If there’s one thing every visitor to the 1000 Islands needs to see at least once, it’s Boldt Castle. This impressive structure is a tribute to love, a sad tale of tragedy, and likely the grandest summer cottage you’ve ever seen, all at once. If you’re planning a visit, you might be wondering how to see Boldt Castle and make the most of your journey since there are so many options. The one that will suit your trip best depends on whether you’re starting from the Canadian or American side of the St. Lawrence River, how much time you have, and whether you need or want to bring your passport.
Here’s a look at the history of Boldt Castle, why it’s worth visiting, and how to choose the experience that’s right for you.
Produced in partnership with 1000 Islands Tourism
Why is Boldt Castle famous?
Boldt Castle is a true Gilded Age mansion that captivates visitors with its grandeur and the heartbreaking tale behind it. It was commissioned by millionaire George C. Boldt as a gift to his beloved wife, Louise. George C. Boldt built a career in hospitality. He was proprietor of the famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City and owner of the Belleview-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia. His family frequented the 1000 Islands for summer vacations.
Why was Boldt Castle never finished?
In 1900, Boldt acquired Hart Island, located not far from his estate on Wellesley Island. He had it renamed Heart Island and reshaped into the form of a heart. He undertook plans to build a Rhineland-style castle on it with six storeys and 120 rooms, plus tunnels, a powerhouse, and outbuildings. It was to be his ultimate tribute to his love for his wife, Louise. Tragically, she died suddenly in January 1904 before construction was complete, causing the heartbroken Boldt to abandon it. It fell into disrepair over decades until it was bequeathed to the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority in 1977. Since then, it has been restored and is now a popular tourist attraction.
Is Boldt Castle in Canadian or American waters?
Boldt Castle is located on Heart Island within the territory of the United States. Visitors from Canada who want to walk through Boldt Castle must legally enter the U.S. at a border crossing. You can drive across the Thousand Islands Bridge, or you can take one of the cruises originating from the Canadian side that docks at Heart Island. There is a port authority on Heart Island where you can be processed for entry into the United States. In either case, you’ll need a passport if you’re originating from the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence River.
If you’re content with seeing Boldt Castle from the outside, there are options from Canada that don’t require a passport.
How to see Boldt Castle from the air
One unique way to see Boldt Castle is by helicopter with 1000 Islands Helicopter Tours. The 20-minute Boldt Castle tour departs from just north of the Canadian town of Gananoque. It offers breathtaking aerial views as you trace along the St. Lawrence River before crossing into American airspace. Once you reach Heart Island, the pilot will circle Boldt Castle to ensure everyone on board gets a clear look at George Boldt’s unfinished masterpiece!
The Boldt Castle Tour is just one of the tours offered by 1000 Islands Helicopter Tours. To learn more, visit fly1000islands.ca.
How to see Boldt Castle from the water
The most popular way to decide how to see Boldt Castle is from the water. There are several tour operators departing from both sides of the river who offer cruise excursions. These will circle Heart Island to give you the best possible views of Boldt Castle without the need to disembark or bring your passport.
Some of our favourite tour operators from the Canadian side include Rockport Boat Line departing from the village of Rockport, and City Cruises departing from Gananoque. You can also find tours operating from Alexandria Bay, New York (Uncle Sam Boat Tours) and Clayton, New York (Clayton Island Tours).
How to see Boldt Castle in person by visiting Heart Island
If you’d rather see the grandeur of Boldt Castle with your own eyes, there are several ways to get there. One is to drive to the Boldt Yacht House, located on Wellesley Island. From there, a shuttle will ferry you across the river to the dock at Heart Island. A nominal extra fee will give you access to the historic boat collection housed inside the yacht house, which you can tour while you wait for the shuttle to arrive. Tickets are offered from here for access to Boldt Castle, the yacht house, or both. The greatest advantage to this approach is you’ll have no time restrictions and can arrive and depart on your own schedule. If you’re coming from Canada, you’ll cross the border into the U.S. at Hill Island via the Thousand Islands Bridge.
Several of the cruise operators mentioned also run longer tours that let you disembark at Heart Island to visit Boldt Castle. You’ll be given a set amount of time to spend on the island, typically 2 to 2.5 hours. Note these tours only operate during Boldt Castle’s operating season, and admission is not typically included in your ticket price. If you’re originating from Canada, you’ll need to legally enter the United States on Heart Island and will be expected to show your passport.
If you’re exploring the region with your own boat, you can dock at Heart Island free of charge. Boaters originating from Canada will need to follow cross-border reporting requirements. When arriving on your own, you’ll need to pay admission on Heart Island to access Boldt Castle.
When is Boldt Castle open to the public?
Boldt Castle and the Boldt Yacht House are open to the general public from mid-May to mid-October annually. To figure out how to see Boldt Castle at other times of the year, note many operators offer a longer season for tours that circle but don’t disembark onto the island. Check with the tour operator that interests you for more details!
The 1000 Islands region is part of our St. Lawrence River road trip. Check out the full road trip here >