If you live in the Toronto – Ottawa – Montreal corridor then you’re never far from the 1000 Islands – but unless you make plans to stop and explore, chances are you’ll whizz right on by and scarcely give the area a glance, just as I have done dozens of times. And yet the islands offer a first-rate kayaking experience for both novice and experienced paddlers. The scenery is superlative with granite outcrops and windswept pines, reminiscent of Group of Seven paintings. Throw in the fact it’s the second most biodiverse area in all of Canada and you’ll start to understand what a treat you’re in for, especially in late May when the migration is on and some of the more than 250 bird species seen in the area are singing their hearts out.
The Thousand Islands – all 1,864 of them – are squished between Canada and the United States in the St. Lawrence River. While many islands are privately owned, 21 islands, dispersed between Kingston and Brockville are part of Thousand Islands National Park. Some of the islands offer camping facilities – including oTENTik cabins while other islands offer docking and toilet facilities only. It’s easy to do a day trip but there are loads of opportunities for an extended trip as well.
Out of Kingston, you can rent a kayak from Ahoy Rentals and head for Cedar and Milton Islands, 30 minutes, and 90 minutes away respectively. Camping is an option on both islands. Most people do not continue any further east as currents and wind can be dangerous for all but experienced paddlers.
For people new to kayaking the charming town of Gananoque is an obvious place to start, mainly because of its home to 1000 Islands Kayaking – a company that rents kayaks and offers lessons and tours. From their waterfront location, access to the Admiralty and Lake Fleet Islands is particularly easy. The kayaking is interesting too as you learn a lot of history over the course of a day trip. For example, after World War II, Thwartway Island was a place soldiers went to recover from shell shock, post-traumatic stress disorder as we call it now. Since the camp closed, the forest has taken over the island so it’s now got the biggest, intact ecosystem of all the Thousand Islands.
Another worthwhile stop is one at Half Moon Bay on Bostwick Island. As you paddle into the bay, you feel like you’re entering an amphitheater. On Sundays, church services would take place with a pulpit made of rock. And before you even get to the island, don’t miss the shipwreck, visible in the super clear waters.
East of Gananoque, numerous islands beckon the kayaker looking for a slightly longer trip. The Navy and Lake Fleet Islands are a popular overnight destination from Gananoque with camping permitted on Gordon and Camelot Island. Any of the islands further east are better accessed via Rockport, Mallorytown, and Ivy Lea but you’ll most likely need your own kayak.
Although you don’t have to have experience to kayak in much of this area, you should know that the wind can blow up suddenly and producing challenging conditions. Always check the weather forecast before launching and avoid being caught out in a thunderstorm.
The season starts early here – sometime in May and goes well into fall. It’s an exceptional place for families to learn to kayak together. The swimming is excellent and birders and nature lovers will be thrilled with the area.
As Scott Ewart, owner of 1000 Islands Kayaking says: “Accessible wilderness is what you get when you kayak through the Thousand Islands. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore it if you’re in the area.” I heartily concur and look forward to discovering the islands again – but next time as an overnight trip.
By Leigh McAdam