If you live in or plan to visit the Toronto – Ottawa – Montreal corridor this summer then try to fit in a stop to the charming town of Gananoque so you can spend at least a day on a kayaking trip in the 1000 Islands.

Gananoque is one of the gateways to the 1000 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.

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. While I was there 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.

Apart from the peaceful, easy kayaking through the Admiralty Islands that I did – 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 thanks to the knowledge of my guide Scott, owner for the past seven years 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.
  • 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.

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.

Scott, the owner of 1000 Islands Kayaking sums it up nicely- accessible wilderness is what you get when you kayak through the 1000 Islands.

And I say don’t miss the opportunity to explore them if you’re in the area.

Useful information about kayaking in the 1000 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 kms (93 mi) south of Ottawa, 300 kms (186 mi) east of Toronto and 200 kms (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

When: Early May through to October

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

Cost: Kayaks can be rented starting at $35+ tax/3 hours for a single from 1000 Islands Kayaking. Prices go up from there. 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.

Have you ever considered kayaking in the 1000 Islands?

Please note: I was offered a discount on my kayaking trip but as usual all thoughts and opinions are my own. This trip was one of the highlights of my recent two week trip to Ontario.

Leigh McAdam

Orginally published on June 4, 2013, Hike Bike Travel.