As Charles Dickens rightly noted during his trip here in the 1840s, the Thousand Islands “can hardly be imagined.” Where else in the world can you find almost two thousand islands, some large and richly wooded, a few tiny and cast in granite, all unique and just waiting to be discovered? You might need a navigator. Let Gananoque, “the gateway to the Thousand Islands,” be that guide.
Situated near where the Saint Lawrence River — and the islands themselves — begin, Gananoque is the perfect jumping off point for a Thousand Islands cruise, scuba diving adventure or even helicopter tour. But the town itself is no slouch either. With just 5,000 people but boasting world-class dining and the most acclaimed theatre productions between Kingston and Montreal, this town definitely punches above its weight class. Here are the best ways to experience it, the nearby river and those “unimaginable” islands.
This region is the most unique feature of the Frontenac Arch, a billion-year-old granite ridge once part of the largest chain of mountains in the world. The arch sweeps across the Canadian Shield to the Adirondack Mountains, and where it meets the Saint Lawrence and Great Lakes it forms the Thousand Islands. The wildlife you’ll see here — whether on the 12-kilometre Gananoque Trail System, at nearby Thousand Islands National Park or out on the water — ranges from wild turkeys, to loons, to bald eagles, to blue heron, and is as diverse as anywhere in North America. Any outdoor visit here will make it clear why it was awarded a National Geographic Society Geotourism Charter.
3 Best Outdoors Experiences
1000 Islands Helicopter Tour: Get a sense of what 1,864 islands, their beauty and all that biodiversity looks like from high above on one of three different helicopter tours.
1000 Islands Cruise: With five triple-decker boats, four different day cruises and a range of evening entertainment cruises, Gananoque Boat Line has the most ways to explore the islands.
Freshwater Scuba Diving: Over 200 shipwrecks, billion-year-old underwater mountains and visibility up to 70 feet — what more can a beginner or expert scuba diver ask for?
Food and Drink
You’re bound to get a little hungry and thirsty after an outdoor adventure, but don’t worry — you’re covered here no matter what your taste. For a modern take on traditional Italian food with a locally-unique nautical twist, check out Riva. Up for more casual pub fare, microbrews and live music? Head to Stonewater Gastro Pub, just a stone’s throw from Gananoque’s waterfront. How about a barbecue smokehouse on wheels? Seek out the Polar Bear BBQ food truck. Craft beer lovers: look no further than Gananoque Brewing Company for a rotating cast of refreshing suds often made with locally-sourced organic ingredients (try the “Naughty Otter Lager”). Get the lowdown on Gananoque’s entire food and drink scene with this dining guide, prepared by Travel 1000 Islands.
3 Best Food and Drink Experiences
Cooking on the River Workshops: Get picked up in a boat from nearby Rockport and travel to Grenadier Island for an interactive cooking class in a breathtaking setting.
Gananoque Brewing Company Tour: See how the boys behind Gan’s craft brewery make their small batch, locally-sourced (when possible) beers during the summer at 1, 3, 5 and 7 pm.
Gananoque Farmers’ Market: Taste the area’s produce, meat and baked goods; meet locals and farmers; enjoy a picnic supper; and dance it off with live music. Thursdays, 4 pm – 7 pm, June through October.
Arts and Culture
The arts and culture scene is thriving in Gananoque, and its anchor is the Thousand Islands Playhouse, which draws talent from across Canada and the U.S., producing seven professional productions every year in two venues that overlook the Saint Lawrence. Art lovers should wander the waterfront to Vaga, Art on Purpose and Artouch Gallery, or take a drive along Highway 2 to Balleycanoe & Co for nineteenth-century architectural salvage turned into art. History buffs need to start at the Arthur Child Heritage Museum to learn the full 1000 Islands story and then take a historic self-guided walking tour to see the town’s story writ large in its magnificently restored Victorian, Edwardian and Georgian buildings and houses.
3 Best Arts and Culture Experiences
Thousand Islands Playhouse: No visit to Gananoque is complete without seeing a production at the most active theatre in eastern Ontario. Two theatres: Springer, the flagship; Firehall, the more intimate.
Arthur Child Heritage Museum: 10,000 years of 1000 Islands history in an old railway museum. Learn about the area’s ecosystem, its First Nations people, early settlers, military leaders, and the rich and famous of its Golden Era.
Sculpture Park Tour: Canada’s largest outdoor contemporary art exhibit. Sitting along the peaceful Gananoque River, the exhibit features works ranging from a blue heron, to an iron leaf in a pond, to red geographic forms.
Festivals and Events
One sure-fire way to taste the region’s bounty, hear its musicians, see its beauty and meet the people who make Gananoque what it is — all in a day or two — is by checking out one or two of the hundreds of festivals and events that happen hear every year. Most of Gan’s festivals take place in the summer, but you’ll discover a few during the cooler months, too. For the full lineup, stay tuned to this events calendar.
3 Best Festivals and Events
Outdoor Concert Series: Free outdoor summer music concerts at the Town Park Grandstand or Joel Stone Amphitheatre on Thursdays at 7:15 pm and 7:30 pm or Fridays at 8 pm.
Pirate Festival: Tap into Gananoque’s darker side at this free annual festival featuring music, tarot card readings, a pirate ship, a giant water slide, a Grog Contest and way more (July).
1000 Islands Family Ribfest: What do you get when you take the best ribs, chicken and pulled pork and combine them with live music, an arts and crafts show, and kids attractions? The biggest ribfest in The Great Waterway (June).
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