Meet Thousand Islands – New York’s Most Underrated Waterfront

Eight exciting reasons this watermen’s paradise is worth exploring

George Fischer Photography

Thousand Island salad dressing is a household name, but surprisingly, the destination responsible for its moniker is far from well known. In fact, it’s safe to say that even most New Yorkers have never heard of Thousand Islands—a crying shame since it’s in the beautiful backyard the state shares with Canada.

Thousand Islands is actually a misnomer. The region refers to 1,864 islands scattered throughout the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario separating Northern New York from Southern Ontario.

Here, Starbucks is nearly impossible to find, cell phone service is spotty at best and the islands themselves are not the most accessible. But those things are precisely what make exploring this watermen’s paradise worthwhile. Here are eight adventures that await you in Thousand Islands.

Flyboard in Alexandria Bay

Photo Credit: FlyboardLI​

Ten minutes of instruction and $99 is all it takes to soar over the scenic St. Lawrence River with All In Adventures. Flyboarding, a relatively new watersport invented in 2012, involves wearing boots outfitted with jet nozzles propelled by a fire hose connected to a Jet Ski. All In Adventures is based at Bonnie Castle in Alex Bay and supplies flyboarders with wet suits, life jackets and tips for learning tricks like dolphin diving and back flips. Be forewarned, it takes a while to figure out how to keep your balance at 40 feet up in the air, and it is definitely a workout for the legs.

Explore Shipwrecks with Aquatic World
Thanks to the introduction of Zebra Mussels—one of nature’s finest filterers—Thousand Islands attracts divers from all over the world. The presence of this invasive species has increased visibility making it easier to explore sunken vessels (dating back to the War of 1812) at depths of 70 feet. The St. Lawrence River was once a major thoroughfare for shipping, and as a result, it’s home to more than 200 wrecks—all well preserved by the cold freshwater. There are a number of scuba outfitters on both sides of the border including Aquatic World, a PADI Dive Center that offers courses and takes divers to underwater dive platforms and hoops.     

Whitewater Raft the Black River

Photo Credit: 1000 Islands International Tourism Council

Say that five times fast! While most of the Thousand Islands water action is on the St. Lawrence River, the Black River Canyon outside of Waterton offers the most exhilarating opportunities, including Class IV rapids. The water is known for being uncharacteristically warm, so unlike most rivers in the Northeast, the Black River is comfortable, albeit challenging, to raft in May when water levels are at their highest and the wrath of the whitewater is most intense. Whitewater Challengers includes an après-rafting cookout in its rafting packages and is conveniently located near Black River Bay Campground.

Sleep Like a King at Singer Castle

Photo Credit: Singer Castle

By day, large groups of visitors take guided tours and hike around the 100-year-old Singer Castle. But by night, the 28-room four-story castle belongs to the lucky souls who rent the Royal Suite. For $725 per night, two people can have the 20,000-square-foot castle (built by the former president of Singer Sewing Machine Company) and all seven acres of Dark Island to themselves. The sleepover includes meals and a private tour of the castle’s secret passageways and tunnels that connect to outlying structures on the island. Guests can hop the ferry from Schermerhorn Harbor or rent a kayak from River Bay Adventures and paddle to the property.

Camp at Canoe Point State Park
The dozen or so year-round residents are referred to as “Grinders” but you don’t need to own a cottage to camp out on Grindstone Island. The fourth largest island in Thousand Islands, Grindstone has some 15 square miles of forest and farmland—much of which is preserved by the Thousand Islands Land Trust. Canoe Point State Park has 25 sites that rent for as little as $20 per night and are near Picnic Point where campers can dock—the campground is only accessible by boat—and find a cooking facility. The fishing is excellent and the serene and secluded Potter’s Beach is one of the most pristine swimming areas in the region.

Be a Bassmaster for a Day

Photo Credit: George Fischer Photography​

Thousand Islands is a bucket list must for any serious angler, and in the summer it hosts one of the most celebrated Bassmaster Elite competitions in the country. Between the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, there are endless opportunities for reeling in bass, salmon, walleye and more—including muskies that can reach up to five feet long. Outfitters like Seaway Charters and Moby Dick Charters use state-of-the-art boats and gear to offer half-day and full-day trips led by some of the most experienced sportsfishermen in the industry. In the winter, the drills come out and ice fishing is popular especially in Alexandria Bay, which hosts an annual ice fishing derby.   

Walk Around Wellesley Island State Park

Photo Credit: Joe Meirose​

Wellesley Island State Park is all about preserving the natural coastline and beaver habitat, but it also boasts a golf course. Skip the cart rental and walk (the course is only nine holes) to fully enjoy the rolling greens in this otherwise rustic setting. Overnight visitors will find the most camping options—including a cabin colony—in all of Thousand Islands. The park is also home to miles of hiking trails and the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center where visitors can take a ride across Eel Bay in a 36-foot-long Voyageur Canoe. In the winter, the center manages seven miles of cross-country ski trails.

Pedal Along The Great Waterway
While there is plenty to do on the U.S. side of Thousand Islands, cyclists can cross the Thousand Islands Bridge into Canada and take advantage of the recently re-paved pathway that runs parallel to Thousand Islands Parkway. The 23-mile-long multi-use trail runs right by Canada’s Banff National Park east of the Rocky Mountains. At Thousand Islands National Park cyclists can crash overnight in an oTENTik—an A-frame meets prospector cabin found only in Canada.   

More Reading:
Double Up: How to See Two National Parks in One Trip
Hike with a Guide: Treks Totally Worth Paying For
Mammoth Lakes: Small Town Vibe, Big Time Adventure

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