In May it got a whole lot easier and cheaper to experience the Thousand Islands from a helicopter. The reason: local helicopter tour agent Kouri’s Kopters opened a new facility just off Highway 401 near Gananoque, not far from the heart of the islands themselves.
In the past, they were based at the Kingston airport, which is over twenty kilometers away from where the 1000 Islands really begin to show their numbers and their diversity. Now Kouri’s Kopters is about two kilometers away from there and offers three tours ranging from $99 to $199 that last between ten minutes and a half hour (find details about each tour at the end of this post).
They also have a new welcome centre with a comfortable lounge for you to wait, a patio for watching helicopters take off and land, and a gift shop. Outside, there’s a huge parking lot that can fit buses, RVs and cars.
Whichever tour you choose, it will be “breathtaking,” says Ewelina Sobala, the sales and marketing Director at Kouri’s Kopters. Even those who were scared to hop in a helicopter for the first time drastically change their tune by the time they land. “Initially, they might not have wanted to go on at all,” says Sobala, “but after, they always say they want to go again.”
Even if you’ve never flown over the 1864 islands, you can likely imagine why it would be that fun. The eighty-kilometer-long archipelago stretches from Kingston to Brockville, and when you’re up in the air, you can actually get a sense of what that breadth actually means. You can also quickly see why it’s one of the continent’s most bio-diverse areas. From one window it might be an osprey taking off over a marsh; from another, a white tail deer near the shores of a bigger island.
And if you take one of the castle tours, you’ll understand why it was called the summer capital for the rich and famous in the early twentieth century. The six-story, one-hundred-twenty-room Boldt Castle alone is an architectural treasure with tunnels, Italian gardens and a children’s playhouse within a tower. Singer Castle is almost as opulent. Built from 1902 to 1904, the four-story, twenty-eight-room granite castle has a four-story tower, a two-story ice house (once perfect for entertaining high society), three boathouses, and multiple dungeons and underground tunnels.
Castles or no castles, however, each tour will leave you in jaw-dropped wonder. Take it from Ewelina Sobala: “Everybody that comes off consistently says, ‘Oh my gosh, why didn’t I do this before?’”
88 County Rd. 32
Leeds & Thousand Islands, Ontario
Toll Free: 1-855-855-4354
1000 Islands Helicopter Tours has three voyages for you to choose from, each with a different price, duration and lineup of sights (and you don’t need a passport for any of them).
Thousand Islands Tour
$99, 10 minutes
Sights: St. Lawrence Parks, Gananoque, Ivy Lea Bridge
Boldt Castle Tour
$149, 18 minutes
Sights: St. Lawrence Parks, Gananoque, Ivy Lea Bridge, Boldt Castle
Two Castle Tour
$199, 30 minutes
Sights: St. Lawrence Parks, Gananoque, Ivy Lea Bridge, Boldt Castle, Singer Castle