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The landscape is more like the Georgian Bay - granite and windswept pines

Kayaking the Thousand Islands on a Day Trip

If you live in or plan to visit the Toronto – Ottawa – Montreal corridor in summer then try to fit in a stop in the charming town of Gananoque so you can spend at least a day kayaking the Thousand Islands.

Gananoque is one of the gateways to kayaking the Thousand Islands – an archipelago consisting of 1,864 islands sandwiched between Canada and the United States in the St. Lawrence River. Of all the islands, just 21 are part of Thousand Islands National Park, formerly St. Lawrence Islands National Park.

Peaceful, easy kayaking in the Thousand Islands
Peaceful, easy kayaking in the Thousand Islands – at least here

1000 Islands Kayaking Day Tour

The first time I visited the Thousand Islands I did a full day kayaking trip with 1000 Islands Kayaking. Below is an idea of what you’ll experience over the course of about 5 hours – including a long lunch break. Scott, the owner of the company sums the experience up nicely – accessible wilderness is what you get when you kayak through the Thousand Islands.

The Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve

Rocky granite islands, more reminiscent of the Georgian Bay area, windswept pines, and super clear water – thanks to the invasion of zebra mussels – greet you on a kayaking trip. When I visited in May, it was non-stop bird song too, a function of the fact that the islands are located in the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve.

In fact it is the second most biodiverse area in all of Canada. Over 250 species of birds, 53 mammal species, 17 types of amphibians, 15 snake types and 98 species of fish have been observed.

A history lesson while kayaking

Apart from the peaceful, easy kayaking through the Admiralty Islands – past many a summer cottage, some on islands not much bigger than the cottage itself, there is the chance to get a taste of Canadian history. That’s the beauty of a guided trip thanks to the knowledge of my guide Scott, owner for the past fourteen years now (as of 2020) of 1000 Island Kayaking.

Thwartway Island is a place where soldiers from World War II recovering from shell shock – post-traumatic stress disorder as we currently call it – would come to recuperate. When the camp closed the island was overtaken by forest and now boasts the largest intact ecosystem of all.

Half Moon Bay at the southeastern corner of Bostwick Island merits a stop. On Sundays in July and August afternoon church services are held. The pulpit is made of rock and the surrounding area is a quiet bay, more like a rock amphitheater and one that to this day holds spiritual significance for the native people.

Gull Rock – Don’t miss the rusted out moorings left over from the days when massive rafts made of white pine and white oak were floated down to Montreal for shipment to Europe. You can see it on Gull Rock – a tiny speck of an island.

Kayaks all set up in Gananoque and ready to go
Kayaks all set up in Gananoque and ready to go
Scott - demonstrating kayak strokes
Scott – demonstrating kayak strokes
Kayaking Thousand Islands
Heading off kayaking the Thousand Islands
Getting a history lesson about the shipwreck below our kayaks
Getting a history lesson about the shipwreck below our kayaks
Heading into Halfmoon Bay
Heading into Half Moon Bay
Houseboats anchored on Beau Rivage Island
Houseboats anchored on Beau Rivage Island
It looks and feels like summer on the May long weekend
It looks and feels like summer on the May long weekend
Thanks to zebra mussels the water is super clear in the Thousand Islands
Thanks to zebra mussels the water is super clear in the Thousand Islands

A gourmet lunch on the guided kayaking tour

One of the highlights of my day trip – apart from kayaking – was the gourmet lunch offered. It was healthy and delicious – with three types of bread, three types of meat and cheese including organic cheddar, vegetables galore, fruits and smoothie type drinks offered.

After lunch there was plenty of time to explore Beau Rivage Island.

From here we paddled over to McDonald Island – one of the busier Thousand Islands and had a chance to get out of the kayak. It’s a pretty island to explore on foot. Even better would be spending a night in one of the oTENTiks, rented by Parks Canada.

The 1000 Islands kayaking company serves a gourmet lunch
The 1000 Islands kayaking company serves a gourmet lunch
Pretty campsite on Beau Rivage Island
Pretty campsite on Beau Rivage Island
The landscape is more like the Georgian Bay - granite and windswept pines
The landscape is more like the Georgian Bay – granite and windswept pines
Beautiful kayaking in the Thousand Islands
Beautiful kayaking in the Thousand Islands
Kids playing on McDonald Island - one of the busier islands in Thousand Islands National Park
Kids playing on McDonald Island – one of the busier islands in Thousand Islands National Park
Kayaking Thousand Islands and seeing a swan
It was a treat to see a swan while kayaking the Thousand Islands
Heading back to the town of Gananoque
Heading back to the town of Gananoque

Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the Thousand Islands if you’re in the area.

Useful information about kayaking the Thousand Islands

Highlights: Warm water for summer swimming, beautiful islands, history, bird life, rocky landscape, biodiversity, interesting geology

Where: Gananoque is located on the St. Lawrence River, 150 km (93 mi) south of Ottawa, 300 km (186 mi) east of Toronto and 200 km (124 mi) west of Montreal.

Grade: Easy but moderate if the weather turns and the wind picks up.

Time Needed: A minimum of a half day and up to three or four days if you have the time to weave your way through the islands. Here’s what a 3 day kayaking trip looks like.

When: Early May through to October

How: Bring your own kayak or rent one in Gananoque from 1000 Islands Kayaking and launch from the docks behind their headquarters.

Cost: Figure in kayak rentals. Primitive island camping permits are $15.70 per night and most are on a first come first served basis though you can reserve ahead of time on Beau Rivage, Mulcaster and Camelot Islands beginning in April.

Don’t forget: Watch for storms that can arise quickly. Check yourself for black legged ticks. Cellphones work out on the water.

Interesting fact: To count as one of the 1000 Islands there are three criteria – the island has to have an area greater than one square foot, the island must remain above the water level on a year round basis and it has to support at least one living tree.

Further reading about paddling in Ontario

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Thousand Islands kayaking in Ontario

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Dying to do a kayaking trip! Agh! I was so intrigued b the name 1000 Islands when driving through here on the way to TBEX. Love the photos.

    1. @Candice Can’t believe you haven’t done a kayaking trip in Newfoundland. I’d do the 1000 Islands again in a heartbeat and I know John would like to go out for a week long expedition.

  2. Wow. This place is stunning! So far, Scott and I have 2 trips planned for Canada. It’s time for us to start exploring this beautiful country!

    1. @Mette I have a Pentax K5-II and the lens I had on the day I was kayaking was a 18-55mm waterproof lens. Actually everything was quite small and I had it in a drybag right in front of me.

  3. Wow! I had no idea these islands existed!
    Also I am not sure I believe you about the good coffee! I couldn’t find a good cuppa when I was in Canada. Might have to check that out myself!

  4. Wow, this is absolutely gorgeous! I love all the scenery from your photos and would love to spend a few days visiting the different islands. Adding to the list!

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