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.
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
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).
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.
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.
We end the tour at Boldt Castle, a 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.