perfectly ripe. We were so delighted with this healthy and delicious lunch.

Vegan lunch with 1000 Islands Kayaking tour on Beau Rivage Island
Vegan lunch with 1000 Islands Kayaking tour on Beau Rivage Island
Vegan lunch with 1000 Islands Kayaking tour on Beau Rivage Island
Vegan lunch with 1000 Islands Kayaking tour on Beau Rivage Island

Kayaking to McDonald Island

Scott joined us for the remainder of our Thousand Islands kayaking trip. We made one more stop on McDonald Island to catch some glimpses of the tiny beach and the oTENTik accommodations there. These cabins are a comfortable alternative to camping, so you can stay indoors within the wilderness. Justin and I aren’t hugely into camping, even though we love spending time outdoors. Glamping is the perfect compromise for us. I’d love to stay here one day!

Outside the oTENTik cabins on McDonald Island
McDonald Island in the Thousand Islands
McDonald Island in the Thousand Islands
Snake on McDonald Island

On the way back, we absorbed the scenery all around us. You simply must kayak the 1000 Islands when you’re here. It’s a breathtaking region and we only skimmed the surface of what it has to offer. Plus, taking a Thousand Islands kayaking tour with a knowledgeable guide is a must.

Our 1000 Islands Kayaking guide, Kelly
Kelly, our kayaking guide for the day trip
Kayaking Thousand Islands - Kayaking Ontario
Kayaking Thousand Islands - Kayaking Ontario
Thousand Islands paddling tour

Kelly went into great detail about the flora and fauna as we encountered it on our journey. She’s not only an expert about kayaking and the natural surroundings, but also cares deeply for the environment. We had a fabulous day out on the water with her. Kayaking in the 1000 Islands is such an enriching experience, both for the physical exercise and the gorgeous nature.

1000 Islands Tours and Adventures

Thousand Islands paddling tour

We highly recommend 1000 Islands Kayaking and their tours. We had a fantastic day, filled with many memorable moments. 1000 Islands Kayaking offers full and half day tours, kayaking lessons, and even a “paddle and a pint” where you go kayaking and then out to a local pub afterwards! 

Kayaking in Ontario Canada

Looking for more adventures in the 1000 Islands and beyond? Here are the best things to do in the Thousand Islands for a weekend, three days, or more. You can go hiking at the 1000 Islands National Park or check out the Hell Holes Nature Trails and caves on a road trip traveling west of Kingston. Keen on hiking? Here are the top hiking trails in the 1000 Islands, including the Thousand Islands National Park and Marble Rock Conservation Area.

Where to Stay in Gananoque

Colonial Resort & Spa in Gananoque Ontario Canada

I stayed at the Colonial Resort & Spa when I traveled to the Thousand Islands, and it was the perfect place to stay. Even though I was out and about for most of the day, it’s always nice to have a cozy and comfortable place to call home. The location is ideal for a trip to the 1000 Islands. You’re within walking distance of downtown Gananoque and the whole Thousand Islands region is only a short drive away. It’s only a couple of minutes away from the kayaking launch site.

Colonial Resort & Spa in Gananoque Ontario Canada
Colonial Resort & Spa in Gananoque Ontario Canada

The Colonial Resort & Spa offers complimentary Wi-Fi, a mini fridge, a flatscreen TV with cable channels, and both an indoor and outdoor swimming pool. There’s free parking right outside of your room. Book your stay at the Colonial Resort & Spa, or feel free to check out more reviews written by fellow travelers who have stayed there.

Rather stay at an Airbnb apartment rental or cottage in the area? Take a look at these Airbnb properties in Gananoque for waterfront tiny homes and cottage rentals.

Looking for More Kayaking Adventures?

Justin and I love to kayak when we travel. Here are some more blog posts and features about kayaking from around the world:

More Things to Do in South Eastern Ontario

Looking for even more things to do in South Eastern Ontario? I’ve got many travel blog posts and travel guides for you.

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Have you ever visited the 1000 Islands?

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Danielle Dorrie

Friday 23rd of December 2016

What month did you do this in? Thanks for letting me know about this place. I am in Bangor, Maine, similar latitude, and its's 30 and snowing - if it's kayaking and tank top weather there now, I'm getting in my car and driving!!!! Adding this to my list of places to visit. I love Canada!


Wednesday 26th of August 2020

I went kayaking in July - it's best done in the summer months from June to September for sure while it's still warm out.


Thursday 24th of November 2016

Hi Justin and Lauren. This just popped up in my home feed and I wanted to comment. I live and kayak along throughout the 1000 Islands and have for a number of years. I've also gone on kayaking expedition trips all over the world and some of the most challenging and beautiful spots can be found along those 1000 Islands. Coincidentally, I took a kayaking lesson from 1000 Islands kayaking before I started out in the sport many, many years ago and also highly recommend them. I'm glad you enjoyed yourself here and thank you for highlighting this beautiful area


Wednesday 26th of August 2020

That's amazing, I'm glad that your kayaking journey started with 1000 Islands Kayaking - so cool! It's a beautiful region to explore for sure.


Monday 21st of September 2015

Beautiful! I never really thought of kayaking when visiting Canada but this would be a really good idea actually! And the scenery really reminds me of Finland, so serene!


Wednesday 26th of August 2020

Ooooh in that case... I must visit Finland!! :)

Ron | Active Planet Travels

Wednesday 9th of September 2015

I love kayaking so much. I was thinking about visiting Ontario here in the near future - this sounds like the perfect adventure to take outside. My last trip was down in Florida through Juniper Springs.

Granted it was rainy the ENTIRE time, but it was a nice refreshing change from the Florida heat & humidity! haha :-)


Monday 7th of September 2015

Looks like a peaceful and beautiful place. I tried kayaking once and I wasn't very good at it!

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