things to do in Sault Ste Marie

20+ Best Things To Do In Sault Ste Marie MI

On your visit to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan don’t over look the small town of Sault Ste Marie, Michigan. This unique spot in the United States has the world’d busiest lock system. And while watching the huge freight ships sail by is fascinating, it’s not all this town has to offer. So keep reading to discover some of the best things to do in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan.

TRAVEL TIP: So you don’t sound like a tourist. The word sault, is pronounced “sue” and is a French-Indian word meaning rapids. It is pronounced Soo-Saint-Mah-Ree not Salt stee Marie.

Where is Sault Ste Marie, Michigan?

Sault Ste Marie is the oldest city in Michigan and one of the oldest in the United Sates. This historic town is located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan along the St. Mary’s River. This river borders the United States and Canada. St Mary’s River also connects Lake Huron to Lake Superior by way of the Soo Locks. (We’ll learn more about that later).

How many days to spend in Saut Ste Marie?

There are a few must do things to in Sault Ste Marie. So, whether you come for the day or two, or base your Upper Peninsula travels from this destination, below would be my suggested itinerary.

If you only have 1 DAY: Visit the Soo Locks Observation deck and watch a freight ship or two pass through the locks and go on a Soo Locks Boat Tour.

Or if you have 2 DAYS: Include the above and also visit the SS Valley Camp and go up in the Tower of History.

And if you have 3 DAYS or more, you can experience so much in the city and also take some day trips.

As we quickly discovered, this area is loaded with history. We learned so much on our visit to Sault Ste Marie! So let’s explore the city and have some fun in the 20+ best things to do in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan.

Best things to do in Sault Ste Marie Michigan

Sault Ste Marie is a small town, but small doesn’t mean there isn’t much to do.

And believe it or not, they even have a visitors center. It’s located on Portage Avenue in the city hall building on the 3rd floor. You wouldn’t know its there unless you’re looking for it. So stop in if you want any maps and brochures and also to inquire out special activities going on in the city while you’re there.

1. Famous Soo Looks Boat Tours

The famous Soo Locks Boat Tour is one of the best things to do while you visit Sault Ste Marie.

This 1.5 to 2 hour boat tour is an awesome experience. It is full of information, history and scenery. The tour takes you down St. Mary’s River and through the American locks. Then under the International Bridge, where you get to see an active steal plant. And hopefully sail pasts some freighters on the water and view the remaining rapids and hydroelectric plant.

things to do in Sault Ste Marie
The famous Soo Locks Boat Tours

While on the tour, you actually go through the locking system. So you see first hand how it works. From being lowered and raised 21 feet from Lake Huron to Lake Superior. You get to experience the exact process the huge freight ships use to navigate from one body of water to another.

The entire process is absolutely fascinating. And one not to miss.

There is plenty of parking for the boat tour. So if you are traveling in an RV, don’t worry, because there is plenty of space to park an RV.

And for those traveling with pets. Know that they are not allowed on the tour, however they have kennels you can use while you’re on the boat. For ticket and more information visit: Famous Soo Locks.

2. Visit the Soo Locks Observation Deck

This is the #1 thing to do in Sault Ste Marie, visit the Soo Locks.

Traveling through the locks by boat is one perspective, however seeing it from above is another. Each is completely different. And really, you need to do both to get the full Soo Locks Experience!

Sault Sainte Marie is known for the Soo Locks. So if you only have time for a few things, then this is one of the top things you don’t want to miss. It is open daily from 9AM to 9pm and free to watch.

The Soo Locks when the water is at its height

The purpose of the lock system was to allow ships to bypass the rapids in the river and travel between Lake Huron and Lake Superior. There is a 21 foot change in elevation making it impossible for freighters to pass without the locking system.

The Soo Locks when the water is low

You can read about how the locks operate. However, seeing it in action gives you a a much better perspective how this engineering marvel really works. And on the Observation Deck you get an up close and personal, where you can view the entire process.

The Observation Decks are a two level raised platform where you can watch the Soo Locks Process. Currently there are 2 locks operating with future plans for a 3rd larger lock that should be completed around 2030.

things to do in Sault Ste Marie
The Observation Decks at the Soo Locks

The McCarthy lock is the lock closest to the observation deck and the one you can view the best. From this view, you can see the ships come in and out, how the locks open and close and how they empty and fill with water.

If time permits, I would recommend to do both the boat tour and view from the observation deck. We did, and absolutely loved it!

How often do ships come through the Soo Locks in Sault Ste Marie?

The Soo Locks are the busiest locking system in the world by tonnage. And on average seven to ten freighters pass through every day. There are however 2 ways to track them if you want a more accurate time of arrival. This is how you can find the freighters:

One of the longest ships to pass through the Soo Locks

1.    Call 906-202-1333 and get a daily schedule and estimated arrival times of the freighters

2.    Download the app at Marine Traffic to view real time freighter traffic coming through the locks

This way you can plan your visit, and know when to expect the big ships to arrive.

After you visit Soo Locks you can wander round Soo Locks Park and also visit the Soo Locks Visitor Center that is open daily from 10AM to 7PM seasonally.

3. Tour an old freighter at Museum Ship SS Valley Camp

things to do in Sault Ste Marie
Museum Ship SS Valley Camp

Another really fun thing to do in Sault Ste Marie is visit the SS Valley Camp Ship Museum. This is the largest great lakes maritime museum with over 100 exhibits including the Edmund Fitzgerald exhibit. And it’s set up inside an actually freight ship. This museum was very interesting, informative and unique!

things to do in Sault Ste Marie
View of SS Valley Camp from the Tower of History

At the museum you get to tour and explore the lower level of the freighter ship including the engine room, cargo holds, the pilot house, dining room and living quarters. And you also get to walk the top deck to really get a feel of how large these freighters are. So give yourself a few hours to explore the entire ship. That way you won’t be rushed to get through it!

things to do in Sault Ste Marie
On the top deck of the SS Valley Camp

They also have RV parking if you are just traveling through. And if you are traveling with your pet, they too have outdoor kennels you can use.

4. Enjoy a Scenic View from the Tower Of History

things to do in Sault Ste Marie

If you’re afraid of heights, this might not be for you. However, going up in The Tower of History is another fun thing to do. It is open daily from early May until late October.

You can climb 292 stairs or take an express elevator to the top of the 210ft observation tower. At the top it has 4 viewing decks. There, you can see from Sugar Island to the International Bridge. And up to 1200 square miles are visible on a good day.

things to do in Sault Ste Marie
Panoramic Views from the Tower of History

This historic tower was the tallest in the upper peninsula when it was completed in 1968. The views at top are incredible. And you get to see the SS Valley Camp from above.

Other Things to do in the Sault Ste Marie

5. Visit The Historic Water Street in Sault Ste Marie

Water Street is a historic block downtown. The street is both walkable and bikable. Here you will find most of the city’s points of interest including:

  • Soo Locks Visitor Center
  • Soo Locks Park
  • Brady Park
  • Historical Homes
  • Chippewa County Historical Society
  • Tower of History
  • St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral
  • Museum Ship Valley Camp
  • Cloveland Power House

6. Visit Michigan’s Oldest Cathedral

Located just next door to the Tower of History you will see St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral. St Mary’s is a historic Catholic church and the oldest parish and cathedral in Michigan. It is the third oldest in the country with only St Augustine FL and Sante Fe NM being older. St Mary’s to this day functions as a regular place of worship. So you can step inside to view this beautiful cathedral.

7. Take a Journey through the River of History Museum

The River of History Museum tells the story of St Mary’s River from the glacier period to the present day. You can listen and learn with the self guided audio tour. It guides you through the stories of Native Americans, French fur traders and others who shaped the St Mary’s River and historical events and how it came to be what it is today. So if you enjoy history, this is a stop for you.

8. Visit Downtown Sault Ste Marie

Sault. Ste Marie has a small yet lively downtown. There you can walk around the shops of historic downtown Sault Ste Marie between Portage Ave and Armage Street. You will find unique shops for gifts and souvenirs, ice cream, fudge and more.

The shops are located near Soo Locks Park, so you can walk around and shop while you are wait for the next freighter to arrive via the app.

9. Catch a Concert in the Park

The Summer Concert Series takes place on Tuesday or Thursday night in July and August. The performance is located at the Roberta Bondar Park Tent Pavilion. Bring a blanket or chair to sit on and enjoy the show that starts about 7pm. The performance is weather permitting, so check for current updates.

10. Live Performance at the Soo

The Soo Theatre located on Armage Street opened back in 1930. After a being closed for 30 years, it re-opened its doors in 2005. Since then this historic theater has been hosting live performances and other forms of art. You can check the Soo Theatre website for upcoming schedule of vents.

11. Outdoor Activities at Rotary Park

If your not staying on the water, then Rotary Park is a great place to watch the freighters. It’s really fascinating to watch them go by, trust me. You’ll be surprised how fun it is.

Rotary parks has walking paths and a playground. You can also launch a kayak there and paddle over to Voyager Island where you can walk around.

Another local thing to do is eat at Clyde’s Drive In. It’s a hamburger joint located near the entrance of the park.

12. Gamble at Kewadin

Casino’s are a thing in Michigan. It feels like you can find one in almost every town you visit. I’m not a gambler, so I don’t seek them out. However, Kewadin Casino is not far away. There, you can find slot machines, live entertainment, promotions and events.

13. Celebrate Engineer’s Day

Engineer’s Day is a yearly celebration that takes place the last Friday in June. It is a special day where visitors can walk cross the locks. Which is something that is not permitted on a normal visit.

The celebration lasts all day and is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. While there you can visit the Visitors Center, Soo Locks Complex, Canal Park and Observation Platform.

Day Trips from Sault Ste Marie

Sault Ste Marie is located on north east portion of the Upper Peninsula. So a day trip to some nearby locations is easy. Those include Whitefish Point, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Point Irquois Light Station, and Mackinac Island.

Point Irquois Light Station

The Point Irquois Lighthouse is located about 30 minutes from downtown Sault Ste Marie. This lighthouse marks the point where St Mary’s River meets Whitefish Bay. You can visit the lighthouse everyday of the week although the museum, gift shop and tower are only open Thursday, Friday and every other Saturday from 10am to 3:30pm in summer.

At the lighthouse you can also explore the lovely property and shoreline. That of which is full of colorful rocks and clear beautiful water. So bring your water shoes so can easily walk on the rocks while exploring. We had so much fun just looking for rocks!

And on the way to Point Irquois Lighthouse look for the Mission Hill Cemetery Sign turn off. This will take you to the Mission Hill overlook. You drive up the hill and it’s located just across from the cemetery. Offering views of the bay and Lake Superior. The historic cemetery is also interesting to walk through.

“Root Beer” colored falls at Tahquamenon Falls

Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a large park covering about 50,000 acres. There you will find hiking trials to the upper and lower waterfalls, a brewery and camping at the park. And no, the water is not dirty. The unique amber color is caused by the natural leaching of tannins from cedar, spruce and hemlock in the swamps drained by the river.

The trails are dog friendly and it is worth visiting both upper and lower falls. The upper falls are more impressive but more difficult to access with many stairs to climb to get to the viewing platforms. The brewery is located near the upper falls and you can a drink and some food after your hikes.

The lower falls are just a few miles down the river are a set of smaller waterfalls surrounding an island that you can now walk across a bridge to get to. If you have time, I would recommend visiting the lower, then the upper and ending at the brewery. It should take a few hours to see most of the highlights of the park.

Visit the Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point

thing to do in Sault Ste Marie
The Edmund Fitzgerald Bell inside the Shipwreck Museum

After you visit Tahquamenon Falls, head over to the Shipwreck Museum. It’s about 20 minutes from the falls. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is located on Whitefish Point, which is the oldest active light on Lake Superior. It has become one of the most visited museums in the upper peninsula. The museum is open everyday from May 1 to October 31 from 10am to 6pm.

Mackinac Island

If you haven’t been to Mackinac Island, then you should try to go. Yes, it is touristy. However, there is nothing like it in the world! It is definitely something to see while in the Great Lakes region especially Northern Michigan.

You have to take a ferry service or fly over to the island. And when you get there, you’ll notice no motorized vehicles are permitted, so bring your bicycle if you have one. And make sure to see the famous Grand Hotel. It promise it will be a memorable and magical experience.

Local Restaurants in Sault Ste Marie

Bird’s Eye Outfitters

At this unique place you can grab a coffee, a beer, a bite and some gear! It is a coffee shop/bar/restaurant/retail and rent some gear all in one kind of place. And the decor is pretty cool too! Its a laid back feel serving really great smoothie bowls and other coffee drinks. A fun place anytime of day. They also offer kayak tours during the summer.

Karl’s Cuisine

Karl’s is one of the best rated restaurants in the area, where you can also enjoy a rooftop view of freighters going by as you grab a bite to eat for lunch or dinner. And If you drink alcohol, make sure to try their wine slushees. They are both refreshing and tasty!

Soo Brewing Company

If you enjoy beer, then check out the Soo Brewing Company located on Portage Avenue. They have outdoor seating, a full menu, offer tasty affordable beers and sell branded merchandise.

So, is Sault Ste Marie Michigan worth visiting?

Yes, the historical waterfront town of Sault Ste Marie Michigan is definitely worth visiting! Make sure not to miss the Locks, The Famous Soo Locks Boat Tour, Museum SS Valley Camp and the Tower of History! So have fun exploring the town! You’ll be sure to learn a lot too.

Other places to visit in Michigan:

If you plan to explore Upper Peninsula, make sure to check out these other blog posts!

Best Things To Do In Manistique MI Upper Peninsula

Top Things To Do In Marquette MI For Summer Fun

20+ Best Things To Do In Munising Michigan

25+ Best Things To Do In Traverse City Michigan

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