Thousand Islands

Overview

Introduction

The St. Lawrence River defines a shoreline that runs for more than 100 mi/160 km from south of Massena to Cape Vincent, where it meets Lake Ontario. This region, about 190 mi/300 km northwest of Albany, is an unusual mix of commercial seaway and 1,864 charming little islands, known as the Thousand Islands. You'll find numerous state parks with camping facilities. Several large resort complexes are located in Alexandria Bay (overlooking the river), known for its shopping, sightseeing and festivals.

If you can, sign on with one of the many charter fishing boats. The fishing is fun, but our favorite part is when the skippers take their parties to an island for a shore dinner cooked from the day's catch.

We think the best way to see the islands is to follow the Great Lakes Seaway Trail, a National Scenic Byway that extends not only along the St. Lawrence (beginning at Rooseveltown) but also along Lakes Ontario and Erie to Ripley in the southwest corner of the state. As you follow the St. Lawrence, stop along the way to take at least one of the triple-deck boats that cruise the islands between the U.S. and Canada.

At Massena, you can view the Dwight D. Eisenhower Lock, where a visitors center gives a good description of how the St. Lawrence Seaway works. After your minitour, you can actually see it work from the viewing deck, open June-September. Watching the huge cargo vessels passing through the lock on their way between the Atlantic and the industrial heartland of North America is a memorable sight. In the area, you can also see the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton and the Sackets Harbor Battlefield on Lake Ontario's Henderson Bay, illustrating the local history of the area.

Be sure to take one of the boat tours to Boldt Castle on Heart Island. In 1900, George C. Boldt, president of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, started building the castle as a summer home for his wife, Louise. In 1904, Louise died, and the nearly completed castle was abandoned before it was ever inhabited. Since 1977, workers have labored to restore it. Although we don't usually fall for romantic destinations, this castle (built on an island that Boldt actually had landscaped in the shape of a heart) is so sad and sweet, it's worth a visit.

At nearby Zavikon Island, there's a walking bridge that allows you to cross the border from the U.S. to Canada: It's known as the world's shortest international bridge. Or you can continue on down the Seaway to Cape Vincent and ferry across to Ontario.

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