1000 Reasons to Explore the Thousand Islands in Clayton, NY
Ever since the pandemic ended, I’ve been looking for some fresh new places to explore. Normally, I take my kids along. But when I came across the upscale Harbor Hotel in Clayton, NY, located in the breathtakingly beautiful Thousand Islands, something in me screamed “romantic getaway.” So my kids headed over to their dad’s for a long weekend, and my partner and I set off on a road trip.
Like any typical New Yorker, I consider anything north of Westchester to be upstate and at most a scenic two or three hour drive. I was right about the scenic part, but the drive was a smidge longer than that. Okay, we were all the way up near Canada! But the drive is a major part of the road trip experience. Plus, it provided a picturesque backdrop as my guy and I chatted away, passing rolling hills, vibrant trees, sparkling lakes, frolicking farm animals and blue skies for miles.
We broke up the drive home with a stop at an outlet mall to get an early start on holiday shopping. We chose the Pocono Premium Outlets because it was in a great location along our route, but there are plenty of other outlets in New York and Pennsylvania to check out: Tanger, Waterloo and Woodbury Common, to name a few.
The Harbor Hotel is situated alongside the expansive St. Lawrence River within the Thousand Islands area, which sits on the border between northern New York State and lower Ontario. It is the only AAA Four Diamond Hotel in the region.
There are actually way more than 1,000 islands in the region – 1,864 to be exact – several of which could be seen from our hotel room, which featured an unobscured riverside view. In case you are wondering, to qualify as an island the land must have at least one square foot of earth above water and support at least one tree. You really do learn something new every day!
Since it was October, we were also able to see a thousand fall hues on the trees lining the islands. Each morning of our stay, we stepped out onto the terrace to take in the view as we sipped freshly brewed coffee (the hotel kindly provides a convenient complimentary coffee cart outside the elevator on each floor during breakfast).
The room was immaculate, with a spacious, modern bathroom and all the goodies and amenities you would expect from a luxury hotel. The bed and linens were especially soft and comfortable – we could have slept all day!
On each night of our stay we enjoyed a delicious dinner and drinks at the hotel. The Harbor Hotel’s Seaview Grille is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with indoor and outdoor waterside seating. The food was tasty and the staff always pleasant and helpful (shoutout to Dee, our lovely server two nights in a row!). On a chilly night, weather permitting, guests can head out to the deck to relax by the firepit and take in the spectacular views.
There are plenty of other dining options around town as well. If you’re going kid-free like I was, you might want to check out one of the region’s many breweries, vineyards and wineries, most notably Coyote Moon Vineyards, Thousand Islands Winery, Wood Boat Brewery, St. Lawrence Spirits and Clayton Distillery. In June, Clayton hosts The Great New York State Food & Wine Festival, where visitors can sample some of the best locally-sourced fare the Empire State has to offer.
Once we were able to pry ourselves from the coziness of the bed in the morning, we ventured out on foot to explore the town. Clayton has a charming village feel with a nautical twist. We strolled past shops and boutiques, took some beautiful photos by the water’s edge, and stopped for a late lunch at a nearby restaurant known for its yummy poutine and burgers. The Hops Spot resembles a Victorian-era house, as it was converted to a restaurant at some point. The food was heavenly and the staff knowledgeable and fun. I highly recommend you give it a try; it’s just a five-minute walk from the hotel.
We headed back at dusk and were treated to jaw-dropping views as the sun dipped below the river’s horizon. Thousand Islands is famous for its spectacular sunsets, filling evening skies with the most vibrant pinks, oranges and purples you’ve ever seen. Between the foliage and the sunsets, my camera roll finally has pictures of something other than kids and pets!
Full disclosure, I visited Thousand Islands during the off-season. Locals say it’s best to visit around April/May until Sept/Oct for the area’s myriad outdoor recreation. In the warmer months, visitors can go fishing, hiking, diving, snorkeling, golfing, mini-golfing, biking, camping and boating through the pristine waters of the St. Lawrence River, which is famed for its clarity thanks to an abundance of zebra mussels that naturally filter fresh water.
Boat tours are generally offered April through November, and weave around the Islands past sprawling mansions, majestic castles and historic lighthouses. Book a fall boat tour if you want to appreciate the mirrored reflection of the brilliantly colored foliage in the river. Tours are also available for many of the sites; Boldt Castle, Singer Castle and Rock Island Lighthouse are among the most popular to explore.
It’s easy to see why Clayton was named “Best Small Town Cultural Scene” by USA Today in 2022, boasting three museums – including the popular Antique Boat Museum, a fun pick for families – plus art galleries, a waterfront concert series every summer and a year-round theater in the restored Clayton Opera House, which offers programming and entertainment for all ages.
1000 Islands Harbor Hotel is located at 200 Riverside Drive, Clayton, NY. Book your stay here or call 315-686-1100 to learn more.
Pssst… Check out 32 Nighttime Adventures for Kids in New York City