How to Spend a Long Weekend in Gananoque

From boating along the St. Lawrence to walking tours and tree-top ziplining, outdoor adventures await in this gateway to Ontario's Thousand Islands.
 

Photograph courtesy of 1000 Islands Tourism

Located on the shore of the mighty St. Lawrence River, Gananoque is an easygoing town of about 5,000 packed with amenities. It’s also a gateway to the Thousand Islands, a group of islands straddling the Ontario-New York border that have been an outdoor playground for more than a century. Stroll Gananoque’s leafy residential roads and historic King Street, or enjoy a more up-tempo adventure on the water or in the air. A 90-minute drive from Ottawa, and less than three hours east of Toronto, Gananoque is the perfect place to find your pace.


 

Thousand Islands Playhouse, photograph by Stephen Wild

Day 1

Morning Sign up for a half-day guided tour with 1000 Islands Kayaking. Paddle along the St. Lawrence River amongst lush green bays and ancient hunks of granite, or opt for a longer outing complete with a gourmet picnic on one of the dozen-plus islands that are part of Thousand Islands National Park.

Afternoon More than 200 years ago, Loyalist settlers saw the potential of the falls on the Gananoque River and developed the community into a milling and manufacturing hub. This industrial pedigree is reflected downtown where a 150-year-old former factory is now home to the Gananoque Brewing Company. Pop in for a brewery tour and to sample the crisp Naughty Otter Lager.

Evening A few blocks southeast of the brewery, another pair of historic buildings—an armoury and a canoe club—have been reborn as the Thousand Islands Playhouse. The theatre company’s 2018 season runs May to October and boasts seven shows, including several comedies.


 

Photograph courtesy Banana Splitz

Day 2

Morning For an all-encompassing view of the region—a scattering of green dots in a sea of blue—soar more than 300 metres above the St. Lawrence with 1000 Islands Helicopter Tours. Even though you’re flying at 180 kilometres an hour, the ride is so smooth it feels like you’re standing still.

Afternoon Stretch your legs on a self-guided heritage walking tour. Maps are available in the tourist info centre across the street from the brewery. Highlights include an 1854 church and an après-walk sundae from old-school ice cream parlour Banana Splitz, located on Stone Street just off King Street.

Evening For a more genteel experience, take a Gananoque Boat Line sunset dinner cruise, which departs from downtown. Enjoy a three-course meal and live music as you glide past stately homes, including the area’s signature attraction, the grand 120-room Boldt Castle, dreamed up by the proprietor of New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel as a tribute to his beloved wife.


 

Photograph courtesy Skywood Eco Adventure

Day 3

Morning Start strong with a double Americano at Laverne’s, a downtown café and full-service restaurant. The countertop is supported by a stack of shellacked books, but more than the funky decor, it’s the coffee—some of the best in Ontario—and freshly baked danishes that will make you wish you were a regular.

Afternoon Get your adrenaline pumping on the forest-canopy bridges, swings and ziplines at Skywood Eco Adventure, half an hour east of Gananoque on the Thousand Islands Parkway. The dizzying aerial adventure courses can be a good workout, or you can take your time and enjoy the trees and the breeze.

Evening Visitors and locals keep coming back to the Purple House Cafe on Main Street for its wood-fired pizzas, which range from classic margherita to unexpected toppings such as butter chicken. Snag a seat on the garden patio—it’s a dreamy spot to settle into after an active weekend.