There's something magical about the Thousand Islands region of upstate New York. Where else can you skip stones into Canada right from the waterfront of your full hook-up campsite? Wellesley Island State Park is such a premier camping destination that the State of New York considers it their "Flagship Park". Which is a fancy way of saying, all of your camping dreams can become reality here.
North of Syracuse, NY, about 100 miles, where the St. Lawrence River begins to turn into the massive Lake Ontario, endless small islands spread out across the river in every direction. Thousand Islands is actually more than 1,800 separate islands in both the U.S. and Canada, with Wellesley being one of the largest. Though much of it must be viewed by boat, the striking Thousand Islands International Bridge on I-81 creates easy access to to the park (and on to Canada).
With 436 campsites, Wellesley Island State Park is easily the largest park in the Thousand Lakes area. The park is open year round, and summer hiking trails turn into winter ski trails when the snow flies. There are so many things to see and do right in the area that many families have been visiting Wellesley for generations.
Apart from the islands themselves, the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center is the main attraction in the park. With 600 acres of nature preserve within the park and three miles of shoreline, the Nature Center has eight miles of trails for hiking and skiing, a large museum and interpretive center, greenhouses, a butterfly den, and classes and activities for all ages year-round.
There is a 9-hole golf course (which can be played in reverse), boat launches, a marina, food concession, laundry, a playground, and miles of bike friendly park roads and campground loops. Several companies offer tours of the surrounding islands by water and one of the main highlights is a castle! You'll wish you had more time to stay.
RV Rentals in Wellesley Island State Park
Transportation in Wellesley Island State Park
I-81 sees so much truck traffic that you may have even heard it mentioned on the news. It's true, the interstate is beaten-up, busy, and truckers are often speeding. Drive assertively and be safe. The roads in the State Park are usually covered in pedestrians and bikes, so be careful driving around.
Campgrounds and parking in Wellesley Island State Park
Campsites in Wellesley Island State Park
Wellesley Island SP Campground
With over 400 sites, there are many different ways to experience the park. The Fox loop is entirely full hook-up with 53 back-in RV sites with 40 feet of room. But the large number of waterfront sites do have power and water, and there is a dump station. There are restrooms, showers, laundry, a playground, and concessions. There are many large grassy areas for games and picnics, and a large lifeguard-patrolled swim beach. Note that NY has strict rules about pets in all state parks, and proof of rabies vaccination is required for entry.
Seasonal activities in Wellesley Island State Park
Small trails intersect each other constantly as you walk around the park. This makes it possible to hike over eight miles on fresh trail, but it would be a lot of zig-zag. The terrain is nice and level, and into the nature preserve area there are miles of trail which access views of the shoreline. It's reasonable to hike from the campground all the way to the small village on the SW corner of the island and explore scenic waterfront homes. There is a wonderful and safe feel all over the island, and visitors regularly let their children roam free and wide without fear.
The large sandy swim beach on the river is very popular in summer. The State Park keeps life guards on duty from Memorial Day to Labor Day and the boundaries are clearly marked. There are some rocky areas that are fun to jump from for the kids, and there is plenty of room to spread out chairs and blankets to soak up the sun. The swim beach is also a great place to float around in a small canoe, raft, or kayak.
Guided Boat Tours
Several local companies offer guided tours by water of the Thousand Lakes area. There is something for all. There are romantic and lively sunset cocktail cruises, there are historical tours that will take you to castles and famous homes, and there are full day trips that explore all the way across to the islands in Canada. If you didn't come with your own boat, make sure you take a tour. The scenery is one of a kind.
St. Lawrence River Fishing
The unique geography of Thousand Islands creates a perfect playground for fishermen. Huge northern pike, walleye, and muskie are pulled from the strikingly clear waters of the St. Lawrence River. There are multiple easy boat launches in the park and a marina with fish cleaning station. Fishing from Thousand Island requires a license from NY state of the Province of Ontario.
Thousand Islands Golf
Wellesley Island State Park owns and operates a golf course right inside the park. It is a nine-hole course that can be played in reverse for a full game. The park rents clubs and carts for shockingly low rates to make sure that everyone who is interested in playing has no excuse to miss this. It's nice enough to be satisfying to seasoned golfers, but also a great place for kids and beginners to get into the swing of things.
Minna Anthony Common Nature Center
With a full-featured nature museum indoors and 600 acres of island woods, there is much more here than a quick visit will take in. Hiking trails will take you through three miles of granite shoreline, forests, and wetlands. Educational outings, seminars, and talks are happening here all year round. In winter the center rents snow shoes and cross country skis to access the preserve in the snow.