Stretching down from the north-east corner of Lake Ontario, the picturesque Thousand Islands region spans an incredible 80 kilometres, snaking along the Saint Lawrence River along the border of the United States and Canada. Something of a misnomer, the Thousand Islands are actually made up of an incredible 1,864 islands, constituting one of the American continent’s largest archipelagos.
Comprising of everything from vast 100 km² islands to islands occupied only by one single residence and then beyond to scores of tiny, rocky outcroppings home only to the region’s avian population, the 1000 Islands region is a veritable microcosm of island life. With rules stipulating that in order to qualify as an island, an islet must be above water all year round, have an area greater than 0.093 m² and support at least one living tree, its perhaps no wonder that the archipelago is quite so vast.
Scattered about the Canadian province of Ontario and the U.S. state of New York, despite forming a popular vacation destination since the mid-1800s, it was towards the beginning of the twentieth century that the Thousand Islands truly came to prominence. A major factor in the region’s renaissance was without a doubt the construction of the Thousand Islands International Bridge – a mechanical behemoth which connected the United States and Canada.
Spanning both banks of the Saint Lawrence River, this incredible structure exists to this day, with an average of two million crossings, year after year. Responsible for opening up the region to guests from both sides of the international border, the opening of the bridge saw a dramatic increase in visitor figures and heralded the beginning of what must really be considered the golden age of the Thousand Islands Chain.
Once home to all of the movers and shakers of the American entertainment and business scenes; the 1000 Islands was very much a millionaire’s playground. As prominent businessmen rushed to snap up the most beautiful islands, a series of incredible houses and mansions were erected, including the magnificent Singer Castle and Boldt Castle (created by the director of the Singer Sewing Company and the GM of the NYC Waldorf-Astoria Hotel respectively).
These days, the Thousand Islands chain is a popular destination for outdoors-types and keen sightseers. First-timers to the region are recommended to start their stay with one of the many river cruises. Calling in at the maritime museums and all of the area’s most important landmarks, these guided tours are without doubt the best way to get one’s bearings and find a foot within the diverse history of the islands.
Once home to pirates, bootleggers and a whole lot of high society high jinks, the history of the Thousand Islands is a lot murkier than the calm waters of the St. Lawrence River suggest, and is well worth diving into. Other popular activities include shopping in the quaint, downtown region, water-side dining and family fun in one of the 1000 Islands various amusement centres. For those who feel just at home on dry land as on high seas, there’s plenty of fun to be had on the river too.
From world-class fishing to navigating the winding waterways of the Saint Lawrence River, the only danger with this incredible region is that you won’t have time to fit everything in! With temperatures averaging around of 20°C (with occasional highs of 25°C!), the best time to travel is without a doubt between May and September. The balmy weather does continue into autumn, however, where a slightly increased chance of precipitation is a small price to pay for the beautiful colors on display!