There are so many incredible things to do in the Thousand Islands Ontario, and it’s the perfect road trip destination. Whether you’re traveling from Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec, or anywhere within southern Ontario, you’re only a short distance from unprecedented beauty.
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There’s really something for everyone in the 1000 Islands. If you love outdoor activities, you’re in the right place. But, there’s also delicious food and drink, fascinating history, and small town charms.
So, why is it called the Thousand Islands? It’s actually an archipelago of 1,864 islands on the St. Lawrence River between Canada and the USA. Some of the islands are Canadian and some are American. The 1000 Islands region consists of the thousands of islands themselves, the surrounding mainland region, and the Thousand Islands National Park in Canada. To be considered one of the 1,864 islands, the island must have a minimum of one square foot of land above the water level all year long and it must support two living trees or more. The islands are actually the tops of an ancient mountain range that predates the last Ice Age.
I’m going to show you precisely why you need to plan your trip to the 1000 Islands. There’s so much more to this region than the famous Thousand Islands salad dressing that was invented here! There are so many fun things to do in the Thousand Islands that you’ll want to spend at least a weekend here, if not three days or a week long holiday in the area.
Explore the Charming Town of Gananoque
Gananoque is the Canadian gateway to the 1000 Islands, and it’s the largest community in the region. With that said, it’s still an adorable small town (a population of about 5,000 year long residents) that you’ll want to wander around and explore on foot or bicycle. The town’s name is pronounced Gan-an-aw-kway, but it’s simply known as Gan to the locals. It’s right along the St. Lawrence River, so you’ll be able to soak up those beautiful waterfront views from the local parks and restaurant patios. Here are the best things to do in Gananoque, Ontario.
Wander the Gananoque Trail System
Before you hit the trails of the surrounding conservation areas and the Thousand Islands National Park, the town of Gananoque has its own trail system. There are a few loop trails that follow the Gananoque River, meander through local parks, and even take you through the downtown streets.
Specifically, there are three easy paths that are part of the Gananoque Trail System: the Lions Trail (4.3km loop), the Rogers Trail (5.9km loop), and the River Trail (5.0km). I suggest starting your journey at Confederation Park in town where you can admire public art sculptures and gently flowing river views. Confederation Park is Canada’s largest outdoor contemporary art collection and it’s a great place to go for a walk.
Have a Pint at Gan Brewing Company
Gan Brewing Company is the best place to drink craft beer in the 1000 Islands, and it’s a must visit for beer lovers. They brew their beer in small batches using the best ingredients, and their outdoor patio is a fantastic place to unwind after a day of outdoor adventures. I sampled their Highland Bull Scottish ale and it’s really flavorful and refreshing on a hot day.
Shop in Downtown Gananoque
When you’re visiting Gananoque, be sure to walk down their main street (King St E) to check out the little shops and cafes. There are lots of great restaurants and patios, as well as local businesses to find gifts, clothes, and more. I always enjoy walking around small towns for the cute storefronts, old buildings, and the little details.
For instance, there are numerous wooden barrels all along King Street East bursting with flowers, and the barrels themselves are painted with unique colorful art. I also discovered some street art on the sides of the buildings, and you can learn about the history of Gananoque through various mosaic murals around town.
Relax or Swim at Joel Stone Park
Joel Stone Park is right at the southern edge of Gananoque on the waterfront. There’s a marina filled with boats and delightful waterfront scenery. One of the most iconic sights at Joel Stone Park is the red and white lighthouse at the tip of the park. I suggest sitting under a shady tree for a picnic with picture perfect views.
You can also go swimming at Joel Stone Park, and there’s a splash pad for the kids to enjoy in the summer. Right next to Joel Stone Beach, you’ll find the 1000 Islands Boat Museum, the 1000 Islands History Museum, and the Gananoque Boat Line where you can take a cruise around the islands themselves. Also, this area is part of the Waterfront Trail that extends right around the Great Lakes. So, you may decide to start a walking or cycling trip from this point.
Go Hiking in the 1000 Islands
You’ll find some of the best hiking in Ontario here, and hiking is one of the best things to do in the Thousand Islands. Even though the 1000 Islands region isn’t that big, you’ll find numerous hiking trails at the national park and conservation areas for both short and longer treks. For those who love being in the great outdoors, definitely go hiking in the 1000 Islands at least once or twice while you’re there. One important thing to note: be sure to pack your sunscreen and bug spray, with an emphasis on the bug spray. It was quite buggy when I visited and you’ll want to keep the pests away to enjoy the hikes more.
Thousand Islands National Park: Landon Bay
One of the best places to go hiking in the 1000 Islands is at the Thousand Islands National Park. There are several properties that are part of the national park, including several islands and three spaces on the mainland. Most visitors to the area choose to go hiking at Landon Bay, which offers easy hiking trails that offer a big reward for not too much work.
Landon Bay is one of the biggest bays in the region, and there are several hiking trails at Landon Bay in the Thousand Islands National Park. I’ve gone hiking at the Donevan Trail and the Lookout Trail. The Donevan Trail is the main path that encircles the park, and the Lookout Trail is a short detour off the Donevan Trail. From the top of the Lookout Trail, you can enjoy spectacular views of Landon Bay and the 1000 Islands, Ontario.
When you visit Landon Bay, be sure to hop over to Halsteads Bay right across the road from the main Thousand Islands National Park entrance. There’s a big parking lot and you can walk right down to the water from there. It’s a very beautiful and serene place to visit before or after your hike.
Thousand Islands National Park: Jones Creek
The Jones Creek Trails at the Thousand Islands National Park are another fabulous place for hiking adventures. A trek down the Jones Creek Trails showcases old growth forest, wetland habitats, and stunning views of the surrounding waters. The trails themselves are pretty flat so they’re not terribly difficult to navigate. Plus, you’ll see some beautiful views along the way.
I hiked the entire lower section of the Jones Creek Trails: the Bear Loop (0.9km, 20 minutes), the Heron Loop (1km, 25 minutes), the Turtle Loop (0.6km, 20 minutes), and the Eel Loop (0.7km, 20 minutes). You can hike all of them in under a couple of hours for sure. For both the Landon Bay trails and the Jones Creek trails, you can choose to go for a shorter hike and experience the park if you have a limited amount of time.
Here are trail maps of the Thousand Islands National Park, although there are enough signs along the Jones Creek Trails that you won’t need one. The hiking trails themselves are very well marked with the appropriate colors of the trails, depending which one you’re on. The Heron Loop is definitely a highlight with the most scenic views of the wetlands. The Bear Loop is also quite beautiful as you walk between the tall trees. While all of the trails are worth hiking, you need to check out the Heron Loop and the Bear Loop for sure.
Marble Rock Conservation Area
Marble Rock Conservation Area is a hidden gem of the 1000 Islands region, as not too many people venture over to hike at this conservation area. The Thousand Islands National Park is the main draw, so this conservation area is often overlooked. If you love hiking and you’re looking for a little bit of a challenge, I suggest venturing out on these hiking trails.
They’re more challenging than the average trail due to the amount of rocks and boulders that you’ll encounter on the way. You’ll need to watch your step as you traverse across this rocky landscape. There are some hills as well, but the rocks are the main obstacle here. Otherwise, it’s a lengthy journey with several lookout points along the way. About halfway through the hike, you’ll encounter one of the most beautiful viewpoints overlooking a small lake.
The South Loop Trail is 7.2km and I spent about three hours hiking here. There’s also a North Loop where you can add on some extra kilometres if you choose. I hiked on a really hot day, and I found that the South Loop Trail was the perfect amount of hiking. I felt quite exhausted towards the end of this one, but it was a great challenge and I’m happy to have accomplished hiking this one on my own.
Thousand Islands Kayaking Tour
When I visited the Thousand Islands on a trip a couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of going on a 1000 Islands kayaking tour with Justin. The two of us spent the day out on the water with 1000 Islands Kayaking. This is the best way to get up close to many of the 1000 Islands on the Canadian side. In many cases, these islands are only accessible by small boat, and you can paddle right up to them in your kayak.
We saw many incredible sights, including tiny cottages on tiny islands (that often take up the whole island!), the remnants of a sunken shipwreck, and tall, rocky cliffs. It’s also a great way to catch glimpses of local wildlife. This is one of the most biodiverse areas in the whole country. In fact, there are 250 species of birds that live in the 1000 Islands. We saw many species of birds, like geese, ducks, eagles, heron, and even an osprey.
We kayaked to Half Moon Bay, a small cove at the southeastern portion of Bostwick Island. 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.
It was also a great opportunity to get out and stretch our legs on one of the islands. Justin and I enjoyed a delightful packed lunch at Beau Rivage island, and we also went for a short walk there. We made one more stop on McDonald Island to take a look at the glamping accommodations, as well as the small beach there. All in all, the two of us enjoyed a fantastic 1000 Islands tour by kayak, and it’s one of our most memorable kayaking trips yet.
Thousand Islands Boat Tour
One of the most popular things to do in the Thousand Islands is taking a boat cruise of the area. It’s perfect for families and people of all ages to enjoy the surroundings from the comfort of a small cruise boat. I thoroughly enjoyed my 1000 Islands boat cruise with Rockport Cruises. We cruised through the waters of the St. Lawrence River, admiring every new landscape and view that came our way. The boat itself has multiple decks and an indoor area with seating if you feel like taking a break. I stood on one of the outer decks for the entire two hour cruise because I couldn’t get enough of the scenery.
You can see so many tiny islands on the journey, and many of them have small cottages on them. It’s very scenic as you drift through the Canadian waters, beneath the 1000 Islands Bridge and towards the US waters. While we were technically in the USA, you don’t need to bring a passport with you if you aren’t getting off the boat. The entire cruise features a narrated recording over the loud speaker, so you can learn some interesting facts about the history and nature of the area.
One of the highlights of the Rockport Cruises boat tour of the 1000 Islands is spotting Boldt Castle on Heart Island. The story surrounding Boldt Castle is very romantic and also very sad. George C. Boldt set out to build a lavish castle as a symbol of love towards his wife, Louise. In the middle of its construction, his wife suddenly passed away. Boldt halted all construction and never returned to the castle. For many years, this partially built castle was left in ruins. However, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property and has restored and preserved the castle for all to enjoy.
1000 Islands Helicopter Tour
One of those bucket list adventures that you simply must take at least once in your lifetime is a helicopter tour. There’s really no better place to take a helicopter tour than the picturesque Thousand Islands! A helicopter tour is one of the best things to do in the Thousand Islands, and you’ll surely remember this journey for the rest of your life.
I embarked on a helicopter tour with 1000 Islands Helicopter Tours and it was a smooth flight from start to finish. It was the perfect morning for a helicopter tour with clear, sunny skies. You could see far off into the distance to faraway wind farms and even the city of Kingston.
The best part of the helicopter tour was seeing the 1000 Islands from above. I didn’t realize that the waters were so many shades of blue, ranging from turquoise to deep blue. There are so many little parcels of land stretching out to the horizon, and some had tiny cottages on them. It was also wonderful to spot the collections of sailboats surrounding the islands.
You can tour the 1000 Islands by helicopter all year long, although I imagine that the summer and fall tours are likely the prettiest. I’d be curious to see what this landscape looks like in the winter, too! There are multiple tours, excusions, and packages, so you’ll have to take a look at their website to decide which is best for you.
1000 Islands Tower
The 1000 Islands Tower features some of the most spectacular views of the region. Take the elevator all the way to the top of the first observation deck and enjoy the 360 degree panoramic views. You can enjoy breathtaking scenery from three observation decks.
It was really neat to see the 1000 Islands Tower from the boat cruise, and then you can plan to go to the top of the tower for the views of the river where the boats operate. I highly recommend traveling to the 1000 Islands and viewing this unique scenery from as many perspectives as possible to make the most of your stay.
1000 Islands Restaurants: Where to Eat & Drink
Looking for restaurants in the 1000 Islands? Once you’ve experienced many Thousand Islands attractions and activities, I’m sure you’ve worked up an appetite. Thankfully, there are many fabulous eateries and patios with delicious food and drink all over the region. Here are a few of my favorites that you should check out when you’re there.
The Purple House
The Purple House is a family run establishment in the heart of Gananoque. You’ll immediately know that you’re in the right place when you spot the purple house near the waterfront. They’re best known for their wood fired pizzas, salads, and more. While they work with local farmers to use the freshest ingredients in their meals, they also grow some of their own vegetables on site.
I sampled their vegetarian pizza (minus the cheese) and the Purple House salad (minus the goat cheese). The pizza was topped with lots of fresh veggies, although I’d love to see them offer a vegan cheese in the future for their plant-based customers. The Purple House salad has mixed greens, berries, candied walnuts, and a house maple balsamic vinaigrette that’s super tasty.
Muskie Jake’s Tap & Grill
Muskie Jake’s Tap & Grill is part of the Gananoque Inn & Spa, although you can certainly dine there if you’re not staying at the hotel. They’ve got an amazing patio at the back of the restaurant overlooking the river. Their vegan offering is the veggie burger, a Beyond patty served with all of the classic burger toppings.
Muskie Jake’s is quite vegan and vegetarian friendly. They also have a veggie wrap and a summer pasta that are naturally vegetarian and could probably be made vegan upon request. The burger is quite delicious, so I do recommend ordering that with a side of fries.
Donnelly’s on the River
Donnelly’s on the River is moments outside of Gananoque in the village of Ivy Lea. As you can expect, it’s right on the river with beautiful scenery from the patio while you dine. You’ll find lots of pub fare, pasta, pizza and more, along with an impressive offering of vegan menu items. All of the gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options are marked clearly on the menu.
There’s a vegetable and bean soup, vegetable spring rolls, a vegan Beyond Meat burger, a vegetable stir fry, veggie pizza (where you can add vegan cheese), a vegan wrap, and the river nachos. I was looking for a lighter snack when I visited, so I ordered a platter of the vegan nachos that hit the spot.
While I only stopped for coffee at Laverne’s one morning, they’ve got a fantastic dining menu, too. I’d love to return for lunch one day as they have a great selection of vegan dishes. For instance, they offer vegan tacos, burritos, fajitas on “Fiesta Fridays”, and there are delicious noodle salads, tofu salads, vegan burgers and sandwiches throughout the rest of the week.
If you only have time to stop for coffee or you’re looking for some caffeine first thing in the morning, pop over to Laverne’s. I was greeted by really friendly employees and enjoyed the welcoming environment.
Panache Bakery & Cafe
Looking for a sweet treat and a coffee first in the morning? I can never get enough coffee, so I was thrilled to try two different spots in downtown Gananoque: Laverne’s and Panache Bakery & Cafe. They’ve got freshly baked bread, pastries and treats, and yummy coffee.
I asked if there were any vegan treats and to my delight, there was one! Grab one of their date squares if you’re seeking a treat without any animal products. They’re really delicious and I enjoyed mine first thing in the morning with a freshly brewed cup of coffee.
BUSL Cider is one of the top places to visit in the 1000 Islands if you love craft beverages and delicious cider in all kinds of flavors. They’re about 5km from Mallorytown and situated on a beautiful property overlooking fields and orchards. BUSL Cider has a fantastic outdoor patio where you can truly unwind with a refreshing drink in your hand.
Their premium ciders use apples fresh from their own apple orchards, and they also grow a variety of other crops for unique blends. You can feel good about supporting this family owned business, and their delicious ciders stand out from the pack.
Where to Stay in Gananoque
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.
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. It’s such a great getaway for families. I saw many families with small children at the swimming pool, and it reminded me of those amazing family vacations that I took when I was a kid. For those who seek moments of self-care, indulge in one of their spa treatments for rejuvenation and serenity.
I thoroughly enjoyed my two nights at the Colonial Resort & Spa and highly recommend that you stay there. It’s the perfect home base for exploring and experiencing all of the best things to do in the Thousand Islands. Book your stay at the Colonial Resort & Spa, or feel free to check out more reviews written by fellow travelers who have stayed there.