Photo: 1000 Islands Tourism
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Located along the banks of the Ontario side of the St. Lawrence River, the town of Gananoque (pronounced gan-a-nock-way) is considered the gateway to the 1000 Islands (or “Thousand Islands”), a beautiful region that offers not only a romantic getaway but so much more.
It is a boater’s paradise, a freshwater fishing playground, a hiker’s haven, a golfing getaway, a fine dining delight, and a great place for a waterfront cycling adventure along the 1000 Islands Parkway. Gananoque itself, a town of 5,200 whose population swells during the summer month with “Islanders” – the local term for cottagers on the islands –is fun to explore, too, so allow a little wriggle room in your itinerary to do just that.
Read on to learn more about these and other fun 1000 Islands things to do and… and get romantic.
Romantic Things To Do in The 1000 Islands
Take a Cruise With Gananoque Boat Line
Firstly, the mathematicians who named this region were wrong. There are actually 1,864 islands in this beautiful archipelago that divides Eastern Ontario and Upstate New York, and you can explore them on a slow tour boat with Gananoque Boat Line.
In Gananoque, head down to the waterfront and hop onto the comfortable tour boat. As my wife and I cruise through the picturesque maze of islands while looking out at scenery accentuated by rugged rock and cobalt blue water, I imagine the exploits of the Prohibition-era rum runners who plied these waters, hiding in the coves and inlets, getting their wonderful product into the hands of the needy.
Experience the Boldt Castle Love Story
In 1900, George C. Boldt, millionaire proprietor of the world-famous Waldorf Hotel in New York City, decided to build a summer escape for his family, a full-size European castle on Little Heart Island. Boldt Castle is a six-story, 120-room castle complete with tunnels, a powerhouse, Italian gardens, a drawbridge, a children’s playhouse tower, and a dovecote.
The castle also tells a tragic love story, as it was built as a display of passion by George for his wife Louise but, before its completion, tragedy struck. In January 1904, Louise died suddenly. A broken-hearted and inconsolable George could not imagine his dream castle without his beloved, and so never returned to the island, leaving behind the structure as a monument to his sweetheart.
While my wife, teary-eyed after hearing this tale, admires the elaborate dining room and ballrooms and considers carefully the separate “his and her” bedrooms, I scurry about exploring the castle’s nether regions and hidden enclaves, dashing down the secret passage that leads from the castle to the waterside power station, stopping only briefly for a game at the two-lane bowling alley in the playhouse.
I will say that, after years of disuse, the impressive Boldt Castle is restored and once again a lively spectacle that has accommodated more than eight million visitors and hosted more than 1,200 weddings. Book the Boldt Castle Stopover Cruise with Gananoque Boat Line.
Get a Bird’s Eye View With 1000 Island Helicopter Tour
If you are really short on time and relish a bird’s eye view of the beautiful island archipelago, you can see it all in a 20-minute flight with 1000 Island Helicopter Tours. These magnificent sights are a perfect photographic opportunity, so don’t forget your camera.
Their most famous passenger on a flight? The Stanley Cup!
Dock and Catch a Performance at The Thousand Island Playhouse
“Enter stage left” to catch a performance at the Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque, Canada’s dockside theatre. Park your boat, paddle your kayak in, or simply stroll over and catch a wonderful performance at what is undoubtedly one of the best places to see live theatre in Ontario.
The Playhouse operates two fully renovated historic venues side-by-side on the banks of the St Lawrence: the 360-seat Springer Theatre, (formerly the 1909 Gananoque Canoe Clubhouse), and the 140-seat Firehall Theatre. Where else can you take a break for intermission and wander out on a pier with a glass of wine to watch the river drift slowly past – and maybe even your kayak if you didn’t secure it properly?
Get Naughty at the Gan Brewing Company
The original riverside industrial pedigree is reflected throughout downtown Gananoque, where a 150-year-old factory is now home to the Gan Brewing Company. Pop in for a brewery tour and a taste of the crisp Naughty Otter Lager.
Go for a Paddle with 1000 Islands Kayaking
Enjoy a kayak adventure with the 1000 Islands Kayaking Co. You can join an organized tour or rent a single or double (for a real test for a couple!) kayak and venture out on your own.
Thousand Islands National Park encompasses more than 20 islands, and is worthy of a day visit or, if you are feeling really adventurous, a romantic overnight stay. The park now offers oTENT’ik accommodations, a cross between a tent and a cabin, on two of the islands. Or pack along your own tenting gear.
Go for a Peddle Along the 1000 Islands Parkway
A great place for a waterfront cycling adventure is along the 1000 Islands Parkway. Head for the UNESCO-designated Frontenac Arch Biosphere. Peddle or drive through the Frontenac Arch on the parkway to the 1000 Islands Skydeck for a panoramic view of the famous Ivy Lea Bridge.
If You Visit 1000 Islands
Check out these useful resources for more ideas and information about fun romantic things to do in the 1000 Islands:
Planning on spending a night or two in the area as you explore? Check out these great places to stay in Gananoque.
You can also easily explore the 1000 Islands from the city of Kingston, an easy 25-minute drive west of Gananoque. Check out these articles for ideas about places to stay in Kingston:
Contributing Editor James Ross writes about destinations and travel adventures for various international publications. You can see more of his work at www.thejamesross.ca.