Boldt Castle and Singer Castles are two castles in the Thousand Islands National Park.

A Tale of Two Castles in the Thousand Islands

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Thousand Islands National Park

At only 24.4 sq km, Thousand Islands National Park is one of Canada’s smallest National Parks, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in scenery. Thousand Islands National Park consists of over 20 islands plus many smaller islets, 2 mainland properties, and a visitor center that is found in Mallorytown, Ontario. The Thousand Islands National Park is part of the Thousand Islands – Frontenac Arch, a designated UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve since 2002. Much of the park is only accessible by boat, and while we spent a full weekend camping in an oTENTik and day touring the gorgeous islands of the park, another reason for our visit was to see the castles in the Thousand Islands.

Family on muskoka chairs watch the sunset over Thousand Islands National Park.

Castles in  the Thousand Islands

Boldt Castle and Singer Castle are castles in the Thousand Islands. While they are, in actual fact, mansions rather than true, fortified castles, their opulence has seen them graced with the description. There are many residences in the area that could be considered castles in the thousand islands, but Boldt Castle and Singer Castle stand out far beyond the grand gardens, crystal pools and stunning architecture that you’ll find in the area. Since we had so much fun on our previous castle hunts in Jordan and Portugal, we jumped at the opportunity of visiting castles so close to our home.

How to visit Boldt and Singer Castles in the Thousand Islands

Both Boldt and Singer Castles in the Thousand Islands can only be accessed by boat. We booked a cruise via Rockport Cruises as at the time of our booking, it was the only boat operator in Canada that offered access to both castles as a day tour. The cost of the cruise also comes with a delicious buffet lunch.

Family on boat for their castles in the Thousand Islands tour.

Pro-Tip: The castles are also accessible via personal watercraft and have docks that are free to use for visitors paying for access to the islands. Both castles are located in American waters and there may be border agents present, so make sure you have your passport ready.

Boldt Castle

Boldt Castle is on Heart Island in the United States side of the St. Lawrence River. When you arrive you will immediately need to fall in line at passport control. The line moved pretty fast and after showing our passports, we entered the grounds of Boldt Castle. Since we were part of the cruise tour we bypassed stopping at the ticket booths and went directly to the grounds. We were free to roam the site and grounds but had to be back on the boat after 2 hours of exploring. So, before heading off we studied the map of the grounds to strategize.

Overview of Heart Island which contains Boldt Castle, one of two castles in the Thousand Islands National Park.

Pro-Tip: For those that want a tour, audio guides can be rented at the entrance.

Surrounding structures and the gardens

Besides the main castle, there are also other notable structures on the grounds such as the Alster Tower and the Power House can be accessed on Heart Island. Across the waterway on another island is the Boldt Yacht House (yes, they needed an entire island just for their boats!). However, separate tickets are needed to visit the Yacht House. Due to the limited time, we opted to stick to the main grounds and reserve visiting the Yacht House for another time.

Yacht House of Boldt Castle

As everyone was heading to the main house, we decided to head over to the Alster Tower first. Construction on the castle began in the early 1900s. The Tower was meant to entertain guests. This is evidenced by the dance floor that greets you as you enter the building. C and D had fun pretending to bowl at the onsite bowling alley. The Alter Tower is also commonly known as the Children’s Playhouse. During the time of our visit, the Playhouse was undergoing extensive renovations. However, we were still allowed to wander freely inside.

Alster Tower as viewed from the St. Lawrence.

Afterward, we explored the beautiful gardens and made our way towards the Power House. It is connected to Heart Island via a beautiful arched stone bridge. For a building whose primary purpose was to act as a generator station, its architecture is an absolutely stunning example of over-design. The inside is a basic museum of power equipment, but otherwise pretty spartan. For all its beauty, it can be visited in a few short minutes.

The Power House in the background and gardens in the foreground of Boldt Castle.

The main castle and the tragic story of George Boldt

From the Power House, we made our way to the main castle building. Construction of Boldt castle began in the early 1900s under the order of millionaire hotel magnate George Boldt. The castle was meant to be a summer home that he was going to give to his wife as a gift. However, Mrs. Boldt passed away suddenly just months before the completion of the castle and the heartbroken Mr. Boldt stopped all construction and never again set foot on the island. Because of this, Heart Island lay vacant for over seventy years.

Aerial view of Boldt Castle, one of the two castles in the Thousand Islands National Park.

Today, Boldt Castle and the Boldt Yacht House are owned by The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority. Inside the castle, the main floor and second level have been restored and furniture has been added to show what life would have been like in the castle. The upper levels of the castle remain unfinished. It’s interesting to wander around imagining what the various rooms could have looked liked. The contrast between the finished areas, and the areas with cracked ceilings and studded walls is amazing to witness.

Boy is admiring the stained glass ceiling in Boldt castle.

Pro-Tip: There is a theater inside the castle that shows a short movie about the history of the castle.

Singer Castle

The next stop in our castles in the Thousand Islands tour is the formidable Singer Castle. Like Boldt Castle, Singer Castle is on the United States side of the St. Lawrence River. Unlike Boldt Castle, there is no passport control on Dark Island. As the cruise docks on Dark Island, you are greeted by a tour guide. Singer Castle is privately owned, and visiting the island is a stark contrast to Boldt Castle. Singer Island strictly controls visits. You must remain with a tour guide at all times. Singer Castle is full of priceless works of art, literature, and history. Our group was divided into several groups with more or less 20 people.

View of Singer Castle on Dark Island, one of the two castles in the Thousand Islands National Park.

There was no wait time and the tour started straight away. We learned that Singer Castle was commissioned by the Bourne Family in 1905.  Frederick Bourne was the fifth President of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, which is where the name “Singer Castle” came from. Because of this, many people donate sewing machines which we saw in almost every room of the castle.

A hidden door in the panel of the library at Singer Castle.

Pro-Tip: Singer castle is beautiful, but because of the strict access control, it may not be an ideal destination for spirited children. While C loved learning from the guide about all the incredible secret passageways, our time with D was spent trying to avoid destroying priceless artifacts.

Unlike Boldt Castle, Singer Castle was fully constructed. Until the 1960s the Bourne family spent their summers on the island. At the time, they called the castle, “The Towers”. The castle interior did not disappoint. D was excited to see all the knights and pointed them out every time he spotted one.

C liked peeking into the hidden passageways that were used by the servants to get around the castle. He just couldn’t believe that the walls held hidden doors that would open by pulling a book or pressing a secret button! There was one wing of the castle that we did not explore. This is because it was occupied. That’s right!  A portion of Singer Castle is a bed and breakfast. The Royal Suite can sleep up to six people.

Final Thoughts on Visiting Castles in the Thousand Islands

Private boats are able to dock on the islands so it is not necessary to join a cruise. In retrospect, this would have been our preferred method of exploring the castles in the Thousand Islands. Firstly, for Boldt castle, we would not have been confined by the 2-hour limit. Then, we would have been able to visit the Yacht House. Secondly, for Singer castle, all private boats that arrive are still led around by a guide. However, it is more likely the tour will be private or at least very small, making for a more intimate experience. Have you visited the castles in the Thousand Islands? If so, how was your experience?

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Christina Wagar
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Christina Wagar

Christina Wagar grew up in a travel loving family. She strives to instil her love of learning about different cultures and seeing new and old places to her husband Kevin and their two young boys.
Having experienced over 20 countries across 4 continents Christina is well versed at travel planning and thrives on sharing that information with others with the hopes of encouraging more families to experience this incredible world that we live in.
Christina Wagar
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65 Comments

  1. This is a ton of stuff to see and do in a single day! I was hoping to see Kingston and the Thousand Islands this past summer, but I didn’t end up having time. Hopefully next year!

  2. This is such an interesting little island. I love exhibits where you can walk inside where families once lived. So sad that after his wife died he left the island…he really was heart broken 🙁

  3. I am a castle lover and while these are quite modern and used as homes they are still beautiful. What a sad story for Boldt castle. Such a shame that he did not get to see his dream fulfilled and that the castle remained vacant for so long. Also I tend to agree with you that going on a small boat is probably best so you can take the time needed to properly explore and to receive the smaller guided tour at Singer. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Haha, I really love “oTENTik” :)))

    All your photos are gorgeous (as always) and this place looks so relaxing and peaceful!

    I love the sunset photo with the bear chairs. I used to DIMyself these chairs when I was working in the U.S.A. in 2007. They are so comfortable.

  5. What an interested place (or duo of places) that I’ve never heard of.

    I’m always curious what motivates the construction of castles in more modern periods.

    These two certainly look opulent!

  6. Wow I didn’t know there are castles in Canada! Even though they are not as big as the European ones, I would surely like to visit them too. Interesting name of the park!

  7. This seems like a magical place. When my kids were younger they loved such places.
    Sad story about Mrs. Boldt there. Great compilation of the castles there. Loved the pics.

  8. This is an impressively detailed article about a fascinating trip. I can’t believe you hop off the boat and into passport control – that’s pretty cool. I feel like I learned all sorts of bizarro facts reading this post, including the fact the “castle” was just an over-designed generator station. Thanks for sharing your itinerary and gorgeous photography.

  9. I’m a big fan of visiting castles so I’d love to visit this national park! I can’t even decide which castle I’d like to visit the most haha. Love your photos!

  10. I didn’t even know about this National Park but these castles looks so beautiful! It’s always so interesting to delve into why castles were built in the first place, especially more modern ones!

  11. I’ve never been to Ontario but I absolutely love castles and make it my mission to visit as many as possible. Pinning this blog post for my next Canadian adventure!

  12. Castles have been in my dreams since childhood. I dreamt of having a castle of my own and live in it for the rest of my life. Nice seeing these castles and I hope to visit them soon!

  13. I wanted to visit Thousand Islands last time when we were in Ontario but couldn’t fit it in our schedule! Thanks for the info, I definitely need to make a trip there when I’m on the east coast!

  14. It’s like a fairytale, these castles are stunning! But also I appreciate that you included practicalities like the passport queue and how to get around. Boldt Castle would be my pick, have you been castle hopping before?

  15. I didn’t know much about this place! Love it when people write about lesser known places. Now, I learned something new. Lovely photos. Keep it going!

  16. This is such a stunning article loaded with drool-worthy photos. This is right up my alley. I am so happy to learn of it and add it to my bucket list on our next trip to Canada.

  17. Beautiful! My 4 year old keeps asking to see a castle and this is actually doable for us. We’re going to Europe in March, but don’t have any castles planned so it’s nice to know there are such awesome ones in Canada.

  18. For some reason I had thought that there were non or very few castles in the U.S. – it’s good to that Boldt Castle is indeed on the U.S. side. Also the photo of you all sitting down watching the sunset is gorgeous!

  19. The location of the castles is quite dramatic and beautiful. There’s something about castles- it’s like exploring a time that is otherwise only available in textbooks. The story about Boldt Castle is heartbreaking though.

  20. What an interesting National Park. It might be small compared to others but with 20 islands and mainland aspects it would have plenty of interest and exploring to keep anyone interested for quite a while. It’s a great tip too to visit the castles by private boat for anyone like us that prefers to explore independently or in a small group.

  21. Wow Chirstina, opulent is sort of an understatement huh. I vaguely remember hearing about these from somewhere, but didn’t realize their proximity and all the cool stuff that you could tour. What a unique UNESCO site! Thanks for sharing ans safe travels!

  22. They definitely look like castles as opposed to mansions – who knew Canada and the US had homes like this!! I love that private boats are able to dock on the islands so it is not necessary to join a cruise. I might go for that route when we take in Thousand Islands National Park. Thanks for the heads up!

  23. If I didn’t read the title I would have guessed it was somewhere in Europe! Never knew the US had castles. Stunning photos! SO much to see and do around there.

  24. Whoever decided to name this area was a true optimist. Although 20 islands might be far short of 1000 islands, it conjures images of a magical world of islands. I think it’s pretty cool there are castles there too!

  25. Islands and castles, two of my favourite things at once! I’ve never heard of this national park, but it sounds fascinating, and love the look of those castles (especially the one with the island just for yachts, how cool!).

  26. Hi Kevin,

    Totally vibing with commentors here…who knew? LOL….I had no idea these islands existed, let alone castles. And I have traveled through this area many years ago. Guess when I was a kid I did not pay attention too much 😉 I feel like I’m in Europe, reading your post and digesting your inspired pictures. Brilliant! Thanks so much for sharing with us.

    Ryan

  27. Wow, I hadn’t heard of these castles, I guess because they’re pretty far from where I grew up
    (California.) Do you live near there or were you guys just traveling through that area?

  28. Amazing, I imagine stories in my favourite novels coming to life in a place like this! Never thought this could be in Canada though, will definitely check it out when I’m there.

  29. The castles are really grand. It is intriguing to know that these castles are actually mansions. The story of George Boldt is really very touching. So tragic Mrs. Boldt passed away before her gift could be completed.

  30. I saw a documentary on the Thousand Islands on PBS years ago and have always wanted to visit. I loved your photos. They only make me want to visit even more. Bookmarked for when we do get there.

  31. It looks like a nice day trip to do with kids! Although unfinished, I offer myself volunteer to live in the first castle for a while, the pool looks very cool!

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