Tents, sleeping bags, S’mores, and freaky ghost stories by a crackling fire. They’re all synonymous with a cultural phenomenon that has lasted centuries. Well, maybe it’s more like several millennia. [Read more…]
The Iroquois called the 1000 Islands “Manitouana” or “Garden of the Great Spirit,” and today that garden is most lush near the village of Rockport. Just to the east is Grenadier Island, for example, part of Thousand Islands National Park, and south are some of the archipelago’s most famous, including Heart Island, home to Boldt Castle. Getting to them is easy with a jumping off point like Rockport, where there’s a cruise line, three marinas, diving charters and fishing guides. But don’t forget about exploring Rockport itself. There are over 200 years of history in this village known as the “Heart of the 1000 Islands,” and the food and accommodation options are as diverse as those clusters offshore. Read on for the best ways to explore all of it.
The most popular way to get out on the water and see those islands and natural beauty is aboard a Rockport Boat Line cruise. With 7 different cruises ranging from 1 to 6 hours — each including a trip to Boldt Castle and some with lunch or dinner — there’s a voyage for anyone. Here are the details on all seven:
Heart of the Islands (1 hour): A quick overview of nearby islands, including Zavikon Island and Millionaire’s Row, a stretch with some of the most opulent estates in the region.
Palaces & Palisades (2 hours): A journey named to the “Signature Experiences Collection” featuring the Canadian Palisades, where a statue of Saint Lawrence watches over the river.
Sunset Cruise (3 hours): Boldt Castle, Singer Castle, the 1000 Islands International Bridge and Millionaire’s Row never look better than when the sun is going down.
St. Lawrence Lunch Cruise (2 hours): A non-stop tour of all of all of the above spots, as well Rock and Cherry Islands, plus a country buffet lunch (think herb-roasted chicken, seasonal veg and carrot cake).
Sunset Dinner Cruise (3 hours): Similar to the Sunset Cruise, but with a dinner buffet featuring mixed greens, Atlantic salmon, spinach and cheese tortellini, roast potatoes and more.
Boldt Castle Tour (3.5 hours): George C. Boldt’s 120-room castle is at the heart of this tour, which includes a two-hour stopover. Bring your passport.
Two Castle Tour (6 hours): An all-day excursion to Boldt and Singer Castles, including 1.5-hour stops at both and a lunch buffet. Bring your passport.
Whether you’re a boater, diver, fisher, hiker, cycler or all of the above, you’ll find what you’re looking for in and around Rockport and then some. As part of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere, this is a migration crossroads where five forest regions merge. Translation: it’s one of the most biodiverse regions in Canada.
Boating: With three marinas and a nearby water wonderland, Rockport is a boater’s paradise. Motorboats, sailboats, kayaks and canoes occupy this area of the St. Lawrence all summer long, dragging tubers, anchoring in coves, and travelling to nearby national parks and communities like Kingston, Gananoque and Alexandria Bay.
Diving: One of the fastest growing recreational sports in Rockport, and no wonder. Visibility is often in excess of 60 feet here, and there are over 100 shipwrecks nearby. One, the Kinghorn, which went down in 1912, is right off Rockport. Start your diving charter search with Thousand Island Pleasure Diving.
Fishing: Drop a line around here and you’ll catch northern pike, smallmouth and largemouth bass, muskellunge, walleye, perch, carp, catfish, crappie, rock bass, and sunfish. Local stores and resorts carry supplies and licenses, and they’ll tell you everything you need to know about guides, ramps and docking.
Hiking: Learn Rockport’s 200 year history on a guided walk through the village. There are four routes, each with unique points of interest that highlight everything from Rockport’s boatbuilding industry, to its forays into cheese making, to its religious roots.
Biking: Hop on the bicycle path along nearby 1000 Islands Parkway, which totals about 35 kilometres between Gananoque and Butternut Bay. Rockport is the midpoint, making it a great spot to stop and take a break on a restaurant patio or a riverside bench. Bike racks are found near refreshment and information stations.
You won’t have to go far to refuel. Rockport’s got a coffee bar, patios, waterfront dining and, of course, ice cream. And as mentioned, if you want to put your island adventure and dining together, check out a lunch or dinner cruise from Rockport Boat Line. Here’s where else to chow down and drink up:
Andress Boat Works: This marina and shop comes stocked with a coffee bar, ice cream shop and grocery store with local honey, baked goods, vegetables and meat.
The Boathouse Restaurant: Built in the 1830s and boasting the best views of the river, this is fine dining done relaxed. A sample: duck confit poutine, pear and camembert panini, baby back ribs from an onsite smoker.
Cornwall’s Pub and Eatery: Just a few steps from The Boathouse Restaurant and a bit more laidback. Think cold beer and pubfare in a cozy tavern. Great patio in the summer.
Caiger’s Sport Resort: Two kilometres away with two options: “The Lower Deck,” which has pub food and a patio overlooking the St. Lawrence, and “The Upper Deck,” an evening hangout with pizza, light fare, drinks and live music.
Rockport has been known for its lodges and resorts since the early 1900s, and although the accommodation options have evolved since then, there’s still a good variety: country inns, bed and breakfasts, riverside suites. Heck, if you want to pitch a tent nearby, you can do that too. Here are a few options, but stayed tuned to rockporthousandislands.ca for more:
RiverRock Suite: A loft suite overlooking the St. Lawrence with a living room, kitchenette, bedroom, four-piece bath and balcony. Breakfast basket delivered each morning.
Boathouse Country Inn: A balance of old and new right on the waterfront. Eight waterside rooms, two waterfront rooms and a suite for up to six people with a Jacuzzi and large balcony.
Caiger’s Sport Resort: 36 rooms in a variety of styles. Cabins, a two-bedroom suite, Jacuzzi suites and riverfront rooms. All rooms have outdoor balconies or patios.
From above, the Bay of Quinte looks like a “Z,” but from the ground it seems more like an “X” marks the spot. Encompassing communities like Quinte West, Belleville and Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, its treasures include some of the best walleye fishing on the continent; Belleville’s Waterfront Festival, named one of the top fests in Ontario; and enough fresh cheese, chocolate, produce and craft beer to keep you happy for a lifetime. Here’s the lowdown on the loot, including details on 12 of the best ways to scoop it up.
An 85-kilometre-long waterway, 30 nearby conservation areas, and a network of year-round trails that gets you right up close to the Bay of Quinte’s communities — what more motivation do you need to get out there? How about migratory walleye often weighing more than 10 pounds, not to mention the bass, salmon, trout, perch, pike and pickerel you’ll find here, too (consider a charter)? Would Black Bear Ridge Golf Course, named one of the best in the country by Golf Digest, help? How about Bleasdell Boulder, one of the largest glacial rocks in Norther America?
3 Best Outdoors Experiences
Walleye World Fishing Derby: Annual derby during first weekend of May that attracts thousands of anglers to Quinte West. In 2015, there were $200,000 in cash and prizes.
Battawa Ski Hill: Nine runs open in the winter (day and night) for skiers and snowboarders; 25 kilometres of hiking and biking trails in the summer; and a Dino Dig park with a 40-foot replica T-Rex.
Food and Drink
Farm-fresh food and booze are in the Bay of Quinte’s DNA. In the 1940s there were over 100 cheese factories in the area, and in the latter half of the 1800s the barley grown here and shipped to breweries all over Canada was regarded as some of the best in the country. Fast forward to today and those roots are clear at places like Maple Dale Cheese, whose medium cheddar was the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix Champion in 2013, and Gateway Brewing Company, whose brews are handcrafted with no preservatives or additives. Taste even more of the Bay of Quinte’s rich agricultural roots at farmers’ market in Quinte West and Belleville, or by indulging in farm-to-fork fare at restaurants throughout the region.
3 Best Food and Drink Experiences
Cheddar & Ale Trail: Meander along back roads while discovering the four cideries, seven breweries and seven cheese factories that are making this area Ontario’s cheddar and ale capital.
Chocolate & Apple Trail: Pair that cheddar and ale with apple and chocolate treats from one (or all) of the ten orchards and seven chocolatiers found right here in the Bay of Quinte.
Pasta-making Classes: Learn how to make authentic pasta with local, seasonal ingredients from the best pasta makers in the region at Belleville’s Pasta Tavola.
Arts and Culture
Playing host to classic rock icons, to cutting-edge comedians, to burgeoning stage actors since 1938, Belleville’s Empire Theatre is the cornerstone of the Bay of Quinte’s arts scene. For even more intimacy, head to Trenton’s James Alexander Theatre, a 75-seater that resembles a nineteenth century music hall. Art buffs should check out the John M. Parrott Gallery in the Belleville Public Library or Tyendinaga’s Native Renaissance 2. Those looking for a slice of Native history would be wise to visit Carrying Place National Historic Site, where Sir John Johnson and the Cheifs of Mississauga negotiated a treaty in 1787, or the Mohawk Landing Site near Deseronto, where the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte’s ancestors first arrived in 1784.
3 Best Arts and Culture Experiences
Rockfest: A three-day, outdoor rock music fest beside Belleville’s most popular theatre — The Empire. Recent acts have included Hedley, Blue Rodeo, Big Sugar and Tom Cochrane.
Arts Route Tour: A year-round, self-guided tour that connects you to 20 painters, potters, jewelry makers, photographers, performing artists and other creative people across Hastings County.
Tyendinaga Pow Wow: An annual celebration of Mohawk culture that includes a Grand Entry, traditional Iroquois song and dance, food, and handmade arts and crafts.
Festivals and Events
You might get the best overview of the Bay of Quinte’s outdoor, culinary or cultural offerings at one of the hundreds of festivals and events that happen across the region every year. The music fest scene is exploding here, in particular, and includes Empire Rockfest, Trenton Big Band Festival and the Canadian Indie Music Festival, which all happen in July. Fishing enthusiasts flock to a number of derbies along the Bay of Quinte throughout the year (stay tuned to fishingbayofquinte.com), while those more painting inclined might enjoy Belleville’s springtime Plein Air Festival, a three-day event where artists get inspired by their surroundings and complete works outside.
3 Best Festivals and Events
Belleville Waterfront & Ethnic Festival: One of the Top 100 festivals in Ontario. Four days of midway, world food, adventure sports, fishing, vendors and way more. Don’t miss: Canadian Indie Music Festival.
Savour: An evening fall showcase of the Bay of Quinte’s harvest where you’ll taste everything from local beer and wine to farm-fresh squash and apples to grass-fed, organic beef.
Quinte Exhibition: The cow and horse fairs are the cornerstones, but the midway is always spectacular, and the demolition derby and heavy truck and tractor pulls should get you out of your seat. Live music, food vendors and beer garden, too, of course.
Want to see what else Bay of Quinte has to offer? Click here & start planning your trip!
It didn’t take long for the 1000 Islands region to find it’s way to my heart. Smallmouth fishing in super clear water is one of my summertime favourites and on this amazing fishery it’s only the beginning of what species are present. Joined by Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, this fishery is world-class and brings in anglers from both Canada and the United States. With thousands of islands, humps and rock shoals, this place is an angler’s paradise!
A recent trip to Gananoque with my fishing partner, Eric, was a first for both of us fishing in the 1000 Islands region. In an afternoon trip, we were able to find success with smallmouth bass, northern pike and walleye too.
With endless structure to explore, the 1000 Islands have the perfect habitat for bass. Our success was found on points and on steep break lines going from 15 to 30 feet of water or more. The favourite on the menu were X-Zone Slammers on a drop-shot rig and Rapala X-Raps. Working the drop-shot rig slowly and even dragging it on bottom while drifting worked well either parallel to structure or casting in and working it outward. Most times fish would hit as soon as the weight connected with bottom. I love this style of fishing!
For the X-Raps we fished much faster using a ‘twitch, twitch, twitch, pause’ method. Most times fish would hit on the pause, so keeping an eye on any line movement and picking up quickly was how we successfully hooked up. With such clear water, we could see rock piles even going down to twenty feet in depth. In the clear water conditions, these fish will react quickly on a jerkbait and can even be enticed in deeper water surrounding the shoals and humps they relate to. We fished at a fast pace around the structure and moved from spot to spot landing several smallmouth. They sure put up a great battle with full jumps clearing the water at times. Smallies are easily one of my favourite species to target!
As we were catching smallies, we also had great success with northern pike. It was nearly back-to-back with pike and smallmouth and both are aggressive fighters. Several good-sized pike were caught in the same types of areas as the bass: relating to the structure and surrounding steep breaks. Pike love jerkbaits, spoons, spinnerbaits and other types of crankbaits. Casting towards the structure and working the lures away was how we boated several nice pike. All fish were released and will hopefully be caught again!
Our first experience in Gananoque was definitely a success, but the day wasn’t over yet and we were in for a bit of a surprise. Eric casted his drop-shot out and let it sink to the edge of an isolated hump where it quickly went down to 40 feet from 10 feet. After a twitch or two of the Slammer, he had a hit and we both knew it was a monster right away by the bend in the rod and the screaming reel. He played this fish out allowing it to run and slowly worked it up. We caught a glimpse and thought at first it was a pike with the elongated body. After a few minutes, Eric was finally able to bring it to the surface where I had the net ready. A few last thrashes and it was in the net. It was a monster walleye and we were celebrating! The fish weighed in at 9 pounds, 1 ounce. Needless to say, we will be back in the 1000 Islands very soon and I cannot wait!
Thinking back to the early days of my childhood, I can still remember parts of my first fishing experiences that took place on Lake Kashwakamak. Thanks to a family friend that owned a lodge on the lake, my family was able to visit several times a year and experience the outdoor lifestyle on just one of the many lakes in the Land O’ Lakes region. Trolling for walleye with Rapala’s in Arnold’s boat was one of my favourite childhood memories. Little did I know at the time how these experiences would shape my future and instill a lifelong passion for fishing. The Land O’ Lakes region has over five-thousand lakes and rivers for anglers to choose from and create unforgettable fishing memories that last a lifetime.
Each year I make it a mission to fish on new lakes in the region. Every lake and body of water has it’s own unique charm and it’s always exciting to explore a new area. Whether it’s by boat, canoe or kayak, the opportunities are literally endless, as the famous saying goes: ‘It would take 13 years to fish a different lake each day in the Land O’ Lakes.’ At only 29 years old, I haven’t even scratched the surface yet and I look forward to spending the rest of my life exploring what the region has to offer. A few lakes that are among my favourites include: Sydenham, Loughborough, Stocco, Silver, Beaver, the Napanee River, and Palmerston. This list grows each year!
Some of my preferred summer species to target include: largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, and muskellunge. Although I spend most of my time on these warm water species, there are still many other angling opportunities in the summer and throughout the rest of the year in this four-season fishing destination.
Largemouth and smallmouth bass can be found in most all of the lakes in the region. While their habitats may differ slightly, largies and smallies can still be found in many of the same types of habitats. Largemouth prefer warmer water and relate to structure such as weed beds, lily pads, fallen trees and docks. Smallmouth can usually be found in cooler and clearer water and relate to rocks, and areas with sandy or hard bottom. Both species are a riot to catch and put up a respectable battle.
Northern pike also populate several of the lakes in the region and grow to impressive sizes. They inhabit areas similar to largemouth and can be found in brackish waters. Unless there are musky around, pike tend to hold the top of the food chain and will even stalk your lure all the way to the boat as it is retrieved. Pike show no mercy on their prey and thus put up a great fight on the end of your line!
Musky are not as common throughout the Land O’ Lakes, which makes proper catch and release essential to sustain the population. Known as the ‘fish of ten-thousand casts’ musky fishing takes a little more dedication and knowledge to be successful. The proper tools and equipment must be used to handle these fish to enable a quick ‘catch and release’. As such a powerful fish, musky will put on quite the show for anglers with headshakes and full jumps clear out of the water. Musky are one of my favourite species to target and it’s easy to see why perseverance pays off!
Whether it’s smallmouth, largemouth, northern pike or even musky that you’re after, the Land O’ Lakes has it all and much more. Come explore this region and experience the great fishing it has to offer!
If you like to paddle and hike, the trail to Blue Mountain on the east side of beautiful Charleston Lake is perfect for this. Blue Mountain is the highest point in Leeds County. I love the panoramic views it gives you of the surrounding area.
The trail head to Blue Mountain is only accessible by water from Huckleberry Hollow, so you can paddle and park the kayak or canoe on the shoreline, and follow the winding trail to Blue Mountain’s scenic vista to get an inspiring look at Charleston Lake. It makes for an awesome lunch spot for the paddler and hiker.
Charleston Lake has a reputation for being one of the prettiest lakes in Ontario, with over 100 islands, 100 miles of diverse shoreline adorned with beautiful granite and sandstone rock, hidden coves, large and small bays, and rocky cliffs. It has lots of deep water and shallows. You get the idea. It’s especially interesting for paddlers, boaters, and fishermen.
To top it off, the lake also has one of Ontario’s nicest provincial parks, Charleston Lake Provincial Park, with exceptional natural and man-made amenities for camping, fishing, hiking, swimming, and many other ways you can enjoy your time away from work.
Charleston Lake is a good-sized lake at about 14 kilometres long (9 miles) and 6 kilometres wide (4 miles) at the widest part. As a paddler, I like it because it’s not too big, and it’s not too small. It’s just right for paddling, camping, hiking, fishing, and exploring.
On a bright summer morning under fair blue skies, our group of kayakers launched from the Charleston village public boat launch with free parking off Water Street at the north end of the lake, and paddled south past Indian Head Rock, winding our way around a string of large and small islands.
You can also launch from the south end of the lake from the village of Outlet, or from Charleston Lake Provincial Park’s boat or canoe launches if you are visiting the park.
After a brisk 8 kilometre paddle from the Charleston boat launch to Huckleberry Hollow, we parked our kayaks on the shady shore, changed our paddle shoes for hiking boots, grabbed our lunches, and picked up the well-marked Blue Mountain trail head.
It felt good to stretch out the legs on the trail with forty-five minutes of moderate hiking to reach Blue Mountain’s 194-meter-high scenic vista. If you move fast on the trail, the bugs can’t keep up, otherwise, remember to bring and apply the bug juice in spring and summer.
It’s called Blue Mountain, but it seemed more yellow to me when we found ourselves surrounded by an explosion of wildflowers. The panoramic view at the top is a pretty sweet reward for a few hours of paddling and hiking, and makes for an awesome lunch spot.
After enjoying a relaxed lunch sitting on the smooth granite rock, basking in the warm sunshine and gentle breezes, it was back to our labour of love: A 45-minute hike back down the trail to the kayaks, and an 8 kilometre paddle back to the Charleston village boat launch at the north end of the lake.
In total, we clocked 16 kilometres (10 miles) of paddling and 1 ½ hours of hiking. What a satisfying day on the water and on the mountain!
It’s best to plan this paddle and hike on a fair weather day with light to moderate winds. Be on the lookout for motorboats on the lake. Charleston Lake is popular with boaters as well as paddlers.
A map is necessary
Without a good map, a kayak compass, and some navigation skills, it would be easy to get lost on Charleston Lake. There are over 100 islands and 100 miles of shoreline. A GPS helps.
I purchased a colour, topographical map of Charleston Lake Provincial Park at World of Maps in Ottawa, Ontario. You can also buy them at the park for a small fee. I find the map an excellent resource for kayaking the lake and hiking in the park. The water depths are shown in different shades of blue.
We had maps, a compass, a GPS, and paddlers who were familiar with the lake, as well as good navigators on this paddle, so finding our way was fairly easy.
Enjoy your visit to Charleston Lake. It’s a great place to paddle and explore!
Peggy Varner, Publisher of the Baffinpaddler http://baffinpaddler.blogspot.ca
For more information
- Charleston Lake Provincial Park, Ontario Parks
- Charleston Lake paddle routes, Explore the Arch
- If you don’t own a kayak of your own, or prefer a guided trip, 1000 Islands Kayaking in Gananoque, Ontario offers guided day trips on Charleston Lake in the fall. Contact them for more information or to find out about other trips and kayaking courses in the 1000 Islands region throughout the summer and fall.
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