When you’ve got a Great Lake and the third longest river in Canada in your backyard, you’re bound to have some of the best beaches in the province. Here’s a quick guide to the top 6 in The Great Waterway, from Mille Roches, the largest sand beach on the St. Lawrence, to the Sandbanks, the three-beach crown jewel of this region.
Sandbanks Provincial Park
As the rock star of this bunch, Prince Edward County’s Sandbanks fittingly has the largest bay mouth sand bar on a freshwater lake in the world (Lake Ontario). That’s why it also has three natural, expansive beaches; one of them, Dunes Beach, with sand dunes as high as 60 metres. The other two: Outlet Beach, the most popular for its location in a large bay and gradual drop off; and Sandbanks Beach, a more remote option with slightly choppier water but with a beach just as long as the Outlet’s. See all of that sand in a different way with the park’s walking trails and daily interpretive programs in the summer.
North Beach Provincial Park
North Beach might be the most underrated beach in the region, likely because of its relative proximity to the Sandbanks. But that proximity also means that it’s way quieter there; you won’t have a problem finding a wide patch of sand for home base on the two kilometres of beach. There are actually two separate beaches there: North Beach, which drops off gradually and has 1200 metres of sand facing Lake Ontario; and North Bay Beach, which drops off quite steeply and has 800 metres of beach on a fully protected bay. Day use only.
Big Sandy Bay
You’ll have to take a ferry, a car or bike and then your own two feet to get to this beach on Lake Ontario, but trust me; the journey will be worth it. Located on the southwest corner of Wolfe Island (a 20-minute ferry ride away from Kingston), a 1.3-kilometre trail leads you through wetlands and dense maple and oak woods before arriving at the big finale: rolling sand dunes, wind-swept grasses and a kilometre-long sandy shoreline that you’ll often have almost all to yourself. The beach sits on a 404-hectare conservation area that’s home to rare birds, trees and other plant species, so enjoy but tread lightly. Day use only. Adults: $9. Under 18: $3. Under 5: free. Cash only.
Charleston Lake Provincial Park
Sand and the Canadian Shield don’t often go together in this area of the province, but when they do, it’s often one of the more dramatic natural scenes you can find. See what I mean at the two beaches on the south end of Charleston Lake. Found a half-hour north of Gananoque, the Charleston Lake area used to be home to a giant mountain range. You can still see remnants of those mountains in the bedrock that crops up around the lake, most notably at these gently sloping beaches. Note: one beach is in the day use area; the other is in Shady Ridge Campground.
Brown’s Bay Beach
This beach and day use park used to be the only provincial park between Gananoque and the Quebec border. Today’s it’s got some formidable neighbours, and yet it’s still one of the best in the 1000 Islands. There are actually two beaches here—the 600-foot east beach and 400-foot west beach—and they both meet at a scenic rock point (try swimming from one beach to the other). The park sits on about 30 acres of large oaks and grasslands, so there are plenty of cool, shady spots to take a beach break or have a picnic nearby. $7/vehicle. Free for walk-ins and cyclists.
Mille Roches Island Beach
Named after one of the underwater ghost towns of the St. Lawrence, Mille Roches is the largest of the eleven islands connected by the Long Sault Parkway. It’s there you’ll find the largest sand beach on the St. Lawrence corridor, and because it spans a long arching bay, the waters are often calm and temperate. Nearby are picnic tables, an island-themed snack bar and canoe, kayak and paddle boat rentals for those looking for a little more adventure. There are also 214 campsites on the property, 63 of which sit alongside the wooded shoreline.