Two days in the 1000 Islands with a dog and no screens – that was the plan. I was ready to get out of town.
Apparently, so was everyone else.
Getting past Toronto gridlock traffic, well ahead of the city and well beyond, was the worst I’ve ever seen. People might not be travelling far, but they are hitting the highways and exploring close to home.
Fortunately, the Thousand Islands is decompression personified. People head there to put their boats in the water, stroll along the water’s edge, eat at shoreline patios, and watch the world drift slowly by. My dog and I did all that, expect the boat part – this time.
Something keeps drawing me back to the Thousand Islands area along the St. Lawrence Seaway, dividing the U.S. and Canada. Ever since on my way to Lake Placid, New York, I first crossed the Canadian/US border over the scenic bridge from which you can see many green islands breaking through the surface of the waterway, I haven’t gotten the area out of my mind.
Years ago, I travelled the waterway via houseboat with my previous dog and his canine beautiful companion.
This year, I headed to the Thousand Islands via car to experience the area from the shoreline with my 11-month-old puppy who’s still fascinated by everything new, including jet skis thanks to the area’s popularity as a cottage retreat.
Thousand Islands History
The Thousand Islands region in Ontario, Canada is an 80km stretch along the St. Lawrence River shoreline downstream from Lake Ontario between Kingston and Brockville. The Canadian/US international border runs through the centre of the river, so crossing via boat requires check in with customs on either side. In 1938, The Thousand Islands International Bridge was built linking Ontario and New York state.
Flora, fauna and water foul have attracted people to the important transportation route since the Anishinaabe First Nations inhabited the area centuries ago. Since then it’s been the fishing destination of settlers and immigrants, and the site of military conflicts during both the Seven Years’ War between France and Britain, and the War of 1812 between Britain and the US.
In the early 1800s, it became a tourist destination and popular area to build luxury summer homes, some still evident in the area though most accommodations are small cabins, a few motels and campgrounds. The current island count, big and small, is 1,149 – actually, more than a thousand.
And in the summer of 2021, my little Sprocker (Cocker/Springer Spaniel cross) left her mark up and down the shoreline in the hamlets of Ivy Lea and Rockport and in the national park. Can you take your dog to the 1000 Islands? You bet!
Thousand Islands Dog-friendly Motel and Patio
We landed at the Capricorn Motel Royale along Ivy Lea Drive, a short stretch of road that runs between the Thousand Islands Parkway and the St. Lawrence River. Dotted with private homes and cottages, one motel and a pub, it’s a spot popular with boaters to dock or launch.
If you’re a fan of Schitt’s Creek TV show, you’ll appreciate the vibe at the Capricorn Motel Royale. Simple clean rooms, bar fridges and coffee maker in each room and communal kitchen. You’ll need that because nothing nearby is open for breakfast, so bring food. Guests utilize the plastic patio table and chairs outside each unit because that works for picnic eating. It especially works with a dog, because take-out eating happens a lot during a road-trip with the pup in tow. So, this is perfect.
The Capricorn Motel Royale advertises ‘no pets‘ but the family-owned motel is ‘trying it out’ as they told me. That weekend we met two British Bulldogs and one Golden named Milo. There is an additional cleaning fee of $25. Hopefully, the experiment works because this is a good dog spot.
Several times I simply leashed up my pup and we walked along the almost traffic free Ivy Lea Road along the well-tree river, past cottages built on docks jutting in the water and many views of the calm St. Lawrence waters dotted with islands and boaters, mostly slow moving.
We did a lot of dog walking along the river and a few docks, but that was the point.
Across the street from the Capricorn is a dock boarding tour boats (when they are running) and Donnelly’s On the River, a pub with wrap-around patio where I ate crab cakes – a house specialty – and Victoria ate a side dish of grilled chicken. Yes, that day Donnelly’s river-side patio was dog-friendly. The vibe asks, ‘if you’re not here to chill, why are you here?’
Less Dog-Friendly Rockport, Ontario
A short drive up the Parkway is the small village of Rockport where people meander along Front Street eating ice cream, dine at either of the two outdoor patios, or stop to fuel boats – which I suddenly recalled having once done on a previous trip.
I also remember my previous little black dog jumping off the boat and running up the ramp (check it out here). The image of him flashed as I walked Victoria along the same ramp – a quiet thrill for me taking her to the same places he once walked. Well ran, as was his style.
Rockport Cruises also launches a two-level riverboat-style tour boats here four times a day, but none are dog-friendly. However, the walk along Front Street is a good jaunt for a little canine.
1000 Island National Parks: Dog-friendly Landon Bay
The best way to experience the unique Thousand Island National Parks is by boat – the most peaceful parts are islands dotting the St. Lawrence River. Renting a houseboat in the nearby town of Gananoque and taking the dog along is the best way to do it. (See here).
But this visit, I’m landbound and my 11-month old pup has got to run and run and run. So, this visit is about exploring this national park by foot and paw. The best place to start is Landon Bay at the end of the parkway closest to the 401 and marked with a National Parks sign. No entrance gate here – parking is $7 and on the honour system – and it’s the perfect place to start a little Sprocker dog on trail walking. Clearly, dogs are welcome but are supposed to remain on leash. Trails are well marked, cleared and wide enough to navigate dog and leash easily.
Landon Bay park was a campground, but that’s been shuttered since 2017 when the National Parks determined the facilities needed significant upgrades to meet brand standards. However, you can stay at park facilities further down the road… more on that in minute.
The Landon Bay trails start at the stone arch, and walking through is like entering a secret garden. Then select a colour-coded trail – some take hours to complete winding past marshes, Fitzsimmons Mountain, and rocky outcroppings. Others – our choice – are much shorter, including the 20-minute Riverview Trail which takes you to a view of both the parkway and Landon Bay Inlet. If you packed a lunch (and I wish I had), there’s a picnic table here.
Otherwise, head to what’s been dubbed the best view in the Thousand Islands: Lookout Point along the appropriately named, Lookout Trail. The smooth rock at the top is the ideal platform for viewing the water, and if you need to contemplate your surroundings, there’s a bench to do it from. My dog, however, was busy exploring the ground than sitting still and looking up. This is the spot, however, where sharable photos are made – if your pup sits still!
Pet-friendly oTENTiks at Mallorytown
Don’t want to stay in a motel? You’d rather be closer to the outdoor action?
Ok, Mallorytown Landing is the home-base of the Thousand Island National Park. It’s one of the smaller parks, but hosts a popular boat dock, volleyball and picnic area, short trails and five oTENTik – a combo tent and cabin for riverside glamping. Sites 3B and 3E are designated pet-friendly (so book far in advance). In fact, Mallorytown is the only place in Ontario you can stay with your dog in a National Parks oTENTik.
Mallorytown Landing is a short drive to Jones Creek, also part of the National Park and nothing but trails. We didn’t get this far on this trip, but will likely next time. Thousand Islands is like a benevolent siren always calling you back.
Side Note: Thousand Island Dressing (because everyone asks)
The history of Thousand Island salad dressing is a mystery – but considering the name, it likely originated in this area somehow. The favourite tale is it was created by a fishing guide’s wife name Sophia LaLonde and it found its way to George Boldt, of Boldt Castle fame (check out my previous visit), who loved it. As proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, Boldt allegedly instructed the kitchen to add it to hotel’s menu in 1894.
Yes, you can buy bottles of Thousand Island dressing in gift stores including Rockport’s General Store. No, it’s not for dogs.
Thousand Islands Travel Guide
Capricorn Motel Royale, 108 Ivy Lea Rd, Lansdowne, (613) 659-2275. You’ll need the phone number for this motel because they don’t take online bookings. Also, I haven’t filled in a hand-written check-in form in a long time, so that was kind of charming.
Donnelly’s On The River, 95 Ivy Lea Road, Lansdowne. Seafood chowder, crab cakes and fish and chips are popular here, as is draft beer, of course. Dog-friendly patio and live music on weekends. Closed Mondays.
Landon Bay, 302 – 1000 Islands Parkway, no camping here but plenty of trails. Pay for parking only. Lookout Point is considered the best view in the Thousand Islands.
Mallorytown Landing National Parks Canada visitors centre is 1121 Thousand Islands Parkway and this small park is home to five roofed accommodations, two are pet-friendly.
Jones Creek Trails are near Mallorytown Landing at 1231-1241 Thousand Islands Parkway.
Rockport Cruises, 20 Front Street, Rockport, Ontario. 613 659 3402 1800 563 8687. Tours range from one hour to six hours long. It’s a good way to see both Bolt Castle and Singer Castle (the six-hour tour is the only way to see both) when the boarder is open. Passport Required. However, only service dogs are allowed on the boat. As of this time, the company has no dog-friendly tours planned. Nearby are both the Cornwall’s Pub & Eatery and Boathouse Country Inn, 19 Front Street, Rockport, Ontario. According to the website, only service dogs are allowed at either.