Gananoque Guide: Gateway to the 1000 Islands
Gananoque is one of Ontario’s charming small towns that is well worth a visit. Located three and a half hours east of Toronto, it may be a small town but it is big on stunning natural beauty. Situated on the St. Lawrence River where it meets the Gananoque River, its name, Gananoque, is an aboriginal name meaning ‘town on two rivers.’
With a charming downtown full of great shops and restaurants, you won’t be pressed for choices. Gananoque also has a rich history that is still evident in its heritage buildings and museums. So, whether you’re looking for a weekend away, or a week long adventure, Gananoque will entertain you, get you outdoors, and wow you with its natural beauty.
Things to do in Gananoque
Cruise the 1000 Islands
One of the most spectacular waterways in Canada is the St. Lawrence River. Running between northern New York State in the United States and Southern Ontario in Canada, the St. Lawrence River is home to the 1000 Islands region. The 1000 Islands are made up of over 1800 islands, two castles, and countless bird life. And the best way to explore the 1000 Islands is aboard a Gananoque cruise.
The Gananoque Boat Line offers an assortment of cruises to choose from. From one-hour scenic cruises, two-hour tours like the Lost Ships of the 1000 Islands, or a five-hour scenic cruise that also stops at Boldt Castle for you to explore, and more, the Gananoque Boat Line has a cruise to suit everyone’s taste.
Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve
The Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve is one of Canada’s 16 UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves. This protected swatch of land covers 2,700 square kilometres from Gananoque to Brockville. The area is rich in biodiversity, including over 250 species of birds. And while you’re visiting Gananoque set aside at least a day or two to explore this wild natural wonderland.
Kayaking through the 1000 Islands is one of the most popular ways to explore the Reserve. Enjoy the tranquility of the waters, see the wealth of birdlife, and even cross over shipwrecks. 1000 Islands Kayaking offers half day and full day tours, lessons, and more.
Another great way to explore the Frontenac is by hiking one or more of the over 20 trails. One easy and accessible one is the Gananoque Trails System (see below). Another popular trail is Jones Creek, taking you through old-growth forests and wetlands.
Hike Gananoque Trails System
Gananoque is home to a trail system made up of a 12 kilometre perimeter hike. The trail takes you through the town, along its waterfront, into forests, and along the Gananoque River. It’s a great way for nature lovers to see the varying landscapes of the area.
The trail consists of three trails and takes approximately 4 hours to complete in total. Or you can choose to do the three trails separately. Each trail takes in a different landscape and can be done in a loop or linear.
Gananoque may be small, but it’s big on theatre. Playhouse Theatre is a seasonal theatre company and has been around for over 30 years. There are two different theatre houses. The Firehall Theatre is intimate, with 130 seats, and set in the old Gananoque Armories building from 1913 which then became the Fire & Police Station before becoming the theatre. The Springer Theatre is larger, with 360 seats, and is the original Playhouse Theatre. It’s also located in a heritage building, built in 1909 and was originally home to the Gananoque Canoe Club. Remnants of the old Club can be seen in the beautiful lobby. Located on the waterfront, it has two of the longest decks in the region that showcase sweeping views of the St. Lawrence River and the 1000 Islands. A visit to Gananoque isn’t complete without taking in a play or musical.
Arthur Child Heritage Museum
Small local museums don’t usually pack a punch like this one does. The Arthur Child Heritage Museum is located on the shores of the St. Lawrence in Gananoque’s Historic 1000 Islands Village that is also home to the Boat Museum. The Museum brings you through the history of the 1000 Islands. From 10,000 years ago to early settlers, and onwards, the Museum is well laid out and will bring you a better appreciation of the area.
Thousand Islands Boat Museum
Located on the waterfront in the Heritage Village, the Thousand Islands Boat Museum is a fun hands-on museum. Set in four buildings, the Boat Museum showcases boats from the past to present and also boat builders from the region. There’s a boat building workshop, antique boats, galleries, and even a children’s activity center.
Heritage Walking Tour
Gananoque is full of historic and charming buildings. And getting to know them is easy through the Heritage Walking Tour. This is a self-guided tour, meaning you pick up the pamphlet with map at the Visit 1000 Islands Tourism office, and follow along. Each heritage building has a brief write up, in the pamphlet, sharing stories from its past.
Some highlights include; the 85 foot tall Clock Tower, the Woodchuck Gallery, which once housed the Bank of Toronto, and an old jail that now serves as an ice cream parlor.
Thousand Islands Parkway
If you love scenic lookouts than the Thousand Islands Parkway is a must. The Thousand Islands Parkway starts in Gananoque and Highway 401 and runs 40 kilometres east to Butternut Bay. Taking you through the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve, the Parkway runs along the shore of the St. Lawrence River. Offering panoramic views of the River and the 1000 Islands region, the Parkway also takes you by charming riverside communities that are worth a visit, like Rockport.
There are three ways to enjoy the Thousand Islands Parkway. You can drive it, rent a bike from the 1000 Islands Tourism Centre in Gananoque, or hike. Hiking will take you along the Waterfront Trail. The Waterfront Trail runs all along the Canadian shore of Lake Ontario, from Niagara to Cornwall.
Where to Eat
Gananoque has something for everyone’s palette. Whether you’re looking for pub grub, vegetarian, fine dining, or a slice of pizza, you’ll easily find something to suit your taste.
Top choices include; Moroni’s for fabulous Greek food, along with Italian and Canadian – plus they have a patio, The Old English Pub offers traditional pub grub in a classic British pub atmosphere, and if you’re looking for vegetarian options head to The Socialist Pig for great food, made from scratch, and with local ingredients when possible.
Grab a Coffee
Gananoque has a few great coffee options, whether you’re looking for a quick drink, a café with an interesting atmosphere, or somewhere to sit, sip, and simply enjoy.
Top choices include; The Social Pig offers great drinks in their eclectic café with a bar made out of books, check out Panache Bakery & Café if you need a little scrumptious dessert to go with your coffee, or stop by the Purple House Café in the big purple house by the marina with a patio and sustainable, shade-grown, fair trade coffee.
Where to Shop
If you’re looking for great local shops to grab souvenirs or fun and unusual pieces than Gananoque has a shop for you.
Top choices include; shop the Woodchuck Gallery for jewellery made by local artist and other interesting pieces, head to Gananoque’s This That & Everything for typical souvenirs and other fun stuff for great prices, and check out African Treasures for African inspired pieces.
Where to Stay
Gananoque is full of charming Bed & Breakfasts of which most are in historic buildings. A few are; Sleepy Hollow, Beaver Hall, and Gananoque Inn. There are also many chain hotels and motels throughout town, like Howard Johnson and Comfort Inn & Suites. If you’re looking for more of a resort-style accommodation than the Colonial Resort & Spa is perfect for you.
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