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Spotlight: Soo Locks on the St. Marys River, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

Spotlight: Soo Locks on the St. Marys River, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

Hard-working Soo Locks are a fascinating place to visit!

Soo Locks Visitors to the Soo Locks get up-close and personal with immense lake- and ocean-going vessels navigating the St. Marys River’s 21-foot elevation change. (USACE)

What You’ll Find

The hard-working Soo Locks, in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan provide passage annually for more than 4,700 immense lake- and ocean-going vessels. Watch ships navigate the 21-foot drop between the levels of Lake Superior to the north and Lake Huron and the lower Great Lakes to the south, carrying more than 80 million tons of cargo to U.S. and worldwide ports.

At Soo Locks you might see 1000 foot long boats (think 3 football fields!) pass through the larger Poe Lock and the MacArthur Lock loaded primarily with raw materials such as iron ore, coal and limestone as well as salt, corn and wheat.

Getting There

The Soo Locks are along the St. Marys River at the eastern edge of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at the U.S. border with Canada, 55 miles north of the Mackinac Bridge off Interstate 75. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages the Soo Locks and has a visitor center and observation platform at 312 West Portage Avenue in Sault Ste. Marie.

Make Sure You

Observe huge freighters up close from the two-story glass observation platform and get a sense of their immensity while the locks raise or lower them. Be sure to visit the nearby visitor center to see exhibits and short films, learn how the locks work and discover the numerous harbors that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages around the Great Lakes. The visitor center is open seasonally, starting on Mother’s Day until mid-October each year from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. The adjoining park is open year round. Summer concerts are held Wednesday evenings during the season (after the concert, there’s always an ice cream parlor or fudge shop beckoning from nearby). Check the Downtown Sault Ste. Marie events schedule.

Visitor center staff maintains a boat schedule hotline with estimated arrival times for boats expected at the Soo Locks. The hotline provides estimated boat arrival times four to five hours in advance. Check the schedule by calling the hotline number at (906) 253-9290.

Try This

Once a year on the last Friday in June, visitors can cross over to the other side of the security fence for Engineers Day, a highly-rated open house that provides a close-up view of the facility and of the boats that pass through it. Meet engineers and other Soo Locks employees who will answer your questions about this fascinating facility. Employees from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Customs, Border Patrol and other government agencies will also be on hand for the event.

The Soo Locks make a great stop en route to Tahquamenon Falls State Park which features one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi, or Whitefish Point, home of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum and its fascinating things to see such as the Whitefish Point Light or the bell from the shipwreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, made famous in the 1976 hit song by Gordon Lightfoot. Birders will enjoy the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory.

Fishing enthusiasts can cross the border into Canada to fish the rapids (U.S. residents should bring their passports).

Don’t Forget

Read about the history of the Soo Locks. The locks earned a National Historic Landmark designation based on the locks’ contributions to the nation's history since the 1850s and the architectural significance and integrity of many of its structures and buildings.

Watch this animated demo showing how the locks work.

Did You Know?

Sault Ste. Marie is the oldest city in Michigan and among the oldest cities in the U.S. Soo Locks get their name from Sault (pronounced “soo”) Ste. Marie, the 17th century French explorers’ and missionaries’ name for the falls of the St. Marys River. These men reported a community of Ojibwe people they called "saulteurs" or "people of the falls" living here, where the waters of Lake Superior pour into Lake Huron. The Ojibwe call the falls “bawating” or “gathering place” where they came for fur and fish. This gathering place soon became a center of trade for Europeans to exchange goods for furs.