How does a giant boat get up a waterfall? Until 1775, it didn't! But then the Soo Locks were invented and changed that! Today, boats move up and down the Soo Locks everyday to get from Point A to Point B. Read on to learn about this ingenious invention that made delivering freight easier!
Facing a 21-foot drop over sandstone on the St. Mary's River between the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Ontario, large freighters could not get from Lake Superior to the rest of the Great Lakes to deliver their cargo. Consequently, the ships had to stop, unload the freight, and send it by ground to its destination. In 1779 a lock was built to help the ships travel through this area, making it much faster and less expensive to ship things. Unfortunately this lock was destroyed during the war of 1812. The ships had to revert to their old ways of delivering goods by land again. A new lock was built in 1855 with 6 more that followed between 1881 and 1968. The locks are now a National Historic Landmark and are still operational and very much needed.
How They Work
The locks create an enclosed place where the water level can be changed to meet the level the ship needs to continue traveling. For example, if a ship is traveling from Lake Superior, it will pull into the lock and the lock will close. The water that is in the lock with the ship is then pushed out into the water below it and the boat is slowly lowered down to that level. That side of the lock then opens and the ship continues on its way. If a ship needs to travel to Lake Superior, it pulls into the lock and is raised up from water that is pulled in from the Lake Superior side. That side of the lock is opened and the boat passes through. It’s kind of like a water elevator for boats.
What to Do
There are tons of things to do in this area of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Not only can you spend all day just watching the boats come and go and marveling at this amazing feat of engineering, there are also activities and learning opportunities right there at the Locks. The surrounding Sault St. Marie area has tons to do as well!
Watching The Locks Work There is an observation deck where you can watch the huge boats slide in and out of the Locks. You can see the water levels rise and drop and send the ships on a path that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Some of these ships have traveled from the ocean and other countries to deliver cargo. Not only is it amazing to see how the Locks work, but it's fun to watch the variety of boats travel through as well.
Tour The Locks Why not get on a ship yourself and experience the Locks! If it sounds great to see it from the observation deck, imagine how it feels to ride on a ship that goes through the Locks! There are tons of places that charter tours through the Locks. Check out Soo Locks Boat Tours for Locks tours, lighthouse tours, and cruises for lunch, dinner, or even some fireworks!
Soo Locks Quest Go on a quest that will teach you all about the Locks, the history of the area, and some of the boats! You can download a brochure where you can find a scavenger-hunt style quest! Museum Ship Valley Camp Check out an actual freighter at this museum! The whole museum is housed in the Valley Camp freighter that has been turned into the Edmund Fitzgerald memorial. You can check out the lifeboats as well as other artifact that were recovered from the real Edmund Fitzgerald that sank in 1975. Along with the museum artifacts, you can check out the aquarium they have on board and see the different fish that call the Great Lakes home!
Tower of History See the boats and Locks from 210 feet up! This tower has observation decks where you can get a great view and snap some amazing photos! The tower was originally built as part of the Catholic church and was meant to have exhibits about missionaries and contain a community center. The church decided not to continue with it and donated it to the Sault Historic Sites in 1980. It was then turned it into the observation tower it is today. There’s a museum in the bottom where you can check out the intended history of missionaries as well as Native American history.
Soo Brewing Company If you like hand-crafted beer, check out the Soo Brewing Company. Here you’ll find over 70 different brews that include blonds, stouts, porters, IPAs, wheats, reds, pales, browns, lagers, and seasonal beers! While you enjoy your beer, you can munch on complimentary peanuts and pretzels or order take out/delivery from one of the restaurants in the area!
Kewadin Casino Feeling lucky? Head over to the Kewadin Casino for some gaming! You can take in some black jack, poker, craps, and roulette! You’ll also enjoy almost 2,000 slots that start at penny slots and go up to $25 bets! You can also get in on some Keno and Bingo while you’re here! There are many different dining options at the casino so you’re sure to fill your belly with great food!
Sault Seal Recreational Area The recreational area has a ton to offer if you just want to play! You can get in a game of Lawn Bowling, play some soccer, or explore the nature trails (just make sure you're equipped to fend off mosquitoes and repel ticks when you're exploring)! If you’re in the area in the winter, go sledding on the area's big hill. You can get inflatable tubes and shoot down the huge hill! They even haul you back up when you’re ready to go again! You can bring your own sled if you want as well as take advantage of their ski and snowboarding areas.
There are a host of campsites to choose from in this area. No matter what your camping style, you’re sure to find one that will meet your needs. From RVers to tent campers, there are options for everyone!
Soo Locks Campground Set up your camping chairs and watch the boats pass right through the Locks from the campground! Located right on the St. Mary’s River, it has waterfront sites available! There are 100 different sites that offer water and electric and a dump station for RVers. Modern restrooms offer showers and you can even find a store and a recreation room!
Aune-Osborn Campground Here you can find a 100-site campground with water and electrical hookups! They offer modern restrooms with showers for all the campers. They have a sanitation station you can take advantage of if you’re camping in an RV! There’s a playground for the kids, a boat launch, and a fish cleaning station so you can prep your freshly caught dinner right there!
Sault St. Marie KOA This campground has won multiple awards and is a beautiful place to stay! You’ll find both pull-through and back-in sites with full hookups and a separate area for tent campers. You’ll find a pool, bike rentals, mini golf, and a playground. This campground is pet friendly so bring your furry friends! In fact, they’re so pet friendly, they even have a pet playground and a self-serve dog grooming salon!
Visiting the Soo Locks is as amazing as it is educational. You'll be mesmerized by how easily the ships are transported over a once-impassible area. Soak up the rich history of this area and you'll have loads of stories to share about it when you get home!