Sault Ste Marie

Overview

Introduction

Situated on the St. Marys River that connects Lake Huron to Lake Superior, Sault Ste. Marie (pronounced Soo Saint Marie and often known simply as "the Soo") has been an important site for centuries. Native Americans gathered there to fish, and the French established a mission there in 1668, making the Soo the oldest city in Michigan. It's now home to the "Soo Locks," which allow ships to make the passage between the two lakes. Boat tours of the locks are available from Soo Locks Boat Tours.

You can get an aerial view of the ship canals and the rest of the area from the Tower of History. Back on ground level, the John Johnston House Museum has furnishings and objects from the 1700s and 1800s. Crossing the 175-ft-/53-m-high International Bridge to Canada yields excellent views of the locks and the St. Mary's Rapids. Another way to see the Canadian side is on the Soo Locks Train Tour, which begins and ends on the U.S. side but makes a stopover in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. It provides a historical tour of the area and a look at the locks. Also on the U.S. side is the SS Valley Camp and Marine Museum, a 550-ft/168-m Great Lakes freighter that houses the largest Great Lakes maritime museum.

Gambling draws a lot of people to the Soo: One of the Kewadin Casinos is in town, and the King's Club Tribal Casino and the Bay Mills Resort and Casino are in nearby Brimley. You can also go fishing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and downhill and cross-country skiing in the area.

Just northwest of Sault Ste. Marie is Lake Superior's Whitefish Bay. On the far western side of the bay, a 60-mi/95-km drive from the Soo, are several interesting attractions. Whitefish Point is the site of a lighthouse (built in 1849) and the Great Lakes Ship Wreck Museum. The museum is aptly placed, as the waters off the point are known as the "graveyard of the Great Lakes"—many ships collided there as they negotiated the Whitefish Bay channel in thick fog. The lakes' most famous shipwreck, the 1975 sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald, also took place not far from Whitefish Point (although it was the victim of a severe Lake Superior storm, not a collision). The ship's bell is on display at the museum. There are also video presentations, ship models and shipwreck artifacts. A cool soundtrack of waves, bells and foghorns plays throughout the museum (and, yes, you will get to hear Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" several times while you're there). Whitefish Point also has a bird observatory that's popular with birders because of its location along the migratory routes of many species.

One of the state's most scenic hiking and camping spots is Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The falls (pronounced tuh-KWA-men-on) are divided into upper and lower sections. The upper falls drop nearly 50 ft/16 m and, at more than 200 ft/62 m across, it is the state's largest waterfall. The park also offers opportunities for fishing and canoeing. In the winter, the park's ice formations make for stunning photography. Sault Ste. Marie is located 350 mi/560 km northwest of Detroit.

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