The 1000 Islands, pronounced “Thousand Islands,” is a water-lover’s dream. With endless shoreline along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River as well as more than 1,800 islands, this destination located in Northern New York State is regarded as a boating paradise. But how do you enjoy this pristine waterway if you don’t have a boat?
Start at New York State Parks. In the 1000 Islands, State Parks has waterfront campgrounds, island sites, marinas, boat rentals and even an island lighthouse. Here’s how to enjoy the 1000 Islands without a boat:
Step 1. Pick a waterfront home base
Stay at a New York State Park campground right on the water. Depending on the park, you’ll have access to beaches for swimming, shorelines for fishing, boat rentals, waterfront trails and more. Here’s a few:
Grass Point State Park: Centrally located on the St. Lawrence River, small beach, fishing boat rentals, on-site marina, tackle and bait store.
DeWolf Point State Park: Located on Wellesley Island (highway and bridge access via Interstate 81) along Lake of the Isles, a shallow section of the St. Lawrence River ideal for swimming and shoreline fishing for perch, bass and panfish.
Robert G. Wehle State Park: This secluded park sits on more than 1,000 acres had has more than 1,700 feet of frontage along Lake Ontario. Perched atop granite cliffs as high as 80 feet, Robert G. Wehle State Park has more than 15 miles of trails and rentable cottage facilities that sleep up to eight.
Southwick Beach State Park: Long, wide sandy beach ideal for family swimming vacations along Lake Ontario. Popular day-trip park; weekday overnights ideal for camping away from crowds.
Step 2. Get onto the Water
Whether touring or captaining your own rented craft, the waterway is calling.
Boat Rentals: Many New York State Park campgrounds have on-site boat rentals, typically for fishing-style boats of less than 20 feet. Many private marinas also rent pontoons boats, fishing boats and cruising vessels. Campgrounds with marinas have docks for you to keep your rented craft overnight.
Boat Tour: Cruising among the islands on an open-air boat tour is the top experience in the 1000 Islands. Clayton Island Tours and Uncle Sam Boat Tours offer daily sightseeing, lunch-and-dinner and themed cruises. It’s the easiest way to see the most islands.
Charter a private tour: There are several charter companies that will take up to six visitors for a private cruise of the islands, often paired with local foods and beverages. Get up-close and experience the islands a way not offered by the bigger tour boats.
Step 3. What to See and Do
The wide-open air of the 1000 Islands has been a vacation destination for more than a century. Rich in history and recreation opportunities, the 1000 Islands attracts all types of visitors seeking a getaway.
Castles: Boldt Castle on Heart Island in Alexandria Bay is the region’s top attraction. Accessible by boat tour, private charter or your rented boat, the island castle is open daily May through October. It’s six stories and 120 rooms tell the tale of a tragic love story and leaves visitors in awe. Singer Castle, Chippewa Bay, is accessible via Uncle Sam Boat Tours and private or rented boats. This four-story castle is open daily for guided tours and even has an overnight suite for private overnights.
Lighthouses: Rock Island Lighthouse State Park is located just off shore from Grass Point State Park and has a 150-year-old lighthouse perched right alongside the St. Lawrence Seaway shipping channel. Visitors can climb the spiral staircase to the lantern room and gaze upon the islands, boats and mammoth freighters. Accessible via Clayton Island Tours and private or rented boat. Tibbetts Point Lighthouse in Cape Vincent stands on a point where Lake Ontario meets the St. Lawrence River. Accessible by vehicle, the lighthouse is still used by boaters as a guiding light.
Historic Sites: The eastern shore of Lake Ontario is rich in U.S. military history. The story of the War of 1812 is told at the Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site. It was here that the U.S. fended off several advancements by the British. The entire Sackets Harbor community is a historian’s dream. The picturesque downtown has homes from the 1800s as well as historic home museums and military cemeteries. The battlefield hosts re-enactment events, the Navy Yard’s interpreters tell true tales of battles and the walkable downtown has waterfront dining, coffee stops, local retail, a brewery, whiskey bar and art galleries. The Antique Boat Museum in Clayton has rowing skiffs and classic cruises to let you feel the roar of the river.
Craft Beverages: Wineries, distilleries and breweries are scattered throughout the 1000 Islands and one is never far from a state park site. Pick a few to try and bring back some for that campfire.
Downtowns: Sometimes you want to eat out – other than campfire hotdogs – so be sure to check out the many communities along the water and choose among waterfront restaurants, al fresco dining, local favorites and something to hit the spot.
Be sure to get onto the water when you’re in the 1000 Islands region. Start your trip at one of the hundreds of New York State Parks camping sites when you’re here and be ready to get out, and explore!