The Thousand Islands region stretches along the St. Lawrence River, straddling both the Canadian province of Ontario and New York State. With boat cruises around the islands, a national park to explore, and attractions from a cool adventure park in the forest, a fun aquarium and history museum rolled into one, and one of Canada’s most interesting historic villages, the Thousand Islands’ Ontario shore has loads of family-friendly experiences. You can even splurge on a helicopter tour over the islands.
I traveled through the Thousand Islands this summer and tested out three family-friendly lodgings on the Canadian side of the river. Here’s the scoop:
A gateway to the Thousand Islands region, the small city of Kingston, Ontario, home to Queens University, pulls above its weight in things to do. There’s a historic fort to explore, the restored home of Canada’s controversial first prime minister (now a national historic site), a spectacular waterfront performing arts center, and boat cruises around the islands. Another option that might appeal to older kids: tour one of Canada’s most notorious former penitentiaries.
Through it sits on a busy road, lined with malls and chain eateries, about a 15-minute drive from downtown, Kingston’s Ambassador Hotel offers lots of amenities for families. A highlight is the indoor pool and 100-foot-long water slide. For the adults, there’s also a hot tub, steam room, and sauna.
The sprawling brick low-rise has a variety of room types to consider. The best of the 245 rooms face the rear of the building on the sixth floor, and — surprise! — they overlook expansive conservation land. Kids may like one of the interior rooms that face the water slide, although they feel rather dark.
Room sizes vary from small units with one queen bed, measuring only 220 square feet, up to the 770-square-foot Ambassador suite, which has a living room with a fireplace, a kitchen, a king bed, and a whirlpool tub. Also on the larger side are the executive rooms with a sleep sofa and a king bed.
All rooms have similar, locally-designed, light wood furnishings, and handy amenities like mini-fridges and one-cup coffeemakers.
Tip: To avoid disappointing the kids, check the water slide’s hours to confirm that it’s open during your stay.
Standard double room rates at the Ambassador Hotel start at CAD$119/night, including Wi-Fi and parking.
To stay in the heart of Canada’s Thousand Islands region, book a room in the small riverfront town of Gananoque. It’s the departure point for most of the island boat cruises, including an excursion to Boldt Castle, a grand 120-room manor constructed in the 1900s. Gananoque is also convenient to Thousand Islands National Park.
The town has several lovely B&Bs, but if you’re traveling with kids, you might be more comfortable at one of the basic chain motels that cluster along King Street East, just south of Highway 401.
The family-run Quality Inn & Suites 1000 Islands, a standard two-story motel, checks all the boxes, from simple updated rooms with flat-screen TVs, refrigerators, microwaves, and coffeemakers, to a small outdoor pool.
The standard rooms aren’t large, so consider booking a one-bedroom suite if you need more space.
Double room rates at Quality Inn & Suites 1000 Islands start at CAD$90. Rates include a self-serve buffet breakfast in the restaurant adjacent to the lobby, parking, and Wi-Fi.
Tip: Ask for a room in one of the blocks that’s not behind the restaurant; the ventilation fan can be loud.
For one of the most unique family-friendly stays in the Thousand Islands region, go back in time with a stay in a restored pioneer cabin in Upper Canada Village.
From the outside, Montgomery House looks rustic, sitting on the edge of the village and constructed with wide plank walls.
Inside, though, the space feels historic, while providing the modern conveniences that a family needs.
On the main floor, the large living room has comfortable, well-loved furnishings. In the adjacent full kitchen, equipped with dishes, utensils, and pots and pans, there’s a refrigerator, electric stove, microwave, and coffeemaker. There’s no dishwater, though, so your little pioneers will have to wash their plates by hand.
Down the hall from the kitchen are two modern bathrooms with showers.
Also on the main floor is a queen-sized Murphy bed, topped with an old-fashioned quilt.
On the upper level, the kids can bunk in the dormitory-style bedroom, with six single beds tucked under the eaves.
Rates at Montgomery House are CAD$195/night for up to eight people. Guests must also purchase admission tickets to the village.
Montgomery House doesn’t officially have internet access. However, there is Wi-Fi throughout the village, and you might be able to pick up the signal inside the cottage.
But in this family-friendly destination in Canada’s Thousand Islands, you’d be better off taking the kids and going out exploring.
Hotel feature by Vancouver-based travel, food, and feature writer Carolyn B. Heller. Photos © Carolyn B. Heller. Tourism Kingston, 1000 Islands Tourism, and the St. Lawrence Parks Commission hosted my stays for review purposes.