In a way, the Thousand Islands region is the inverse of the nearby Adirondacks: The ’Dacks is a mass of thick forest dotted with specks of blue water, while the Thousand Islands is a span of blue water dotted with specks of thick forest. The name is a bit misleading, though—how many granite outcrops actually pepper these 35 miles (56km) of the St. Lawrence River is anybody’s guess. Threading around its labyrinthine channels, you can easily lose count, you’ll be so busy camping, picnicking, bird-watching, and hauling in record catches of muskie, walleye, pike, perch, and king salmon.
The point of visiting here is to sample many islands, but a good place to start is Wellesley Island, in the shadow of the Thousand Islands Bridge, spanning the St. Lawrence. (On adjacent Hill Island, a stone’s throw across the border into Canada, the 1000 Islands Skydeck offers sweeping 360-degree views of the region.) Wellesley Island State Park covers almost a third of this large island; the rustic park contains the area’s largest camping complex, a 600-acre (243-hectare) nature center laced with miles of hiking trails, a sandy beach, a 9-hole golf course, and a marina with canoe and fishing boat rentals. Many of the park’s wilderness campsites are so secluded, you can reach them only by foot or boat, but there are also some waterside cabins and a set of fully outfitted two- and three-bedroom cottages, rentable by the week. Outside of the park, don’t miss the Thousand Island Park historic district on the southwest tip of the island, a beautifully preserved community of gingerbread cottages, relics of a Victorian-era “camp meeting” religious retreat.
While the fishing around the island is excellent, to widen your options head for nearby Alexandria Bay, on the New York shore of the St. Lawrence, where several charter boats are based. Alex Bay is also the jumping-off point for boat tours to two enormous summer “cottages” built by Gilded Age industrialists in the Thousand Islands’ resort heyday: Boldt Castle on Heart Island and the dramatic medieval-style Singer Castle on Dark Island.
More and more visitors to the Thousand Islands choose to explore by kayak, following the Thousand Islands Water Trail from Kingston to Brockville, Ontario. Outfitters near Wellesley Island include 1000 Islands Kayaking Company, 58 River Rd., Lansdowne, Ontario, and Misty Isles, 25 River Rd., Lansdowne. If wildlife is your interest, kayak over to Grass Point Marsh; it’s also fun to check out the “cottages” on Rock Island or challenge yourself by circumnavigating large Grindstone Island, just downriver from Wellesley.
If boating is your passion—and why else have you come here?—don’t miss the Antique Boat Museum downriver at Clayton, New York, which has a truly stupendous collection of some 250 vintage wooden boats.