The Thousand Islands region is filled with summer attractions for the adventurous traveler, the prudent sightseer and the history-seeking enthusiast. Located between Henderson Harbor and extending into Ontario, Canada, the archipelago is comprised of various communities dotting Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway, and contains 1,864 islands.
To be considered an official island, the land must be one square foot above water level year-round, and support at least two living trees. You’ll find everything from small-sized islands that make perfect homes for fowl to large islands with historic castles included in the official tally.
Wherever you end up in the “Garden of the Great Spirit,” be sure to order Thousand Islands dressing with your salad, which, according to oral tradition, originated from this region. Whether you are having lunch in Sackets Harbor or dinner in Alexandria Bay, ask the locals about Thousand Islands dressing and you’re likely to hear different variations from village to village.
One common version describes the dressing’s origins as a recipe of Sophia LaLonde, which she would make as part of her husband’s dinner when he returned from his fishing guide trips. This version of the story tells of vaudeville actress May Irwin enjoying the recipe, who then passed it on to Thousand Islands summer resident George Boldt, the builder of Boldt Castle and proprietor of New York City’s Waldorf Astoria.
Legend has it that Boldt had the dressing put on the menu in 1894, where it eventually poured its way into becoming a standard condiment in households throughout the nation. Incidentally, Thousand Islands dressing is made from ketchup, mayonnaise and pickle relish. Yum!
Dive into the Thousand Islands region to discover some beautiful natural settings, lighthouses, unique museums and activities for the whole family in towns and villages located at the intersection of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. And when the sun sets, the A-Bay nightlife gets started, with restaurants and taverns to entertain adults, while family-friendly double bills are available at the twin movie screens of the Bay Drive-In as well as the single-screen Black River Drive-In near Fort Drum.
Here are some fun facts to get you started:
- Chaumont Bay, located between Sackets Harbor and Cape Vincent is the largest freshwater bay in the world.
- The St. Lawrence River is one of the longest rivers in North America, flowing 744 miles (only 114 miles of the river are located in New York state).
- The Thousand Islands Bridge covers a distance of 8.5 miles, connects the United States to Canada.
Now through Oct. 12.
Singer Castle on Dark Island.
Singercastle.com. American history meets folklore at Singer Castle, constructed in 1905. Knights in armor and secret passageways help tell the story of “The Towers,” a four-story, 28-room castle overlooking the St. Lawrence River. The castle was designed by American architect Ernest Flagg and originally owned by Frederick Bourne, president of the Singer sewing machine company.
To get there, depart from Alexandria Bay on Uncle Sam Boat Tours. Through June 27, and later from Sept. 2 to Oct. 12, tours take place Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m. During summer’s peak hours from June 28 to Aug. 31, tours are Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and Sundays at 1 p.m. Admission is $36 for ages 13 and up, $18 for ages 4 to 12. The boat tours last three hours and include a one-hour guided tour of the castle.
Thousand Islands Bluegrass Festival.
Stone Mills Agriculture Museum, Route 180, Lafargeville. Thousandislandsbluegrass.com. Live bluegrass music, workshops, crafts, vendors and food will fill the air as Bill Knowlton and the Thousand Islands Bluegrass Preservation Society get ramblin’ for their 25th season. Rough camping is free. Attendees are encouraged to bring their instruments. Weekend pass: $50 in advance, $55 at the gate. Thursday: $10; Friday: $25; Saturday: $25. A Brush with History. Sackets Harbor Battlefield (off Hill Street), Sackets Harbor. aanny.org. A weekend for painters and non-painters alike, presented by the Sackets Harbor Art Center. Watch painters capture the beauty of the battlefield, or bring your brushes and paint “en plein air.” There are also workshops and unique art for sale. Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Great New York State Food and Wine Festival.
Cerow Recreation Park, Clayton. 1000islands-clayton.com. Sample and purchase products from producers throughout the state, including candy, cheeses, nuts, sauces, herbs and spices, ciders, maple products and, of course, wine! Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children, and free for age 12 and under. Friday, 3 to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Fort Henry Beerfest and Food Truck Festival.
Fort Henry (1 Fort Henry Drive), Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Forthenry.com Bring your passport or enhanced driver’s license as you head over to Kingston, Ontario, for the day to sample craft brews and a selection of culinary food truck delights. Learn about brewing, barbecue sauces, cooking with beer and more, plus live entertainment throughout the day. By the way, the drinking age in Canada is 19. Cheers! Saturday, noon to 8 p.m.
Thousand Islands River Run Motorcycle Rally.
Alexandria Bay. Tiriverrun.com. Featuring nail-biting motorcycle stunts and death-defying performances, custom bike displays, vendors and live music. Free admission.
Islands International Hydroplane Regatta and Festival.
Brockville, Ontario (Blockhouse Island Parkway and Centeen Park). 1000islandsregatta.com. One of the nation’s premier hydroplane boat races. Watch as boats take to the water with heart-pounding speeds for a guaranteed thrill. Food vendors, live music day and night, and a kiddie zone to keep the little ones entertained.
Cape Vincent Historical Weekend.
Cape Vincent. 654-2481. Celebrate the War of 1812 with events including a battle re-enactment, historical walking tours, tall ships and musical performances.
Made in New York Festival.
Madison Barracks (Polo Field), Worth Road, Sackets Harbor. Featuring 100 farm- and home-based businesses from New York state. Food, exhibits and local bands help celebrate the buy-local theme while supporting Watertown’s Meals on Wheels program. Fireworks take place around 9:30 p.m. at the Sackets Harbor Battlefield. The first appearance of the 9/11 mobile exhibit in New York state will also be available for viewing. Free admission. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Decoy/Wildlife Art and Sporting Collectibles Show.
Cerow Recreation Park Arena, East Line Road, Clayton. Exhibitors display all types of decoys, wildlife artwork and related items. Admission is $5.
Summer Craft Fair.
Scenic View Park Pavilion, Alexandria Bay. Artists, potters, woodworkers and more at this event.
Can Am Festival. Sackets Harbor.
Canamfestival.com. Celebrate our friendship with Canada with crafters, entertainment, food, music and a parade throughout the village of Sackets Harbor.
Dingman Point River Artists Open Studio Tour.
Dingman Point Road, Alexandria Bay. Visit artists in their studios for a day filled with original artwork, prints, pottery and handmade jewelry. See the creative process firsthand! Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
July 30-Aug. 2.
Antique Boat Show and Auction.
Antique Boat Museum, Mary Street, Clayton. abm.org. An up-close look at antique boats from a wide range of exhibitors. Enjoy live music, lectures, food and drink, with a boat auction on Saturday, Aug. 1, 1 p.m., and a boat parade on Sunday at noon. Thursday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Bill Johnston’s Pirate Days.
Alexandria Bay. visitalexbay.org. Dress like a pirate and join the invasion of Alexandria Bay. This 10-day affair is filled with live entertainment, skits and performances, demonstrations and a parade. Just say “Arrggghh!”
Stone Mills Old Farm Days and Fiber Festival.
Stone Mills Museum, Route 180, LaFargeville. Stonemillsmuseum.org. Old machinery and sawmill demonstrations, vendors, hay rides, games and music.
Brockville’s Ultimate Splash Down.
Blockhouse Island Parkway, Brockville, Ontario. Ultimateairdogscanada.ca. Dogs run down a 36-foot dock and jump into a 41-foot pool of water as judges rate the distance they jump.
Arts and Crafts Show and Sale.
Thousand Islands Arts Center, John Street, Clayton. Tiartscenter.org. Lots of works on display. Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Blues in the Bay.
Alexandria Bay. Visitalexbay.org. Wrap up your summer with a five-day blues festival in Alexandria Bay, plus sandwich in the Blues Craft Fair, taking place Sept. 5 and 6 at Scenic View Park on Fuller Street.
Black River Fall Fest.
Watertown Public Square. Blackriverfallfest.com. More than 60 craft and food vendors converge on downtown Watertown to showcase their wares. Includes a car show, live entertainment and a farmer’s market. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Vintage and Classic Street Meet and Car Show.
Clayton. 686-3771. Rev up your engines as classic chassis line the streets of Clayton for the weekend-long event. Free admission.
Clayton Jazz Festival.
Clayton Opera House and other venues, Clayton. Claytonjazzfest.com. The whole village joins in with jazz music at bars and restaurants as well as two main shows at the opera house.