The St. Lawrence River would spill freely into the Atlantic Ocean if it weren't for an array of islands large and small that stand sentinel at its mouth, forming the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The Magdalens are among the most picturesque, but many of the other islands are inviting, too. Most are linked by ferry. Among the islands of the gulf:

Newfoundland: It's the largest island, with a long, irregular coast that shelters dozens of much smaller islands. Avalon Peninsula is the easternmost point on the North American continent. From the capital of St. John's, Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless message in 1901. The island's focus is understandably on the sea, and fishing villages dot the rugged shoreline.

Prince Edward Island: Because of a warm current, the island's weather is relatively mild, earning it the nickname "Garden of the Gulf." Canada's smallest province -- 120 miles long and 3 to 35 miles wide -- it delights with high cliffs and long, sandy, unspoiled beaches. By mid-summer, you might even brave a swim. Native lobsters and oysters are a menu staple.

St.-Pierre and Miquelon: These two tiny islands fly the French flag, the final outpost of the old French colonial empire in North America. St.-Pierre is about 10 square miles in size and Miquelon -- actually two islands joined by a sandbar -- is about 80 square miles. A bit of Old Europe, they are home to about 6,000 French-speaking inhabitants, many of whom make their livelihood fishing or in fish processing.

Anticosti Island: By no means a major tourist destination, this large, 140-mile-long island occupies a prominent position on a map of the St. Lawrence Gulf. Covered in fir and spruce, it offers woodland camping.

Belle Island: Only 15 square miles in size, little Belle Island sits strategically at the entrance to the Strait of Belle Island, a passageway to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A lighthouse at its southern end gives warning to passing ships.

Cape Breton Island: A part of Nova Scotia, the island is separated from the mainland by the narrow Strait of Canso. On a map, the island looks almost hollow, its interior dominated by the huge Bras d'Or Lake. Many of the residents are of Scottish descent, and you will see Scottish customs still observed. The Cabot Trail, a scenic highway, leads to Cape Breton Highlands National Park, where mountains rise sharply from the rocky coast. The views are magnificent.