From castles to wineries, lighthouses, and islands, St. Lawrence River region is a great destination in the summer
By Sandra Scott
From Tibbetts Point in Cape Vincent, where the St. Lawrence River gushes out of Lake Ontario, to Akwesasne, the territorial home of the Mohawk Nation, where the St. Lawrence leaves New York state and continues through Canada to the Atlantic Ocean, there is a wonderful diversity of places to visit.
The 100-mile trip along the river via NY-12 and NY-37 is dotted with castles, art, culture, golf, wineries, and great views. There are accommodations to suit everyone from the beautiful new 1000 Island Harbor Hotel in Clayton to the Akwesasne Casino Hotel in Hogansburg and in between hotels, motels, B&Bs, and campgrounds.
Here are 10 of the best things to see and do in the area:
1 Lighthouses: Tibbetts Lighthouse near Cape Vincent, the only original working Fresnel lens on Lake Ontario, is still an active lighthouse maintained by the Coast Guard. It is a state historic site with a visitor center and a hostel. It is just one of the many lighthouses along the river some of which can only be viewed from a boat; but Sunken Rock Lighthouse can be viewed from downtown Alexandria Bay and the light still guides mariners.
2 On the river: It is not necessary to have your own boat to explore the St. Lawrence River. Uncle Sam Boat Tours in Alexandria Bay offers several options for visiting the castles, sailing past Millionaire’s Row, and several lighthouses. Classic Island Cruise out of Clayton has a couple unique water trips. The Antique Boat Museum offers sightseeing speed boat rides. One of Clayton Island Tours includes a glass-bottomed boat. There are several boat rentals and fishing charters. It is also possible to rent a houseboat. Blount Small Ship Adventures travels the river from Quebec to Lake Ontario, continuing on to NYC.
3 Castles: During the Gilded Age, the rich and famous built incredible summer homes in the Thousand Island area. The five-story Singer Castle on Dark Island was built in 1905 by Frederick Bourne, president of Singer Sewing Machine Company. It has underground tunnels, secret passageways, and a dungeon. Most popular is romantic Boldt Castle. George Boldt, owner of the Waldorf Astoria, was having a castle constructed for his wife. The story goes that in 1904 his wife died and Boldt telegraphed the island commanding that all work stop immediately.
4 Wellesley Island: Wellesley Island State Park is the largest camping area in the Thousand Island region offering a variety of options from tenting to cottages. They have a full service marina, four boat launches, a sandy beach and their own nine-hole golf course. It is home to Thousand Island Park, a lovely Victorian village that was founded in 1875 as a Methodist campground and thrived as a family retreat in the spirit of a Chautauqua. Today it is still retains its Norman Rockwell ambiance.
5 Antique Boat Museum: Boat lovers will revel in the great collection of boats at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton. The museum has the largest collection of antique boats in North America. Some recreational boats have their purchase price listed. In 1946 the 40’ Express Cruiser was $21,700 putting it out of the realm of the average person. An entire building is devoted to “The Quest for Speed” with a display about Guy Lombardo, The World’s Fastest Bandleader” and his love of racing.
6 Arts: The Thousand Island Arts Center in Clayton is home to the Handweaving Museum with a permanent textile collection and studios for weaving and pottery. Classes are available. Clayton is home to the Clayton Opera House, a Nationally Registered Historic Place, presenting live concerts and other performing art events. The Breakwater Gallery is a summer show place for area artists and is just one of the art venues offered by the Cape Vincent Council on the Arts. The Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg houses a comprehensive collection of original Remington paintings, sketches and sculptures, as well as a broad array of personal effects.
7 Beverage Trail: The region along the St. Lawrence is home to several wineries. The 1000 Island Seaway Wine Trail has a “passport” promotion whereby, after visiting four of their member wineries, passport holders can enter a drawing for prizes. On their list is Coyote Moon Vineyard offering 20 different wines and one of the few vineyards in the area bottling Frontenac Blanc. There are several distilleries, including Clayton Distillery and Dark Island Spirits in Alexandria Bay. The Wood Boat Brewery in Clayton makes craft beers using locally grown hops and barley. Kanab Orchards in Massena produces hard cider.
8 Golf and more: The area offers golfers a wonderful variety of experiences. Whether you’re a newbie or a pro there’s a scenic course for you. At one time it cost $100,000 to join The Thousand Island Country Club but now anyone can stay and play. Wellesley Island State Park has a $10 weekday special for senior citizens. The Massena Country Club’s course has magnificent views of the St. Lawrence River. Of course, there is fishing, hunting, tennis and other sports with the river a magnet for boaters.
9 Nature: The Minna Anthony Common Nature Center on Wellesley Island is one of the largest nature centers in the New York state park system with hiking trails and cross country ski trails. The center has scenic views of the Thousand Islands, a summer ride in the 36-foot Voyageur Canoe, a butterfly house, which features native flora and butterflies. There are 14 New York state parks in the region, including a nature center at Robert Moses State Park, which was devastated by fire but it will reopen at the end of the year; meanwhile, there are still trails to walk. A few of the parks are on islands but most of them are accessible by automobile.
10 Events: The area is a happenin’ area with events all year long. The 1000 Island Harbor Hotel hosts “Fire & Ice” in February, Massena is home to the Heritage Festival in June, and the Antique Boat Museum has an Annual Antique Boat Show in August. There are events offered by local communities and wineries.