The small community of Gananoque lies on the shore of the St. Lawrence River, east of Kingston. A gateway to the Thousand Islands that span the Canada-US border on the St. Lawrence, the town’s marina is a hub of activity. Visitors bring their kayaks, canoes, jet skis, motorboats and sailboats here in droves during the summer months.
We rented a tandem kayak for our three-day adventure from 1000 Islands Kayaking. We shoved our supplies into every spare corner of the kayak, and with a little help from the staff, mapped out our route.
Thousand Islands National Park
The 1,864 islands that constitute the Thousand Islands are the peaks of ancient mountains. Over 20 islands are protected by the Thousand Islands National Park, where visitors can dock their boats, camp and hike.
Four national park islands are easily accessible for paddlers coming from Gananoque: Aubrey, Mermaid, Beau Rivage and McDonald. It took us a few leisurely hours to explore all of them.
While the calm waters made it easy for us to get used to paddling, the sheer number of islands and our questionable navigation skills meant we got lost almost immediately. A man watching us from his private dock asked if we were on our way to see the sunken ship. We had no idea there was one, so he showed us a laminated picture of the vessel and told us how to find it.
Ten minutes later, lost again and now aimlessly searching for a sunken ship, our friend from the dock appeared on his jet ski and guided us to the wreck. I’m not sure if this hospitality is typical of Thousand Islands residents, but we certainly appreciated it.
Half Moon Bay, Bostwick Island
Touted as the home of the “world’s tallest cathedral ceiling” this sheltered, crescent-shaped bay has been frequented by Aboriginal people for centuries.
In 1887, campers first congregated here for a church service, pulling their boats up alongside the high rock walls. Non-denominational services, with music and guest speakers, are still held at Half Moon Bay in the summer months.
If you’re wondering how this natural location can boast the “world’s tallest cathedral ceiling”, the answer is simple – it’s the sky.
oTENTik experience on McDonald Island
New in 2013 to Parks Canada campsites are the oTENTik accommodations. These hybrid tent-cabins are designed to encourage visitors who need a little extra comfort to coax them into a campsite. Our oTENTik had a bunk style layout with a double mattress on top and four singles below. The space also had a solar light and a table and chairs. Outside were four plastic Muskoka chairs, picnic tables (including one sheltered picnic table) a barbecue (bring your own charcoal) and a fire pit.
How did we sleep? Very well. The oTENTik was clean, comfortable and definitely upmarket on a tent. Bringing less gear (no tent or mattresses to pack) also made our lives much easier when we were cramming our tandem kayak full of supplies.
There were a couple of minor downsides – the high wind woke us up as it creaked between the wooden beams of the tent and the outer material. Our oTENTik was also positioned at the crossroads of three intersecting trails, but at least that gave us an opportunity to hear a lot of positive reactions from passers by who were curious about the new tents.
We would definitely consider staying in an oTENTik again in the future, but there is one aspect of the Thousand Islands National Park campsites that might not appeal to some visitors, especially those who are prioritizing comfort – there are no sinks or showers available in the park.
The abundance of wildlife on McDonald Island made this camping trip a special experience for us. We met two local residents on our site: garter snakes who had found a home in a dead tree. The short hike through the forest was alive with rustles, and a mink dashed across the trail ahead of us. At dusk by the campfire, the fireflies came out. Loon calls ushered in the night.
If you go
- oTENTik and camping reservations can be made here.
- Permits are required for paddlers and boaters to dock at Thousand Islands National Park. Permits may be provided with rentals.
- Paddlers should take caution crossing busy boating channels.
- It is not permitted to bring firewood into the park, but it is for sale on the islands (cash only – bring change).
- Only short walks are available on the islands near Gananoque. Hikers may wish to visit the Landon Bay or Jones Creek Trails further east.
A scenic walk along the Thousand Islands Bridge. Access to the bridge is free to pedestrians if you park before the toll booth. The views of the islands are breathtaking, but the walkway is narrow.
If you’re visiting on a US or Canadian holiday, you may encounter heavy traffic leading up to the bridge. Visit the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority website for up-to-date information and wait times.
By Jo Boxwell