Best Things to Do in the 1000 Islands with Kids
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The 1000 Islands are an incredibly picturesque part of Ontario, perfect for a family-friendly summer getaway. Between hiking trails, street art, scenic waterways, and a quaint town, some of the best things to do in the 1000 Islands with kids involve time spent outside.
Where are the 1000 Islands Located?
Gananoque is located approximately 3 hours North West of Toronto, and is considered the “Canadian Gateway to the Thousand Islands.” Pronounced gan-an-aw-kway, this picturesque town is the perfect home base for a 1000 Islands adventure.
The 1000 Islands are actually a North American archipelago consisting of 1864 islands. The Thousand Islands straddle the Canadian/U.S. border, with Ontario to the north and the state of New York to the south.
Whether you are travelling from Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec, or anywhere within southern Ontario, you’re only a short distance from some of the most beautiful vistas in the province.
Many of the Islands belong to single owners, while others belong to the government, or are completely uninhabited. One small Island owner, in fact, actually has their property split between both Canada and the U.S!
Fun Fact: To be considered one of the 1000 Islands, the island must have a minimum of one square foot of land above the water level all year long, and it must support two or more living trees.
How Do You Get to the 1000 Islands?
If you are coming from a distance, the closest international airport on the Canadian side would be Ottawa Macdonald–Cartier International Airport. It would then be about an hour and a half drive to Gananoque.
If you happen to be coming from anywhere in Southern Ontario, you would just need to hop on Highway 401 E and head straight to Gananoque.
If you are travelling from the US, the closest airport is Watertown International Airport, in the state of New York. It would then be about an hour’s drive to Gananoque, with a border crossing at the Thousand Islands Bridge.
How to Get Around 1000 Islands
The town of Gananoque is definitely walkable. Most of the main attractions are within walking distance of one another, as are many of the popular hotels and restaurants.
You will need a car if you are looking to head to the 1000 Islands National Park, or to some of the shops, restaurants and hotels located on the outskirts of town.
Gananoque also has an extensive trail network, with many of the trails passing right through town. This makes many of the attractions as well as the waterfront area, also accessible by bicycle.
Need a ride to one of the islands? Just hop on one of the many available water taxis! You can find more information on water taxis here.
The 10 Best Things to Do in the 1000 Islands with Kids
As we mentioned, many of the best things to do in the 1000 Islands with kids involve outdoor activities. Take advantage of this opportunity for the family to unplug, get some fresh air, and just enjoy all that nature has to offer.
1. Explore the Quaint Little Town of Gananoque
With a population of only 5,000 permanent residents, Gananoque, or “Gan” to the locals, is a quaint little town filled with charm. Be sure to spend some time exploring King Street E, which is the main downtown street.
King Street E is bustling with awesome restaurants and patios, charming boutiques and shops, and local businesses filled with clothing, gifts and other trinkets. Keep in mind that parking along the main street in the downtown area is paid.
Be sure to explore the many parks and green spaces in town as well. Not only will you find the old railroad path that will lead you to Confederation Park, but quite a few murals and sculptures throughout town.
2. Go for a Swim in Joel Stone Park
If you are looking for a place to cool down on a hot summer day, head to Joel Stone Park for a swim. The park is located on the southern edge of the Gananoque waterfront and even has a pretty great splash pad for the kids.
Located on Water Street, Joel Stone Park is where you will also find the marina filled with boats, as well as Gananoque’s iconic red and white lighthouse. Just adjacent to the beach area is where you will find the 1000 Islands Boat Museum, the 1000 Islands History Museum, and the Gananoque Boat Line where you can take a cruise around the islands.
Stay for a picnic, watch the seaplanes take off on the water, or stroll along the Waterfront Trail. No matter what you choose, spending the day at Joel Stone Park is definitely one of the best things to do in the 1000 Islands with kids.
3. Go for a Hike in Thousand Islands National Park
One of the best things to do in the 1000 Islands with kids, is to go for a hike in the Thousand Islands National Park. With several properties that make up part of the national park, including several islands and three spaces on the mainland, there a numerous trails available to suit all types of hikers.
Landon Bay is one of the biggest bays in the region and is the most popular area for hiking in Thousand Islands National Park. Most visitors prefer this area because it offers easy hiking trails with a big reward for very little work.
With seven trails to choose from, the one you really can’t miss is the Lookout Trail. Only 0.5 km from the parking lot, the Lookout Trail allows you to enjoy spectacular views of Landon Bay and the 1000 Islands in under half an hour.
In order to access the Lookout Trail, you will need to first start on the Donevan Trail. The Donevan Trail is a 4.3 km loop that encircles the park, with the Lookout Trail detouring off this longer trail. It would take you approximately 1.5 hours to complete the moderately-rated Donevan Trail.
The Jones Creek Trails are another awesome place for hiking adventures in Thousand Islands National Park. The trails, for the most part, are pretty short and relatively flat, but still have incredible views along the way.
There are 6 trails to explore at Jones Creek, most showcasing old-growth forests, wetland habitats, and gorgeous views of the surrounding waters. The trails are between 0.6 km and 3.9 km in length, with the longest Hawk Trail taking approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete.
And if you enjoy finding the Parks Canada Red Chairs, head out on the Heron Loop. This easy 1.0 km loop will take you about 20 minutes, and will provide you with some fantastic views while you sit down and relax.
All the trails at Jones Creek are rated from easy to moderate, which definitely makes this a very family-friendly activity option while visiting the 1000 Islands. Be sure to pack insect repellent and check for ticks after hiking in the park.
One last thing to keep in mind when heading to Thousand Islands National Park is that you will need to purchase a Parks Pass for admission.
Passes can either be purchased at the gates, or they can be purchased in advance online. For more information, visit the Parks Canada website.
The pass will need to be left on your dashboard while in the parks.
As far as the passes go, you also have a couple of options to choose from:
1. Purchase a Day Pass
A day pass allows entry into any National Park for one day. The daily passes expire at 4 pm the following day. The cost is:
- Adult: $10.00
- Senior: $8.40
- Youth (up to 17 yo): FREE
- Family/group (up to 7 people): $20.00
- Commercial group (per person): $8.40
2. Purchase a Discovery Pass
A Parks Canada “Discovery Pass” can be purchased and used for multiple parks and is valid for one full year. The cost is:
- Adult: $69.19
- Senior: $59.17
- Family/group: $139.40
4. Take a 1000 Islands Cruise
Taking a City Cruise is definitely one of the most iconic and best things to do in the 1000 Islands with kids. City Cruises are fully accessible and offer a variety of daytime sightseeing excursions, as well as a special sunset cruise.
In business since 1951, the company operates several trip-decker vessels, which are perfect for a 1000 Islands excursion. Cruises are between 1 and 5 hours long, and run several times a day, depending on the option.
Sit back and enjoy the ride as you sail along the St. Lawrence River, past incredible million-dollar mansions and beach homes, natural landmarks and even a gorgeous castle! As you cruise along, the automated recording tells you all about the history of the islands, as well as the tales of the shipwrecks that lie beneath the water.
A cruise is a delightful and relaxing way to spend the day sightseeing. Prices start at $27.50 for adults, children aged 6-12 are $21.50, and kids under 5 were $13.50. Parking, for a small fee, was located across the street from where the boats docked.
And don’t forget to pack a hat and some sunscreen, as it is really easy to burn while out on your cruise!
5. Visit a Castle While on Your 1000 Islands Cruise
If you decide to do the 5-hour excursion with City Cruises, you will not only be able to enjoy the gorgeous views along St. Lawrence but you will also be treated to a stopover at an incredible castle!
Visiting Heart Island and Boldt Castle should definitely be on your list of the best things to do in the 1000 Islands. But make sure you have your passports! The castle lies on American soil, which means a quick trip through customs upon disembarkation of the boat (as well as on arrival back in Gananoque).
Construction of Boldt Castle began in 1900 by George C. Boldt, proprietor of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, as a tribute to his wife Louise. Boldt spared no expense in the construction of the castle, with many opulent details visible throughout.
However, when Louise passed away suddenly in 1904, all construction on the castle was halted, with Boldt never returning to the island again. As a result, many rooms in the castle remain unfinished.
Exploring the Castle
The rooms that were completed, however, were absolutely gorgeous. We especially loved the incredible kitchen! Surrounded by all the opulence, you could almost imagine that you were in a castle somewhere in Europe.
Once you are done viewing the inside of the castle, you definitely don’t want to miss walking the grounds! The views from various parts of the island are spectacular, allowing for some pretty great photography opportunities.
The cruise allows for 2 hours on the island, which is plenty of time for a self-guided tour of the castle and grounds, as well as a visit to the gift shop and a quick snack at the concession stand.
We really enjoyed our allotted time on the island. We did not feel rushed, and it gave the kids a chance to stretch their legs, run around, and release some energy!
6. Go for a Bike Ride
A really great and inexpensive way to explore the 1000 Islands with kids, is by bike. And the 1000 Islands Waterfront Trail is the perfect place for a ride!
This 37 km paved multi-use pathway runs along the St. Lawrence River, offering cyclists spectacular water views along the way. The pathway is about 10 feet wide, newly paved, low-traffic, and is completely separate from the busy roadway, making it perfect for families with younger children.
The 1000 Islands Waterfront Trail has plenty of access points, including Landon Bay Centre, where you will find free parking and other amenities.
7. Paddle Around the 1000 Islands on a Kayaking Adventure
One of the best things to do in the 1000 Islands with kids, is to go on a kayaking adventure. 1000 Islands Kayaking provides guided kayaking tours that are both beginner and family-friendly.
You can choose from either full or half-day tours, overnight kayak/camping adventures, or self-guided kayak rentals. 1000 Islands Kayaking provides you with all the gear necessary, including dry bags, lunch, snacks, water, and safety equipment.
Our family opted for a full-day adventure in tandem kayaks. Hubby and I each took one of the kids with us, so it worked out really well.
The day begins with a brief in-water lesson for the group. As the packages are not private, you will be paddling with other participants.
The tour begins with a paddle through the Admiralty Group of islands. Our guide was quite knowledgeable about the history of the area, telling us interesting facts about the various islands and their inhabitants.
Lunch was served on a small island and included a lot of fresh veggies, fruit, salad, fresh sandwiches and drinks. Participants are also given some time during the lunch break to go for a swim before heading out for the second half of the tour.
Throughout the day, we paddled past some beautiful homes and yachts, explored some gorgeous coves, and sailed through some spectacular waterways. Our guide made sure to stop for photo ops, as well as to make sure that the slower members of the group were never far behind.
We would definitely recommend this tour to anyone. But you do need to have some level of fitness and stamina to take part in the full-day tour, especially if you have kids in tow.
The cost for the full-day tour was $145 per adult and $95 per youth. Parking was free and located adjacent to the water. Kids over the age of 6 are allowed to participate.
Half-day tours are 3 hours in length and cost $145 per adult and $75 per youth.
8. Climb the 1000 Islands Tower
The 1000 Islands Tower is another one of the best things to do in the 1000 Islands with kids. This one-of-a-kind attraction takes you up 130 meters (400 feet), allowing you to enjoy panoramic views of the St. Lawrence River and 1000 Islands.
The elevator takes about 40 seconds to reach the first of three observation areas on the 1000 Islands Tower. From there, you can enjoy the gorgeous landscape from Kingston to Brockville. Tour guides are also available on the observation decks to provide you with local knowledge and answer all your questions.
Each 30-minute visit includes an elevator trip to the top of the tower and 3 open observation decks for you to explore. The cost of admission is $17 for adults, $9 for kids 6-12 years, and free for kids under 5 years.
9. Get a Bird’s Eye View on a 1000 Islands Helicopter Tour
1000 Islands Helicopter Tours offers the most incredible views of the 1000 Islands Region. From this birds-eye perspective, you can admire the beauty of the islands in a truly unique fashion.
During your private flight, the pilot will provide a personal narration of the region, teaching you about its geographic make up and historical significance. Be sure to take advantage of this unique opportunity for photography!
With five unique tours on offer, you are sure to find one that fits your budget and needs.
🚁 Book your 1000 Islands Helicopter Tour here.
10. Do Some Frontcountry Camping
If camping is something your family enjoys, then head over to Thousand Islands National Park for some frontcountry camping. With several different campgrounds available, you can choose to camp on the mainland, or on one of the islands.
Whether you want to rough it in a tent or do some glamping in a Parks Canada oTENTik, you can rest easy knowing they all offer incredible views.
The 1000 Islands also has several private and KOA campgrounds that are family and RV friendly. Most have great amenities such as outdoor pools and hot showers, which will definitely elevate the whole camping experience!
Where to Eat in Gananoque
There are many amazing restaurants in downtown Gananoque. From take-out places to casual dining, cafes, and upscale restaurants, you can find it all.
Greko’s Pizzeria was a nice little family-friendly eat-in pizza place. There was more than enough selection and the staff was friendly and knowledgeable.
For something a little more upscale, try Riva Restaurant. Riva is set in a gorgeous renovated historic building and can set the stage for any special occasion.
Riva has a fine dining room, fireplace, and bar area, as well as 2 outdoor patio areas. The food, which is made from locally-sourced ingredients, is absolutely delicious!
Where to Stay While in the 1000 Islands
For our stay in Gananoque, we chose the Holiday Inn Express and Suites. The hotel was clean, the rooms comfortable, and the staff friendly. Our stay included a hot breakfast, which was more than enough for us.
Although the hotel is not within walking distance of the downtown area, it is only a short drive to many attractions. Plenty of free parking was also available at this hotel.
🏨 Find the best deals on hotels in Gananoque and the surrounding area here.
Final Thoughts on the Best Things to Do in the 1000 Islands with Kids
There are so many incredible things to do in the 1000 Islands with kids, we are sure that you will find it difficult to decide where to start first. Gananoque and the 1000 Islands are filled with so many places to explore and gorgeous vistas to admire, that they really should be part of your itinerary when visiting the area.
Have you been to the 1000 Islands before? What was your favourite thing to do?