Well, it’s not really true… There’re actually 1,864 islands (this year) within a 50-mile stretch of the St. Lawrence River between Ontario and New York State. The border zigs and zags among the islands, intentionally keeping each island wholly within either the US or Canada. Although there is a greater number of islands in Canada, several in the US are larger, rendering the total acreage of all the islands about even. The count changes periodically since there are rules to qualify as an island. Each land mass must have at least one square foot of land above water level year-round and support at least two living trees. Some of the smaller islands come and go.
In the late 1800’s, George Pullman (famous for his railroad cars) bought an island and built a summer home. After hosting President Ulysses S. Grant, the media of the time brought attention to the 1000 Islands and put the area on ‘the map.’ 1000 Islands became a playground for the elite, attracted by the natural beauty, and of course the exclusivity that comes with having your own island. The islands remain dotted with mansions representing those times, some still in use, others in ruins. The area’s golden age ended with the Great Depression and never returned to its full glory.
I first heard about this area in the 80’s and promised myself someday to visit. Several trips to the Adirondacks over the years kept that vow alive. Fast forward to April 2016 and lunch in Burlington with my friend Jeannie who mentioned she wanted to explore 1000 Islands, and presto! A plan to meet up…
The meet up was a complete success!
Jeannie and her husband, Craig, joined us from Vermont in their RV – a classic Westfalia VW bus. We shared a well matched sense of what the long weekend should be – a balance of chill time and excellent adventure.
With a little planning and a whole lotta luck, we found ourselves in the perfect campground – Grass Point State Park. Location, location, location! This smaller campground is on a point in the St. Lawrence. Our large, adjoining campsites allowed for views of the river and beautiful sunsets. Grass Point is 6 miles from Alexandria Bay, the hub of the 1000 Islands, and 4 miles from Clayton, a nicely preserved historic port village. Our campground was also 2 miles from a full service grocery store and 1/4 mile from a questionable-looking motel/restaurant/bar. We were able to bike wherever we wanted to go.
Mornings featured lots of fresh, hot coffee, (digital) newspapers, and boats of all kinds heading up and down the river. Friday featured a wonderful shared dinner, conversation, stories and wandering around the point in search of the ultimate sunset photo.
Saturday was the adventure… The best way to see 1,864 islands on a hot, sunny day is by boat. We took a tour out of Alexandria Bay and spent three hours on the river with a narrative of the islands, shore towns and the history of the area. Some of the more interesting islands included the smallest qualifying one, the magnificent Boldt Castle on Heart Island, and two islands on either side of the US-Canada border, owned by the same family and joined by a short bridge deemed the ‘shortest international border crossing.’
On the bike ride back from Alex Bay, Jeannie and I decided it was too late to start cooking dinner and we’d consider the questionable bar. We were delighted to find very good food along with the cold brews. Being late June, we had plenty of time to bike the whole 1/4 mile back to the campground at 9pm, before darkness set in.
Wonderful visit! And yes, the dressing was invented here…
More photos: 1000 Islands