Wellesley Island – Water Under the Bridge

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.