The Happy Camper: Exploring and Camping Along the St. Lawrence

Exploring along the St. Lawrence

The Thousand Island Parkway and the Long Sault Parkway make for one incredible road trip.

My partner, Kristine, and I decided to be tourists for the week. We went to explore and camp along Parks of the St. Lawrence—one of the largest tourism destinations in Eastern Ontario.

We took the backroads all the way from Kingston to close to the Quebec border. This took us three times as long to drive the 200 kilometres rather than take the boring Highway 401. Along the way, there were quaint hamlets, scenic vistas and lots of Canadian history to soak in.

The St. Lawrence Parks Commission is a unique Ontario government agency that manages parks and heritage sites along the northern shoreline of the St. Lawrence River. It’s separate from Ontario Provincial Parks and Parks Canada. They oversee eight different campgrounds and beachfronts, endless bike paths and hiking trails and countless historical sites.

Exploring along the St. Lawrence

Kristine and I (and the two dogs, Angel and Oliver) decided to base camp at the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary Campground. It was one of the smallest and quietest campgrounds en route. It was also central to all the places we wanted to visit. We pitched our tent and rain shelter alongside the St. Lawrence River, with plenty of bird life and big ships to gawk at during our stay.

Our first day outing from our campground was to Upper Canada Village, a mere five minute drive down the road. The village was founded in 1961 and is one of the largest living-history sites in Canada.

Kristine and I went back in time to the year 1866 in rural English Canada and roamed the historic village, checking out the various buildings and workshops. There were blacksmiths pounding away at heated metal and other tradespeople dressed to meet the time period. (tinsmith, cabinetmaker, cooper, cheesemaker). We even bought a loaf of bread made at the bakery on site, which uses the village’s own flour. We took turns checking out the homes, mills, churches and barns (the dogs weren’t allowed in the buildings). Make note that your campground pass covers free admission to Upper Canada Village. This will save you a good chunk of money. Adults are $25 each. Families are $80.

Upper Canada Village

The next day we took on the Long Sault Parkway—a 10 kilometre (six-mile) roadway that links 11 islands along the St. Lawrence River. The islands are mere hilltops of farmland that were flooded back in 1951, allowing for the construction of the Moses-Saunders Power Dam. A total of 58,000 acres (235 square kilometres) of land, half a dozen villages and three hamlets were now under water between Iroquois and Cornwall, displacing 6,500 people.

The drive is incredibly scenic and includes two public beaches and three campgrounds. The bike trail and several canoe/kayak routes are also highlights. The best part for me, however, was a visit to the Lost Villages Museum, which displays some of the buildings removed before the flooding. You really need to check this out after driving the Long Sault Parkway. The staff has done an amazing job filling each building with memorabilia from back in the day—and admission is free! The museum is located in Ault Park just, outside the town of Long Sault.

Exploring along the St. Lawrence

Kristine and I had planned to hike the countless nature trails in the Migratory Bird Sanctuary adjacent to our campground. Unfortunately, that became impossible. At the first trailhead, we discovered “NO DOGS ALLOWED” signs posted. The Friends of the Migratory Bird Sanctuary created the rule for the protection of wildlife, which is a fair thing to do. The only problem is that that information wasn’t available anywhere online. It would have been nice to know before we chose to camp there. We ended up sharing the Waterfront Trail—a very popular bike path that leads you to Morrisburg via Upper Canada Village. 

On our fourth and last day of the road trip, we packed up early to avoid a major thunderstorm and heat wave approaching the region. We spent a very full day retracing our steps, taking in some unique areas along the way.

Fort Wellington was well worth the visit. This was a significant fort in the history of Canada. The town of Prescott, founded in 1784 by United Empire Loyalists who had fled to Canada during the American Revolution, quickly became an important port along the St. Lawrence. The river had become a major water link between Montreal and the Great Lakes.

Fort Wellington - Exploring along the St. Lawrence

The initial Fort Wellington was built in December 1812 under the command of Sir George Prevost, in charge of the British forces in North America. The fortification was never attacked in the War of 1812, but it did house the soldiers who walked across the frozen St. Lawrence in 1813 to attack and destroy the American military post at Ogdensburg. The fort was finally abandoned in 1833 but then rebuilt in 1837, when a rebellion struck out in both Upper and Lower Canada.

It’s a small fort when compared to Fort Henry in Kingston, but it is definitely worth a walk through, especially the dungeon-like tunnel that leads out to the frontal fortifications. And it only cost Kristine and me nine dollars.

Iroquois Locks - St. Lawrence road trip

Our last visit before the drive home was Iroquois Locks. Kristine wanted to watch the big ships go through the canal. It was something she enjoyed doing with her parents while growing up. At first, I was skeptical. Why would anyone want to sit on a park bench amongst crowds of other tourists to watch a big boat float through a channel lined with cement? The moment I saw the first ship—a colossus tanker heading for the Atlantic Ocean—I was hooked. I made Kristine another sandwich, gave the dogs some water and excitedly waited for the next big ship to enter the locks.

Check out our adventurous road trip video on my KCHappyCamper YouTube channel.