Ain't It Grand

1,000 Islands may be more popularly known merely as a salad dressing—and to enthusiasts of this aquatic region in New York, that's perfectly okay.
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Called "Garden of the Great Spirit" by the Iroquois Indians, the Thousand Islands region offers a tantalizing mix of quiet beauty and ongoing activity. Yet, tell people outside the state of New York that you're headed there and the typical reply borders around some quixotic variation of "Where?" Take that as a good sign; it's proof that this seldom-explored region of northwestern New York remains one of the country's true hidden treasures.

This archipelago of islands pops out of indigo water like emeralds in an elaborate necklace, scattered over the St. Lawrence River in upper New York state and Ontario, Canada. The Thousand Islands, which actually number more than 1,800, vary in size from over 40 miles to rock outcroppings only big enough to lure migratory birds. (To be counted, an island must be above water level every day of the year, be larger than one square foot, and support at least one living tree.)

The main allure of the area is the river, and one of the best ways to explore is by boat. Whether you're looking for speed or tranquility, you'll find water craft for rent that'll fit the bill. Everything from fishing boats to jet skis and from houseboats to kayaks can be rented by the hour, day, or week.

To get out on the water with someone else doing the piloting, hop on one of the big double-decked tour boats. These slow-moving vessels glide through the islands while guides recite facts and legends about the region. Most stop at Boldt Castle on Heart Island for a look at a replica of a Rhineland castle, which was commissioned by George Boldt, owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, at the turn of the century. He was building it for his wife, but abandoned the project when she died, so the interior was never completed. Boldt is also responsible for introducing perhaps the region's most famous namesake to the world. Hearing about a salad dressing invented by a local woman, Boldt tried it, liked it, and began serving it in his hotel restaurant—and presto, Thousand Island dressing was born.

Since the St. Lawrence River is bordered on one side by Canada and on the other by the United States, national flags flying from island flagpoles are frequently the only way to know which country you are in. In fact, one property consists of two islands, one on the Canadian side and one on the U.S. The owners have connected the two with a small foot bridge, which they tout as "the shortest international bridge in the world."

Published: 9 Jul 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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