An Adventure through New York’s 1000 Islands, Part 3: Castles on the St. Lawrence

Thousands of visitors come to Boldt Castle, a short trip by ferry across the St. Lawrence River

Thousands of visitors come to Boldt Castle, a short trip by ferry across the St. Lawrence River

This is the third part in Laura Pedrick’s series exploring New York’s 1000 Islands region. Check out part 1 here, part 2 here, part 4 here, and part 5 here.

Fishing and the Salmon River Falls
The previous night (full day here), I ordered the Salmon River Signature Sampler from the Tailwater Lounge—an appetizer combination of lump crab fritters, potato skins, chicken quesadilla bites, and buffalo chicken wings. At the bar was a man talking fish with the bravado of someone who knows all the secrets. I leaned into the conversation and learned that what makes Altmar a fly-fisherman’s paradise is the nearby 110-foot Salmon River Falls. It is the barrier that keeps the fish from swimming any further up stream.

Private fly-fishing lessons at dawn on Salmon River

Private fly-fishing lessons at dawn on Salmon River

And so the next morning, after watching this same guy give the Connecticut couple fly-fishing lessons in the river behind the hotel, we head to the falls for a quick visit.

Breakfast at Tin Pan Galley

Breakfast at Tin Pan Galley

Breakfast at Tin Pan Galley
As we head to the heart of the 1000 Islands region, Alexandria Bay, we stop for breakfast at Tin Pan Galley, a fabulous restaurant located on Main Street in the quaint, historic town of Sackets Harbor (about an hour’s drive). 

Overlooking beautiful Lake Ontario, Sackets Harbor offers year round activities for the whole family

Overlooking beautiful Lake Ontario, Sackets Harbor offers year round activities for the whole family

Seated under the shade of old growth trees and surrounded by ferns and topiaries, we indulge in crème brûlée French toast ($13.50), the “Everything New York Eggs Benedict” (capicola-and-provolone-infused Italian sausage on garlic toast; $14.50), a Mediterranean shrimp omelette ($14.50), and—since our group was a party of 12 we ordered pretty much everything listed on the menu—quite simply the best breakfast I have ever had.

The Uncle Sam Boat Tours fleet consists of six vessels

The Uncle Sam Boat Tours fleet consists of six vessels

Cruising the St. Lawrence River
An hour’s drive brings us to Alexandria Bay, 
perhaps the best place to begin a true 1000 Islands journey. We have reservations for the popular Two Nations Tour with Uncle Sam Boat Tours.

The Two Nations Tour is a two-and-a-quarter hour sightseeing cruise that explores the American and Canadian waters of the St. Lawrence River. From the top deck, a lively tour guide highlights interesting facts about local mansions, wildlife and stories about bootlegging, as well as the rich and famous who’ve passed through this scenic region.

What constitutes an island? Its land mass must be above water 365 days a year and support at least one tree.

What constitutes an island? Its land mass must be above water 365 days a year and support at least one tree.

We end the tour at Boldt Castlea Rhineland-style, 120-room castle that was built at the turn of the 20th century by millionaire hotel magnate George Boldt. It was to be a gift to his wife, but she died suddenly just months before its completion on Heart Island. Grief-stricken, Boldt ceased construction and the summer home remained vacant for many years. A shuttle returns us to the port we left.

The Antique Museum is North America's premier freshwater nautical museum

The Antique Museum is North America’s premier freshwater nautical museum

Antique Boat Museum
Before meeting for dinner, we drive 20 minutes out to Clayton, where we’re treated to a private, after-hours tour of the Antique Boat Museum. Our guide is the super-knowledgeable Fred “Fritz” Hager. 

If you're lucky to have executive director Fred "Fritz" Hager, as your guide at the Antique Museum, he'll have an answer for almost every question

If you’re lucky to have executive director Fred “Fritz” Hager, as your guide at the Antique Museum, he’ll have an answer for almost every question

Fred is passionate about this place and quick with colorful, fascinating facts about every freshwater nautical piece we inquire about. More than 320 exquisitely restored watercrafts—old, new, bizarre, and exotic in every kind of way—are displayed throughout the 27,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space. A ticket ($14 adult/$8 youth) also includes a tour of the period-furnished 1903 houseboat La Duchesse moored along a dock, just outside the main building.

Medium rare flatiron steak at Bella's, a popular bistro in downtown Clayton, NY

Medium rare flatiron steak at Bella’s, a popular bistro in downtown Clayton, NY

Dinner at Bella’s
Up to this point, the weather has been spectacular, but as we’re seated outside at riverside bistro Bella’s 
for dinner, it begins to drizzle—and then pour. Despite the summer showers, the views of the St. Lawrence are breathtaking and our party is very cozy dining under a canopy, enjoying every dish that chef Mick Knutson has prepared for us.

Our personal favorites: flatiron steak with hickory-smoked carrots; pan-roasted salmon with crispy basil black rice; and brined, skin-on airline chicken breast with ginger wild rice (all under $25).

View of Bonnie Castle Resort

View of Bonnie Castle Resort

For the night: Bonnie Castle Resort
We check in at the Bonnie Castle Resort, which has a great view of Boldt Castle and the St. Lawrence. It’s a 129-room hotel divided into two buildings: one that looks out on the St. Lawrence, and another that faces the marina. Our hectic schedule keeps me from visiting the resort’s Pointe Bar & Grill, a waters-edge structure built into the side of a granite cliff, but I’m still able to photograph it from the cruise boat earlier as we returned to port.

Laura’s adventure through New York’s 1000 Islands region continues here.

Laura Pedrick

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About the Author

Laura Pedrick
Laura is a photojournalist who for most of her career has been assigned to cover New Jersey for The New York Times. Stories have included the Statehouse, political campaigns, and a wide range of hard news and features for all sections of the paper, including the Travel section. More recently she has focused on clients in the healthcare industry and education. She lives in Titusville, NJ, with her daughter and sometimes assistant, Lana. And oh yeah, has known Johnny Jet (dare she say it) since he was in diapers and is excited to be working for him as one of his latest contributors!

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