Thursday 31 July 2014

Thousand Islands Kayak Camping

Willowbank to Mallorytown Landing

Canada's 1000 Islands National Park situated as it is at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, sandwiched between New York state (U.S.) and Ontario (Canada) is a boaters paradise and is particularly attractive to those kayakers who enjoy kayak camping as the park maintains boat in campsites on most of the park islands, some are on a first come basis while others may be reserved.   Sites have access to composting toilets as well as being equipped with picnic tables and usually a shelter nearby where you could eat if inclement weather.  The months of July and August tend to be very busy so in this instance as I had particular sites I hoped to use I opted to reserve which adds an extra $11 to my fee.    This trip takes us almost end to end through the 1000 Islands missing a couple of park islands to the west, Milton and Cedar near Kingston and Stovin Island to the east, off Brockville.  Travelling with Karl a kayak buddy in my vehicle, we put-in from a marina a few kilometers west of Gananoque leaving my car there for the duration of our trip;  my wife will pick me up where we finish and drive me back to retrieve my vehicle.
Willowbank to Mallorytown Landing
Paddling SW from the marina brings us to the channel which separates Howe Island from the north shore of the St. Lawrence river which we follow east dodging the Howe Island ferry's cable to reach the Admiralty Islands close to Gananoque. This is one of the busiest spots on the river with tour boats and every variety of pleasure craft whizzing by with very few that will give kayaks any leeway.  Several of the  Admiralty Islands belong to the park, Beaurivage, Aubrey, Mermaid and MacDonald, all provide camping.   MacDonald has some sites with very easy landing at the SW end and is a good choice if you need to make a quick pit stop.   Passing south of Beaurivage we continue east around the north end of Bostwick Island, here if you are of a religious bent and feel the need to commune with the Great Spirit you can nip into Half Moon Bay tie up your yak to the hitching rail and participate in Sunday service alfresco; also a good spot to take out and have lunch!   Today being Sunday we decide to go on to Leek Island (also known as Thwartway Is.) another Park island, and land there to eat lunch and perhaps have a swim.
Pulpit, Half Moon Bay
I might add that a Beaching Permit is required in order to land on the various park islands and is good for a day.   Leek island is popular with many boaters as it has a nice shallow bay good for swimming and boaters anchor offshore so eschewing the requirement to purchase a permit.   So... it is rarely visited by park personnel and a couple of kayaks on the beach are likely to go unnoticed, good spot for lunch!   Leek Island has many power boats at anchor some blasting pop music and there is a general party atmosphere.    Just us on the beach having lunch until a raft of kayaks appear; rentals from 1000 Island Kayak in Gananoque.   These are young kids in their 20's out for a day trip and we swap stories with them before heading off to Camelot where we plan to camp the night.   Rounding the southern tip of Leek we head NE staying just inside Canadian waters which will take us to Camelot a stone throw from the U.S. Grindstone island.
Kayak landing Camelot Is.
Camelot is my favorite camping spot in the islands, being furthest away from the Canadian mainland it is not plagued by all the noisy little runabouts and Seadoos although frequently visited by larger tour boats it is generally quite peaceful and the campsite I booked in my opinion is one of the nicest to be had.  It is a larger site good for 2 tents, gets good sun and a lovely view.
site 1 Camelot
By climbing on the rock which encloses the southeast side of the site one can look across at Grindstone Island a mere 500 meters distant.  We were lucky to have chosen this day to visit as a notice informs us that the island will be closed to visitors from the following day as a controlled burn is planned to aid regeneration of Pitch pine.   The rest of the day I spend reading and enjoying a swim off the boaters dock just below our site.  There is a song about a place called Camelot extolling its extraordinary attributes perhaps they could add"and the mosquitoes are but very few and seldom do they chew".  The islands being exceedingly dry they just were not a problem!  Morning dawns sunny and perfect (hey its Camelot!) and after a leisurely breakfast of bacon and pancakes I'm ready to move on.
passing below our camp on Camelot
Leaving Camelot behind we travel NE more or less following the line of the Lake Fleet Islands which run SW to NE mid-channel passing Astounder, Sugar and Prince Regent islands to name a few.  I have a keen interest in birding but at this time of year there is not a great deal to see here from the kayak but some species to watch for are Common and Caspian terns an occasional Bonaparte gull, and the ubiquitous Ospreys.

Georgina Island route

Bonaparte gull
Caspian tern

Our next port of call will be Georgina island which lies directly beneath the Thousand Island or Ivy Lea Bridge and this is where we will be spending our second night.    Georgina is conveniently in the middle of our route distance wise which is why it has been chosen but I am not anticipating much in the way of peace and quiet.   We avail ourselves of all the neat little channels we find between islands, no great distance to cover so we can take our time to explore.   I plan to stop at the south end of Ash Island to have a look at  both   
the entrance to The Fiddlers Elbow and Lyndoch Island. The Fiddlers Elbow is a narrow channel reputed to have very strong currents and this proves to be the case as we can see the water roiling near the entrance, we will be going around the north shore of Ash so will be avoiding it. 
While doing a bit of research on the area I found a blogger who has determined that Lyndoch (or Lyndoe) island was once a hideout of the pirate William (Bill) Johnston in the mid 1800's.   The town of Alexandria Bay on the U.S. side of the river has for many a year obtained great mileage out of "Wild Bills "legend much of which is likely spin but there is no doubt that the Thousand Islands was his bailiwick .   Below is Lyndoch island which is also a park island but has no camping with Ash island to left, around the corner of Ash is the Fiddlers Elbow and in the distance is the 1000 island Skydeck.

Lyndoch Island

Georgina has only two campsites both of which are small and best suited for a single tent but one was booked so we squeeze both tents onto the leveled pad .   The areas designated as kayak landings are not great, one is but it is about 300 m away by rugged trail so we make a difficult landing near the closest boat dock and haul the kayaks over dead branches.   Lots of current around the island but we are in a bit of a cove beside the boat dock.   Traffic noise is constant and every little while a semi does an engine break plus there is a steady flow of boat traffic passing the island but hopefully after dark this will dissipate.  This bridge is the beginning of U.S. interstate 81 which takes you all the way to Tennessee a very busy north south highway.   As dusk falls the lights on the bridge begin to twinkle prettily and the boat traffic stops but the traffic above continues, you sort of get  used to it after awhile but I would not camp here again, opting for Mulcaster island instead about 7 km back the way we came.  Morning arrives and its going to be hot!  Today the plan is to stop at Rockport about 5 km distant where we can go ashore for a restaurant meal.  After a light meal we load up and head out taking our time as it is only an hour's paddle to Rockport which is a bustling little holiday village one of several access points for boat tours of the islands, with its restaurants doing a brisk trade feeding the busloads of tourists that are deposited there daily.   There is a nice grassy area to land just to the right of the church where we can leave our kayaks till we return from eating.  Three restaurants all under same management and one is serving breakfast until 11:00 and we can just make that.   Breakfast is a meal that I most enjoy in a restaurant and it is after 11:00 so it can be brunch.



Feeling quite replete after bacon eggs and my fill of coffee we are off on our last leg of the trip, paddling around Grenadier's east shore where we will be side by side with the ship channel traversed by the big lakers plying between the Great Lakes and the ports of the world.   Grenadier is yet another park island with camping and docking facilities at west, central and east.  If you are kayak camping Grenadier east is the best choice, just a couple of sites and very private the bay being shallow it is seldom visited by larger craft.  If you need to make a pit stop Grenadier central has facilities, this is the busiest camp ground and the shallow bay attracts a lot of power boats that anchor offshore to enjoy swimming.   As you proceed NE you pass Sister Island which is just inside U.S. waters and is easily recognized by the light keeper house. In the bay opposite you may notice a white plastic bottle which marks the site of a wreck some of its ribs still discernible when water calm.  At the NE end of Grenadier there is a sizable marsh which is fun to paddle through, there are two channels one quite obvious the other more easily located in spring before the reeds fill it in. From here we are just under 3 km from our destination Mallorytown Landing where we will end our trip.    

Please feel free to leave me a message or comment and if you are travelling to this country for kayaking and require further information drop me an email.



  1. Doug - thanks for such a great trip account. Next time be sure to stop for the church service :)


  2. Hi Doug. Nice to see your descriptive account of the 1000 Islands! I hear you're looking for Brockville paddlers. Sorry to say there is no organized group in this small city, other than for a wonderful one-time fundraising tour in September. Kayaking around Brockville Islands is interesting due to a wide variety of ships/boats and significant currents. C


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