Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Jefferson County, NY

  • Published 2022/10/24

Teeming with scenic islands and spectacular natural attractions, Jefferson County offers a wide range of experiences for the whole family.

The county lies on New York’s uppermost border next to the Saint Lawrence River, lying southeast of the Canada-US international border.

It was named after the 3rd U.S. President, Thomas Jefferson, and initially settled by the Oneida Nation.

Jefferson County’s county seat is Watertown, also home to Fort Drum, the largest military installation in the Northeast.

More than 36,000 service members, families, and employees are in the 10th Mountain Division.

Do you want to know some interesting facts about the county?

The Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Thousand Islands Dressing originated here, along with Woolworth’s Five and Dime Store, the Dewey Decimal System, and Arbor Day.

With the host of state parks, state forests, wildlife areas, and nature locations, you’ll never run out of outdoor recreation to enjoy here.

Here are the best things to do in Jefferson County, New York:

Visit the Iconic Boldt Castle and Boldt Yacht House

Exterior of the Boldt Castle

JeniFoto /

Boldt Castle and Boldt Yacht Houseare significant landmarks in this Thousand Islands region, accessible only by tour boats, water taxis, or personal boats.

The magnificent Boldt Castle is located on Heart Island, part of the village of Alexandria Bay.

The castle was once a private mansion constructed by American millionaire George Boldt as a tribute to his beloved wife, Louise.

However, tragedy struck when his wife suddenly passed away a few months before the castle was finished.

Steps leading to Boldt Castle's entrance

sarahnev /

Devastated, Boldt immediately stopped the construction, leaving the property abandoned for many years.

Take self-guided tours inside this unique structure and appreciate the classic interiors from the intricately designed Ball Room.

Take a peek at the Billiard Room, George Boldt’s Suite, the massive Grand Hall, the cozy Library, and the elegant Reception Room.

Grab a snack at the Hot Dog Stand and enjoy a picnic at the tables with a view of peaceful surroundings; likewise, visit the Gift Shop for some souvenirs.

Don’t forget to take snapshots of the impressive castle and beautifully landscaped gardens, particularly the romantic Italian Garden.

Exterior of the Boldt Yacht House

User: Stilfehler at wikivoyage shared, CC BY-SA 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

From there, you can take a free shuttle boat to Boldt Yacht House, located on Wellesley Island.

This attraction is on the National Register of Historic Places and features an array of antique wooden boat collections.

See the boats that traveled the Hudson River and St. Lawrence waters, like the 1892 Steam Yacht.

You can visit the Boldt Castle and Boldt Yacht House from May to October.

Two people walking around the Boldt Yacht House

Khairil Azhar Junos /

Taste Exemplary Wines at Thousand Islands Winery

Thousand Islands Winery on Alexandria Bay officially opened in 2003.

Steve and his wife, Erika Conaway, started with 1,100 gallons of wine, which many people thought was absurd since vineyards and wine production were unpopular in the region.

However, the business thrived unexpectedly, adding a 30-acre farm on Wellesley Island, increasing their wine production to more than fifty gallons per year.

Grapes sourced from the farm include Riesling, Frontenac, La Crescent, and Marquette.

You can tour their grounds and facility to see how they craft their award-winning wines.

Wine tastings are available daily, with two wine samplings for free and up to six wines with minimal fees.

You can choose from twenty-three varieties of wines from selections of Sweet, Semi-Sweet, Dry, Semi-Dry, and Fruit and Dessert Wines.

Try Thousand Islands Winery’s barrel-aged Cabernet Sauvignon, the unique blend of Captain’s Select, or the medium-bodied Chardonnay.

See the Boat Models at the Antique Boat Museum

Aerial view of the Antique Boat Museum

AntiqueBoatMuseum, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you have a penchant for boats, pay a visit to the Antique Boat MuseumontheSt. Lawrence River in Clayton.

From May to October, you can view appealing collections of more than 320 unique crafts with different artifacts and archives that present the nautical history in North America.

Take a 30-minute guided tour of the La Duchesse houseboat built in 1903 for renowned Waldorf-Astoria hotel manager George Boldt.

Step into the Quest for Speed exhibit housed on the Gold Cup Building showcases the boat racing history, the prized Dixie II, hydroplanes, and airplane engines like Packard and Liberty.

You’ll enjoy the Dr. Seuss illustrations of Essomarine’s earliest advertisements from the 1930s to the 1940s at the Oar Else! Exhibit.

Kids can also learn about the theories behind small craft propulsion.

Visit the Dr. Fred Thomas Gallery to learn about the evolution of small boats from use as fishing vessels to utility boats, pleasure crafts, and eventually for boat races.

You’ll discover the age-old traditions of canoe-building at the Pauline Morgan Dodge Gallery; otherwise, get keepsakes at the Gift Shops like Prints, Posters and Maps, Clothing, Jewelry, Fish Collection, and more.

The Antique Boat Museum also hosts events you can catch, like the annual Antique Boat Show and the Antique Raceboat Regatta.

Tour the Historic Cornwall Brothers Store Museum

TheCornwall Brothers Store Museum was an iconic store building on Market Street in Alexandria Bay.

It’s the first store in the area, established in 1839 by Azariah Walton and his son-in-law Alexander Hamblin, offering timber, lumber, and ashes used for soapmaking.

This extensive museum welcomes visitors from May to October, from Victoria Day until Columbus Day.

See a wide range of objects that tell and interpret the Alexandria Township history and life on the Thousand Islands during the earlier periods.

Take a look at photographs and small objects that reflect the history of the Cornwall Brothers Store and the industries that thrived in the riverside community.

Check out the multimedia exhibit featuring the Islander, a steamship that caught fire and sank at the docks in 1909.

Other exhibits you can explore here include the Round the Houses Race, an annual event held in Alexandria Bay during the 1940s, the Adventure Town featuring Thousand Islands Memorabilia, duck decoys, and the history of boats and grand hotels in the St. Lawrence River area.

Other artifacts at Cornwall Brothers Store Museum, you can view boat models, boat tools, vintage clothing, furnishings, and items from China.

Enjoy Outdoor Leisure at Southwick Beach State Park

View of the sunset from Southwick Beach State Park

M.A. Kleen /

Southwick Beach State Park in Southwicks Place, Henderson, is famous for its extended sandy beach area on Lake Ontario’s eastern shores.

The park spans more than 464 acres, with plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities.

It’s also next to the Lakeview Wildlife Management Area on the south, offering several miles of coastal dunes and connecting trails from the park.

Enjoy a lazy day on the swimming beach with your family, or fish by the lake to relax.

If you’re planning for a day tour, there are plenty of picnic spots, hiking trails, and playing fields you can go around to.

People enjoying the sun at Southwick Beach State Park

Easchiff, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Campsites, cabins, and lodges along the park’s natural area are available if you want to camp for a night or two.

You can try deer hunting at the park after getting a permit at the beach park office.

During winter, you can go on snowmobiles and have fun activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Bring the family to Southwick Beach State Park!

Enjoy Refreshing Cider at Burrville Cider Mill

Burrville Cider Mill is Jefferson County’s oldest establishment, built in 1801, originally used as a sawmill and a gristmill.

Located in Watertown at the North Branch of Sandy Creek, the mill has become a historic landmark and has remained a tradition for many generations.

Capt. John Burr bought the mill in 1802, although his identity remains quite a mystery to many.

The mill is even famous for numerous sightings of the captain.

Take a stroll on the decks overlooking the falls and take pictures of the scenic views to remember your trip.

You can go for a self-guided tour and watch the staff press the apples to see how fresh cider is made.

You’ll smell sweet apples and freshly made cider donuts from the entrance.

Buy jugs of refreshing cider drinks and donuts along with other New York specialties like maple syrup, “squeaky” cheese curd, Croghan bologna, and hand-crafted items made by local artisans.

Spend the day at Burrville Cider Mill.

Camp Out with the Family at Kring Point State Park

The waters of Kring Point State Park

Sarah Mika /

Kring Point State Parkis a 61-acre state park situated along the narrow peninsula with the St. Lawrence River on the north and Goose Bay on the south.

From any point in the park, you can have a scenic view of the waters and some islands that make up the Thousand Islands region.

Pitch your tent or camp on a trailer from any of the hundred campsites offering views of the waterfront, or stay at the cabins overlooking the bay area.

You can enjoy water activities, including swimming, boating, fishing, hunting, and cross-country skiing during winter.

Fall scene at Kring Point State Park

Sarah Mika /

Likewise, little ones can have fun at the park’s playground area.

If you prefer to drop by during the day, you can set up the grill and enjoy a family picnic at the pavilion or picnic shelters.

You can access Kring Point State Park on Kring Point Road in Redwood.

Seagull at Kring Point State Park

Sarah Mika /

Enjoy a Relaxing Stay at Wintergreen Island

Wintergreen Island, located in Clayton near the opening of Wellesley Island, offers your family an incredible island paradise experience.

Built during the 1890s, the property underwent several improvements but has remained true to providing an enjoyable vacation for visitors.

The two-acre island resort offers six cottages, and the Laundry House is a seasonal vacation rental.

They have a hundred-foot front dock with a swim platform, ladder, and slide, a great place to enjoy a fresh catch of fish and a cool swim.

You can take your little ones to the kiddie beach in the southwest part of the island.

The beach has a breakaway and sandy bottom, so guests can enjoy building sand castles.

If you like to explore the nearby areas, you can rent a kayak or canoe.

Enjoy the amenities at Wintergreen Island.

Visit the Old Tibbetts Point Lighthouse

Exterior of the Old Tibbetts Point Lighthouse

Larry Knupp /

Tibbetts Point Lighthouse, found in Cape Vincent, was automated during the early 1970s and utilized by the Coast Guard until 1981.

The 69-feet lighthouse was built in 1854 on a 600-acre land granted to Captain John Tibbetts of Troy.

The Town of Cape Vincent acquired it in 1991; today, the Tibbetts Point Lighthouse Society currently maintains the lighthouse.

The structure is also one of the two remaining lighthouses in New York that still uses Fresnel lenses.

Top part of the Old Tibbetts Point Lighthouse

stockphotofan1 /

You’ll find the lighthouse on the Great Lakes Seaway Trail.

Once you get to the site, drop by the visitor center and take a tour of the fog signal building, then take snapshots of the spectacular views from the shore.

The Tibbetts Point Lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Silhouette of the Old Tibbetts Point Lighthouse during sunset

Larry Knupp /

View Lovely Art Pieces at Michael Ringer’s St. Lawrence Galleries

If you love scenic paintings and art pieces, drop by Michael Ringer’s St.Lawrence Galleries.

You can find the galleries in Clayton and Alexandria Bay areas.

See the detailed and creative works on watercolor, oil, pastel, and acrylic by Michael Ringer, with subjects focused on Thousand Island river sceneries.

The gallery also hosts artist tours where you’ll meet some regional artists and see their works on various mediums.

You’ll find lovely items to bring home as tokens at the Gift Shop, like bronze sculptures, prints, note cards, mugs, ornaments, and more.

For unique original pieces, visit Michael Ringer’s St. Lawrence Galleries.

Relive History at Sackets Harbor Battlefield

Main house at Sackets Harbor Battlefield

debra millet /

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, Sackets Harbor Battlefield is a historic site on Main Street in Sackets Harbor.

The location became a significant naval and military base following the British-American War in 1812.

Barracks were constructed for thousands of soldiers and marine service members who arrived and prepared to invade Canada.

A large fleet called Lake Ontario was also built during that time.

The Treaty of Ghent, declared in 1814, officially ended the war, and the amended Canadian-American relations led to the end of its operations.

In 1866, a portion known today as the 1913 Centennial Park was recognized to honor the military service members who fought during the War of 1812.

Daytime view of Sackets Harbor Battlefield

JERRYE & ROY KLOTZ MD, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The land was called the Old Battle Ground and used for events like political rallies and patriotic meetings.

You can explore the exhibits, have guided or self-guided tours, and see the 1850 Navy Yard and old Commandant’s House.

If you visit in the summer, you’ll catch the guides on 1813 military clothing and see the reenactment of an ordinary soldier’s camp life in that area.

Follow the history trail and learn more about the events that unfolded during the war.

Check out the Gift Shop for exclusive souvenirs, or have a picnic after the tour of the Sackets Harbor Battlefield.

Go on a Water Adventure with B.O.B. Rafting

If you’re looking for a thrilling adventure, tryB.O.B. Rafting,and you’ll indeed have that unforgettable Black River experience.

Bob and Sue Peterson own the shop in Dexter, where your rafting trip also starts.

You’ll receive safety equipment and visit the launching point for some safety briefings.

The company has a proven safety track record over the years, with New York-licensed guides assisting you on the trip.

You’ll get the adrenaline rush as you speed down the raging river waters.

They also offer kayak and S.U.P. rentals for flat-water paddling, fishing, or birdwatching if you want something more relaxing.

You can also pack a lunch and enjoy eating at B.O.B. Rafting’s deck area overlooking the river.

Greet the Animals at Zoo New York

Exterior of Zoo New York

Kurt Thomas Hunt, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Founded in 1920, Zoo New York at Watertown provides a natural exhibit for visitors to appreciate the beauty of unique indigenous animals.

The zoo has become the region’s second-most-visited attraction and offers events throughout the year.

Little ones will enjoy seeing the animals on the guided tours and hearing and talking with the Keeper Staff about the animals.

Experience feeding the Roosevelt Elk and viewing animals like the bobcat, Canadian lynx, and mountain lion.

Then, meet some birds like the snowy owl, bald eagle, and golden eagle.

Your family will enjoy a visit to the Conservation Center with interactive exhibits that feature animal tracks.

You’ll also learn about local forest animals, invasive species, and the zoo’s current projects.

Zoo New York also opened the Children’s Farm Exhibit, which features hogs, chickens, and baby goats.

Learn about Agriculture at Zenda Farms Preserve

Zenda Farms Preserve on Clayton was a dairy and beef farm during the 1960s.

The location now presents a significant agricultural history, and the surrounding area has become a habitat for various grassland birds.

On your visit, you’ll see the 1890 residence and boathouse initially owned by Martha Reed Mitchell.

The Thousand Islands Land Trust, or TILT, hosts numerous activities like TILTreks, TILTKids Camp, and KidsTreks.

You can bring your little ones to the Kids Korner Garden and Natural Play Area to let them know more about gardening and enjoy some playtime.

For other activities at Zenda Farms Preserve, the 1.5-mile-long called Lois Jean, and John MacFarlane Trail allows hiking, jogging, and cross-country skiing during winter.

Learn about Wildlife at the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center

Butterfly information board at Minna Anthony Common Nature Center

Jllm06, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Minna Anthony Common Nature Centerspans 600 acres within the Wellesley Island State Park in Fineview.

Mrs. Minna Anthony Common, a resident of Watertown, established the center to promote environmental conservation and education through diverse programs.

Step inside the center to see exhibits about various wildlife and their habitats.

Little ones can enjoy a visit to the Discovery Room and find various books, games, and hands-on activities.

The center offers plenty of summer activities like canoe trips, hikes, arts and crafts classes, and an opportunity to see the butterfly house.

On the other hand, winter lets you enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and sighting bald eagles.

They offer nine miles of trail for hikers of any level, like the Friendship Loop, which is A.D.A. accessible and has a picnic area where you can stay and eat.

Take the half-mile trail with your family, or if you’re up to the challenge, you can trek along the rocky outcrops to reach the cliffs on the Narrows.

You’ll explore the different ecosystems, from grassy meadows to wetlands and green forests.

Have a wonderful time outdoors at Minna Anthony Common Nature Center.

Final Thoughts

In the Thousand Islands region, Jefferson County has many scenic locations you’ll enjoy visiting.

The county also hosts several fascinating museums and historical sites you can explore.

With the surrounding waters of the St. Lawrence River, your family will also have fun with plenty of river activities.

Enjoy the best things to do in Jefferson County, New York.

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