Date Established: 1904
Size: 5,931 acres
Ten thousand years ago, retreating glaciers scraped sediment from the landscape near what is now Kingston, Ontario, leaving behind a granite chain of more than a thousand mountains. Today, these hills are the Thousand Islands—a winding necklace of glittering river jewels. Whispering marshlands, rugged rock outcroppings, and a rich diversity of plant and animal life characterize the 24 islands, 129 islets, and 8 mainland tracts that compose St. Lawrence Islands National Park.
• Seaway Islands The St. Lawrence Islands have a long history of community connection. Their strategic seaway location (within the Frontenac Axis that connects Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park to New York’s Adirondack State Park) means they’ve played host to many people over the years.
• Man-Made Heritage The islands are part of a corridor that acts as a funnel for the north-to-south movement of wildlife. They’re also the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee and the Mississauga Anishinaabe. During the late 1600s, explorers, fur traders, and missionaries relied on the islands, which also played a role in the wake of the American Revolution, as demonstrated by the amount of man-made heritage within park parameters.
• Ecological Integrity Threats More recent man-made structures, such as cottage estates and rustic cabins, might pepper an even higher percentage of the islands if local influence hadn’t established a national park here at the turn of the 20th century. In 1904, the Mallorys, a local family, donated a small slice of waterfront property to the government on the condition that the land be used for park purposes. Though this sentiment has always resonated throughout the region, in 1997, St. Lawrence Islands was named one of four national parks with the highest levels of impairment to ecological integrity.
• Flora and Fauna Today, prescribed burns in the park promote the regeneration of the pitch pine, at risk throughout the province. Studies conducted in partnership by Queen’s University and Carleton University examine the road mortality of a range of species including the northern map turtle. The Ministry of Natural Resources monitors the impact of purple loosestrife, an exotic plant that thrives in the park. Local partnerships have proven key to maintaining this small, fragmented site.
How to Get There
From Kingston, take Hwy. 401 E toward Cornwall for 38.5 miles. Take exit 675 and turn right at Mallorytown Road, which will take you to the Mallorytown Landing Visitor Center.
When to Go
Services are offered May to mid-October. Though the visitor center closes in early October, the park is open year-round and the islands are popular sites for Thanksgiving picnics. Special events, such as guided snowshoe hikes and geocache tutorials, are offered in the winter and spring. Call ahead for details. Recreational boating slows in fall, making it the best time to visit the islands by canoe or kayak.
How to Visit
If you’re only stopping in for a few hours, particularly if you have kids, the Mallorytown Landing Visitor Center combines play with park history. A short walking trail allows you to stretch your legs while taking in wooded and wetland habitats along the shore.
For a full-day adventure, the park’s extensive Jones Creek Trail System consists of 9.9 miles of looping paths and gorgeous views. Those wishing to overnight on the islands, where all 68 of the park’s campsites are located, can do so by renting kayaks in Gananoque and paddling along one of the dozens of routes through the park. Short, beginner trips from the harbor can be completed in 20 minutes. Experienced paddlers can go as far as Cedar Island off Kingston’s Cartwright Point.
—Text adapted from the 2011 National Geographic book Guide to the National Parks of Canada