What To Do In The Thousand Islands Area In Upstate New York?

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The great St. Lawrence River that separates Canada from New York is home to a true marvel, 1,864 islands grace the river with their grandeur. It isn’t just a beautiful place either, it’s the location of major battles during the French and Indian War, the home of incredible castles, the getaway for the infamous Skull and Bones Society, and more. With so much to see and do, it can leave you overwhelmed, so to help you manage your trip we constructed this handy guide to assist you in planning your vacation.

Main attractions in the Thousand Islands:

  1. Boldt Castle
  2. Singer Castle
  3. Boat tours of the Thousand Islands
  4. Charter a fishing guide 
  5. Thousand Islands Winery
  6. Antique Boat Museum
  7. Deer Islands and the Skull and Bones Society

Don’t stop here. I’ll make sure to give you all the details you need to plan out your visit to the Thousand Islands area. Be sure to keep reading to see this complete guide on this region!

A group of children canoeing on the river with a gorgeous and scenic view of a mountain, What To Do In The Thousand Islands Area In Upstate New York?

Main Attractions in the Thousand Islands

1. Boldt Castle on Heart Island

This breathtaking castle is full of history and heartbreak. Construction of the castle began in 1900 at the behest of millionaire George C. Boldt for his beloved wife, Louise. Progress on the castle ceased when Louise passed away unexpectedly in 1904 and George fell into depression.

For 70 years, the six-story castle with 120 rooms remained untouched until the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority purchased it in 1977 with the mission of completing construction and preserving this masterpiece for future generations to enjoy.

The stunning Bodlt castle photographed on the river

Because Boldt Castle is on Heart Island and there are no bridges, you will need to arrive by watercraft. You can drive your own personal watercraft to the island, or rent a boat. Many of the boat tour companies also offer rides to the castle. Uncle Sam’s Boat Tours runs a ferry from the mainland to Heart Island once every 30 minutes. Once you arrive, you can choose to tour the castle, the yacht house, or both.

2. Singer Castle on Dark Island

The regal and luxurious Singer Castle is filled with surprises. This castle was built in 1905 by the Bourne family who worked with the architect Ernest Flagg. Frederick Bourne was the fifth president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, which is where the castle received its name.

The huge and grand Singer castle

Singer Castle is a four-story, 28-room castle with towers, multiple boathouses, and even secret passageways used to spy on guests.

Dark Island also requires water access. Uncle Sam’s Boat Tours does offer a Singer Castle Tour that will guide you through a few other islands and eventually stop on Dark Island and allow you to disembark and take a tour of the castle. There is a shuttle that runs from Schermerhorn Harbor to Singer Castle and back several times throughout the day as well, and you can dock on the island in a personal watercraft.

3. Boat Tours of the Thousand Islands

A bout tour at Gananoque boat lines Thousan Island photographed on an aerial view

There are several companies that provide guided boat tours through the Thousand Islands. Uncle Sam’s Boat Tours provides wonderful insight into the background and history of each island, with multiple tour types and lengths to choose from.

In Clayton, you can find the Clayton Islands Tour Company who owns a glass-bottomed tour boat that allows you to see shipwrecks and the various fish that inhabit the mighty St. Lawrence.

4. Charter a Fishing Guide

Two men fishing at Thousand Islands

If you enjoy fishing, then Northern New York is where you want to vacation. The St. Lawrence River contains diverse aquatic life such as Walleye, Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass, Muskellunge (Muskie), Northern Pike, and, in rare instances, even monstrous Sturgeon can be found in this river.

If you prefer fishing solo, there are several boat rental services in Alexandria Bay and Clayton, as well as plenty of other great fishing spots. Click here to see St. Lawrence River Fishing Charter’s website. They are well known for providing exceptional experiences for their clients.

5. The Thousand Islands Winery

Thousand Islands Winery is a great place to visit while you are touring the Thousand Islands region. They offer tastings and tours of their facility, and they host monthly entertainment like live bands, painting activities, and stand-up comedy.

In addition, this is just one stop on the Thousand Islands-Seaway Wine Trail, a series of seven wineries and vineyards that span the coast of the river.

6. The Antique Boat Museum

This museum sports over 320 antique boats, many with fascinating histories. It’s a great family-friendly stop full of education and fun. If you plan your trip with their events in mind, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by speedboat rides, boat shows, sailboat rides, or a sunset cruise along the serene waters of the St. Lawrence. Click here to see the Antique Boat Museum website.

7. Deer Island and the Skull and Bones Society

From afar, the cabin on Deer Island may seem bland and ordinary, however, its secrets are vast and conspiracy theories shroud its name. The island is owned by and used as a retreat for members of the Skull and Bones Society. As a private island, you can’t visit it, but you can get a good view of the island from a boat.

Over the years, as the island has been used less and less, it has become overgrown and the cabin is said to be in a rough state, but new members of the Society are required to visit the island.

In the Area

If you have some extra time and want to see more of the area, there is always plenty to do. Both Jefferson and St. Lawrence county have a host of state parks to visit. Many of them have visitor centers with educational activities, and almost all of them have trails to walk or hike and diverse wildlife to watch.

Black Lake is another prominent fishing spot in the area. If you have a passport, you can take a ride across the bridge to Canada where there’s even more to do, like an aquarium, helicopter tours, and scuba diving.

Where Are the Thousand Islands?

The Thousand Islands are located between Canada and the United States and stretch along the St. Lawrence River for about 50 miles. Alexandria Bay is often referred to as “The Heart of The Thousand Islands” because it is centered along the archipelago.

The easiest way to get to Alexandria Bay is to get on New York’s Interstate 81 heading North and follow it to Exit 50N which will put you on NY-12, from there it’s a straight shot to Alexandria Bay.

What Else to Do in the Thousand Islands Region

These are some other popular things to do in the Thousand Islands region:

  1. Camping, Hiking, & Nature
  2. Fishing & Hunting
  3. Boating
  4. Nightlife

Camping, Hiking, and Nature

With so many state parks and campsites to choose from, you will be sure to find one you love. Krings Point, Cedar Island, Jacque Cartier, and Lonesome Bay State Forest, are just a few nearby state parks that allow camping.

Fishing

The St. Lawrence River is a fisherman’s dream. In fact, people travel from all over the world to participate in the annual Bassmaster competition. Black Lake is only half an hour’s drive from Alexandria Bay and offers another great place to drop your line. Ice fishing is also a very popular winter activity in the area.

Hunting

State land in the area allows hunting during the appropriate seasons. Whitetail deer, wild turkey, and waterfowl are common game in this area. Further north in the Adirondacks, black bear hunting is an option.

Boating

Bring your own boat, or rent one while you’re here. There are a ton of rental services across the area that offer rowboats, paddleboats, kayaks, canoes, or motorboats. There’s nothing quite like spending a relaxing day on the water.

Nightlife

Alexandria Bay comes alive on summer nights. Enjoy live music, dancing, and drinks at The Dancing Dog, hit the dance floor at Downtown, or try one of the many other bars and pubs in the Bay. With so many choices you’ll be sure to find a bar that matches your personality.

How Long Should You Dedicate to Your Visit?

This depends on what you want to do while you are in the area. The boat tours can range from 1 hour to 5 hours, depending on which tour you choose. You can expect the Boldt Castle tours to range between 3-4 hours, depending on whether you decide to get the tour of the Yacht House as well as the castle. The Singer Castle tour will take about an hour. The antique boat museum suggests allowing at least an hour and a half for your visit.

When to Visit?

This also depends on your desired experience. Spring, summer, and fall are all great times to visit the Thousand Islands.

Spring and summer are the most popular times to visit, and because of that, there are usually huge crowds. If you are hoping to avoid the crowds and enjoy your experience in a more quiet setting, an early fall visit may be a better option.

How much Will my Visit Cost?

The cost will vary greatly according to your chosen activities, but it can be as low as a couple hundred dollars or as high as a couple thousand.

The castle tours as well as the Antique Boat Museum admission fee will only run about $15.00 per adult; children get discounts. Boat tours can range from $20.00 a person to $500 for a private cruise. A fishing charter starts at about $350 and each person is an additional charge, extra experiences incur extra fees.

Lodging, as almost always, will cost you the most money.

Is it Crowded?

In the summer the area tends to be packed with tourists and can get a little congested. Fall is less crowded and has the benefit of the leaves changing colors, which adds to the beauty of the area. If you love people and are hoping to make some new friends, summer is a great time to visit. If you prefer a little more space, you may want to wait until fall.

Where to Eat in the Thousand Islands Region

There are many incredible restaurants scattered across the Thousand Islands Region. Alexandria Bay alone boasts a large variety of eateries to choose from. From medieval-themed steakhouses to aquarium-themed seafood, there is something for everyone. Here are our top picks:

  1. The Pointe Bar and Grill
  2. Fin’s Eatery and Pub
  3. Coleman’s Dock of the Bay
  4. Cavallario’s Steakhouse
  5. The Korner

The Pointe Bar and Grill

This hidden gem on the coast of Alexandria Bay has excellent food as well as an incredible view of Heart Island and Boldt Castle. Sitting indoors will give you a view of the interesting natural aspects of the architecture, and sitting outside you can enjoy the castle, the river, and sometimes a live band. Check it out online.

Fin’s Eatery and Pub

This restaurant’s walls are lined with fish tanks and live fish for your entertainment. Fin’s offers an incredibly unique dining experience along with outstanding food and a friendly atmosphere. Their famous fish tacos are guaranteed to delight, but with so many tasty menu options, you are bound to find a favorite of your own.

Coleman’s Dock of the Bay

The Dock of the Bay is another restaurant that sits on the coast, offering indoor and outdoor seating with a beautiful view of the St. Lawrence. Unbelievably good food and heaping portions ensure that you will leave this restaurant feeling satisfied. It’s a very popular restaurant and a favorite of locals and visitors alike.

Cavallario’s Steakhouse

With a vast assortment of seafood and premium steak cuts to choose from, Cavallario’s is a staple of fine dining in Alexandria Bay. Locals love this spot and trust this restaurant to provide a high-class dining experience. Cavallario’s does offer both indoor and outdoor seating.

The Korner Pizzeria and Family Restaurant

Sometimes you just need a good pizza, even when you’re on vacation. The Korner has extensive menu options, including great pizza, subs, burgers, and more. They’re the perfect place to grab a quick, delicious meal after a long day of exploring the Thousand Islands.

Where to Stay in the Area

If you’re not a local or live nearby, you’ll need a place to stay. The following are some of our top picks:

  1. Bonnie Castle Resort and Marina
  2. Applewood Inn
  3. Swan Bay Resort
  4. Riverbay Adventures
  5. Cap’t. Thompsons

Bonnie Castle Resort and Marina – Alexandria Bay

This riverside resort places you directly into the lap of luxury. With a variety of rooms and amenities to choose from, you can’t go wrong with Bonnie. Bonnie also has the added benefit of having a restaurant and indoor pool on-site.

Check out their Booking.com listing for more information and to book your stay. 

Applewood Inn – Alexandria Bay

This is an affordable option that offers a quality experience. Applewood Inn is known for providing a comfortable and clean stay with a very reasonable price tag. An added benefit of this Inn is the distance from the nightlife of the Bay, which may be beneficial if you have young ones or need to get a good night’s sleep with peace and quiet.

Swan Bay Resort – Alexandria Bay

This resort will provide you with a truly unique experience. You can bring your own RV and set it up at one of their sites, or rent an entire cabin for your family’s stay. They offer a variety of cabin floorplan options, allow pets, and have an extensive list of amenities like fire pits, a tiki bar, and WiFi.

Riverbay Adventure Inn – Chippewa Bay

A quieter alternative to Swan Bay Resort, Riverbay Adventure Inn offers cabin rentals a little further away from the hustle and bustle of Alexandria Bay. This is the place to be if you want a peaceful and quiet camping experience during your visit while remaining close to the river. Riverbay Adventures also offers boat rentals so you can spend the day enjoying the river.

Capt. Thomsons Motel – Alexandria Bay

This motel offers classy rooms with great amenities and service. They have rooms with gorgeous river views, some looking directly at Boldt Castle. Capt. Thomson’s also offers fantastic amenities like an outdoor pool, gazebo, and proximity to all the activities Alexandria Bay has to offer.

Thousand Islands Day Trip

Aerial view of Thousand islands at Upstate New York with boats moving along the water

A comfortable and fun day trip to the Thousand Islands would most likely include a boat tour of the islands followed by stops at both Boldt and Singer Castles for tours.

Finish up the day with a beautiful meal at one of the restaurants in Alexandria Bay before turning in for the night. If you plan to stay the night at a hotel and leave in the morning, you may have time to check out some of the bars and nightlife.

How Far is Thousand Islands from Niagara Falls? New York City?

The drive from Niagara Falls to Alexandria Bay will take about 4 hours and stretches 253.2 miles, meaning you probably won’t be able to enjoy both destinations in a single day.

From New York City, the drive will take roughly 5-6 hours and the trip is 345 miles. To get to Alexandria Bay from New York City, take I-78 W to NJ-139W, follow the signs to I-280 W, and then follow this until merging with I-80 W. Take Exit 293 to I-380 N and follow it until you merge with I-81 N, follow I-81 N to Exit 50 where you will merge onto NY-12 N, taking you directly to Alexandria Bay.

Is a Trip to the Thousand Islands Worth It?

Yes, the Islands are truly a sight to behold, and there are a ton of fun activities. Many tourists end up coming back year after year, and some even decide to buy summer homes here. It is an enchanting area with a unique and natural beauty and is definitely something worth seeing.

Final Thoughts

The Thousand Islands region is a magnificent sight to see with lots to do. The whole area offers incredible history, breathtaking architecture and natural sights, tasty foods, and more. No matter what time of year you visit, you’re sure to have an amazing time. Let us know in the comment section below about your experience in this area or when you plan to visit!

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