Did you know that the oldest city in Michigan is Sault Ste Marie. This historic town is located in the upper peninsula of Michigan along the St. Mary’s river on the border of the United States and Canada. And St Mary’s River connects Lake Huron to Lake Superior by way of the Soo Locks. As we quickly discovered, this area is loaded with history and we learned so much on our visit to Sault Ste Marie! So let’s take a journey to discover some history and fun in the 20+ 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, so I still like to start my vacation at the visitor center. It’s located on Portage Avenue in the city hall building on the 3rd floor. At the Sault Ste Marie visitor center you can pick up maps and brochures of things to do in city.
TRAVEL TIP: A tip so you don’t sound like a tourist. The word sault, is pronounced “sue” and is a French-Indian word meaning rapids.
Best Things to Do in Sault Ste Marie
The #1 Thing to do in Sault Ste Marie is visit the Soo Locks.
Sault Sainte Marie is famous for the Soo Locks. So if you only have time for a few things to see and do in Sault Ste Marie, then this is one of the top things you shouldn’t miss. I was fascinated by the entire process. You can read about how the locks operate but it’s really interesting to see this engineering marvel at work. There are two ways to experience the Soo Locks. You can take a boat tour or you can watch from the observation platforms. And make sure to stop by the Soo Locks Vistior Center, located just before the observation deck in Soo Locks Park. It’s open from 11am to 5pm Friday to Tuesday.
Famous Soo Locks Boat Tours
You can visit the Soo Locks by taking the Famous Soo Locks Boat Tour through the locks. The lock system was built to allow ships to bypass the rapids in the river and travel between Lake Huron and Lake Superior, as there is a 21 foot change in elevation making it impossible for freighters to pass without the locking system. You will enter the locks by boat and go through the experience of how they work as they raise and lower the freighters to the preceding water level on the journey.
This 1.5 to 2 hour boat tour is a great experience, full of information, history and scenery. The tour takes you down St. Mary’s River, through the American locks, under the International Bridge, you get to see an active steal plant, hopefully sail pasts some freighters on the water and view the remaining rapids and hydroelectric plant. The boat tour is very informative and such a unique experience to journey through the locking system to experience how it all works.
Please note pets are not allowed on the tour, but they do have kennels you can use while you are on the boat. And RV parking is available too. For ticket and more information visit: https://www.famoussoolocks.com/
Soo Locks Observation Deck
Another way to see the Soo Locks is from the observation deck. Today there are currently 2 locks operating with future plans for a 3rd larger lock that should be completed around 2030. The McCarthy lock is the lock closet 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. I would recommend to do both the boat tour and view from the observation deck, as you will get a different perspective from each experience.
So 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. But if you want to know a more accurate time of their estimated arrival, then there are 2 ways to track them. Here are your guides to finding freighters:
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
Historic Things to Do in the town of Sault Ste. Marie
Visit The Historic Water Street in Sault Ste Marie
Take a walk or bike ride down the Water Street historic block and visit historical attractions. These are some of the points of interest you will find along the way:
- 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
Enjoy a Scenic View of Sault Ste Marie from the Tower Of History
The Tower of History is another great thing to do in Sault Ste Marie. An express elevator will take you up the 210ft observation tower that has 4 viewing decks. You can see from Sugar Island to the International Bridge. And up to 1200 square miles are visible on a good day. This historic tower was the tallest in the upper peninsula when it was completed in 1968.
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 step inside to view this beautiful cathedral.
Tour an old freighter at Museum Ship SS Valley Camp
Visiting the SS Valley Camp is #2 on best things to do in Sault St Marie. It is the largest great lakes maritime museum with over 100 exhibits including the Edmund Fitzgerald exhibit. It was very interesting, informative and unique! 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 and not have to be rushed to get through it!
They even have RV parking if you are just traveling through. And if you are traveling with your pet, they also have outdoor kennels you can use.
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.
Other Things to do in Sault Ste. Marie
Shopping Downtown Sault Ste Marie
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. All located near Soo Locks Park, so you can walk around and shop while you are waiting for the next freighter to arrive via the app. Other things to do around town include:
- Summer in the park concert series on Wednesday night from 7pm to 830pm in Soo Locks Park.
- Catch a live performance at the Soo Theatre located on Armage Street.
- Head over to Rotary Park to watch the freighters. They have walking paths and a playground. You can also launch your kayak here and paddle over to Voyager Island and then hike around the island. A local favorite, Clyde’s Drive In hamburger joint is located near the entrance of the park.
- And not far away is Kewadin Casino. From slot machines, to live entertainment, promotions and events. Kewadin will keep you entertained.
Celebrate Engineer’s Day
If you are in town on the last Friday in June there is a yearly celebration of Engineers Day! A day where visitors can walk cross the locks, which is something that is not permitted on a normal visit. Along with welcoming visitors into the Soo Locks complex, the Soo Locks Canal Park, viewing platform and Visitors Center will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on this day.
Day Trips from Sault Ste Marie
Visit the Point Irquois Light Station
Located about 30 minutes from downtown Sault Ste Marie is Point Irquois Lighthouse. This lighthouse marks the point where St Mary’s river meets Whitefish Bay. You can visit the lighthouse everyday of the week but the museum, gift shop and tower are only open Thursday, Friday and every other Saturday from 10am to 3:30pm in summer. You can also explore the lovely property and shoreline that is full of colorful rocks and clear beautiful water. So bring your water shoes so can easily walk on the rocks, as we had so much fun just looking for colorful rocks!
Enjoy the view at Mission Hill Overlook
Before you get 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.
See the “Root Beer” colored falls at Tahquamenon Falls
Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a large park covering about 50,000 acres. 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
After you visit Tahquamenon Falls, then head over to the Shipwreck Museum, 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. And 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.
Although located on the other side of the Mackinac Bridge, in the lower peninsula, Mackinac Island 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. No motorized vehicles are permitted on the island, so bring your bicycle if you have one. And make sure to see the famous Grand Hotel. It will be a memorable and magical experience.
Local Restaurants to visit 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 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, and you will be sure to learn a lot too.
Other places to visit in Michigan:
Share this post if you know someone who would enjoy to visit Sault Ste Marie, Michigan!