Ready to experience one of Michigan’s best small towns? It’s no surprise that a visit to Sault Ste. Marie in the scenic Upper Peninsula revolves around water and celebrating the outdoors. In this historic waterfront community originally built up by the Great Lakes shipping industry, tourists caught wind of its beautiful location and created one of the best Midwest destinations for fun and relaxing getaways.
Rain mixed with occasional snowflakes welcomed us into the picturesque downtown. The weather could not dampen our spirits to explore the town known for some of the best ship sightings in the world. However, it’s not all about the ships. Although it’s been years since we’ve visited, we’re always ready to take a road trip to Michigan’s U.P. for its natural beauty.
In no particular order, discover six exciting ways to make lifelong memories in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
Sault Ste. Marie Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsored our visit, but as always, all opinions are ours.
1. St. Mary’s River Kayak Tour
Michigan is known for excellent outdoor activities. A guided kayak tour on the St. Mary’s River tops the list of unique things to do in the upper peninsula. Specifically, a two-hour Lower River Islands guided tour from Bird’s Eye Adventures. Guides lead a relaxing tour past Rotary Island Park to the chain of islands southeast of downtown.
Furthermore, kayakers usually have a good possibility of seeing wildlife and freighters on the scenic and historic waterway. If not on the water, then hiking trails and viewing platforms on Voyager Island allow more chances to get close to freighters coming through the river’s narrowest point. A guided trip includes kayak/SUP (stand-up paddle boarding), guide, PFD (personal flotation device), and paddle. Check out Bird’s Eye Outfitters for a delicious meal, coffee, or brew before or after your trip.
Pro Tip: Look for moose tracks on Voyager Island.
2. Point Iroquois Lighthouse
A visit to Sault Ste. Marie would only be complete with seeing the charming Point Iroquois Lighthouse. The impressive lighthouse lies a short twenty-mile drive west on the panoramic Whitefish Bay Scenic Byway. Its white tower and red rooflines welcome those who want to explore the grounds and historic structure overlooking Whitefish Bay in Lake Superior. As one of the most popular Great Lakes lighthouses, the tower became a pleasing sight for ships en route to St. Mary’s River and Soo Locks.
Inside, antiques and artifacts display how lightkeepers and their families lived, while the top of the light station reveals breathtaking views of the upper peninsula’s shoreline and Lake Superior. Because the historic lighthouse sits inside the Hiawatha National Forest, many outdoor opportunities are nearby. Wooden boardwalks with benches lead to Whitefish Bay’s shore, then follow along its cobblestone beach, where searching for agates is a popular activity. Whether inside the lighthouse or on the shore, watch for freighters passing by at a distance.
Pro Tip: Be aware that Lake Superior is the deepest and coldest of the Great Lakes, but swimming promises to be refreshing if you’re up to it.
3. Soo Locks Visitor Center
Going to the Soo Locks Visitor Center is essential for an up-close view of massive ships that travel the Great Lakes. Inside, displays tell the story of the world’s most heavily used shipping canal. Outside next to the MacArthur Lock, see the ships move through the locks from the Soo Locks Observation Platform’s three levels. Ramps and stairs lead to the platform’s glassed-in second level, but you can only take the stairs to the third.
Beautiful greenery and historic buildings are woven throughout Soo Locks Park. Along with the locks, they form a peaceful place to relax across from West Portage Avenue, the street where Sault Ste. Marie’s iconic shops and restaurants reside.
Pro Tip: Staff displays the ship’s estimated arrival times and maintains a schedule hotline. On bad weather days, wait inside and watch the screens until vessels enter the canal, then go to the observation platform for an outstanding view.
4. Tower Of History
Although it goes by the Tower of History name, it should be called the Tower of Scenic Views because of the spectacular sights of the St. Mary’s River, the Soo Locks, Ontario, Canada, and the Sault area. The 210-foot tower proudly overlooks the town and beyond, with a 20-mile range of view from its observation platforms.
An express elevator quickly takes visitors to the top of the enclosed observation room with placards pointing out Sault Ste. Marie’s features and historic sites. From there, steps lead to several outer observation platforms on all sides, which are perfect for photo opportunities with the International Bridge, Museum Ship Valley Camp, and the Soo Locks, to name a few.
The entrance level of the museum displays local and Native American exhibits and a short video. The Tower of History opens in mid-May and closes in mid-October.
Pro Tip: Take a closer look through the binoculars provided in the enclosed observation deck.
5. Tahquamenon Falls
A visit to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula must include one of its most famous natural attractions, Tahquamenon Falls. Tahquamenon Falls State Park is Michigan’s second largest state park, with the “Upper Falls” and lesser-known “Lower Falls” as its showpieces.
The famous Upper Falls is one of the biggest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River and the biggest in Michigan. At fifty-feet tall and two-hundred feet wide, it’s also the second most voluminous waterfall in the eastern U.S. The Lower Falls lies four miles east of Highway 123, or approximately 2.5 hours if you choose the hiking trail.
View both waterfalls from easily accessible paved paths and boardwalks. Watch for moose, beavers, black bears, otters, porcupines, deer, and minks.
Locals often refer to Tahquamenon Falls as Rootbeer Falls because of the water’s deep brown color and white foam. The rich, brown color derives from tannins that seep into the Tahquamenon River from a cedar swamp near the beginning.
Visitors needing assistance can use an off-road track chair at no cost to explore the park. The electronic track chair uses treads and allows guests to enjoy the park’s natural beauty, whereas wheelchairs might limit their experiences. Track chairs are built for outdoor adventures on trails, sand, snow, and water up to eight inches and are first come, first served.
Pro Tip: Rent a rowboat from the Lower Falls concession area to access the island, then enjoy the 0.5-mile hiking trail around the island.
6. Museum Ship Valley Camp
Whether driving to Canada on Interstate 75 over the International Bridge or viewing from the Tower of History, the Museum Ship Valley Camp stands out. She is permanently docked in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. The World’s Largest Great Lakes Maritime Museum sits next to the Famous Soo Locks Boat Tours and the lengthy 1902 Edison Sault Hydroelectric Facility.
A tour inside the massive freighter reveals what life looked like when the coal-fired ship was in service between 1917 and 1966. The entire cargo hold of the 550-foot-long freighter houses maritime exhibits, local history, aquariums, an art gallery, and two smashed lifeboats. The lifeboats are the two most significant recovered pieces of the infamous wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald. However, on the top deck, seeing how the crew lived inside their quarters and watching ships pass on the scenic St. Mary’s River were our favorite experiences.
Visitors should plan on at least one hour. The entrance and all three inside levels are accessible with ramps and walkways. Despite that, the doorway leading to the top deck has a high step that would be difficult to get over, along with many challenges once on top, like steep, narrow stairs and an uneven deck. Wheelchairs are available next to the ticket booth.
Pro Tip: Outside kennels are provided at no cost for dog owners.
Where To Eat In Sault Ste. Marie
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan has plenty of choices for restaurants. Whether it’s a brewery, winery, Mexican restaurant, classic diner, or coffee shop, finding a great place to eat shouldn’t be difficult. We wanted to try the retro Lockview Restaurant, but it was closed for the season. So, the Lockview and Yooper Pasty Company are on our list for next time.
Bird’s Eye Outfitters
For a tasty and fun place to eat, check out Bird’s Eye Outfitters. Along with a relaxing vibe, their slogan “Coffee, Beer, and Gear” fits them perfectly. This is the coolest place in town.
Sitting across the street from Soo Locks Park, Oh Crepe! made a terrific place for breakfast before exploring Sault Ste. Marie’s charming downtown shops. Their hot chocolate was perfect for a rainy day. Thick and rich, it reminded me of how I like to make it with 2-3 times extra cocoa. Even though Kristi isn’t a chocolate fan, she also enjoyed the flavor. We chose the basic breakfast crepe with sausage and cheddar inside and an egg coating the outside. Neither of us has had a crepe with an outside layer of egg, but it was a hit.
An old-fashioned counter caught our eye when we first walked inside Frank’s Place. We arrived before 5 p.m. at a somewhat empty diner, but when we left, locals filled most of the tables. At first, we contemplated sharing a spaghetti pie platter but then decided on a Rueben and penne pasta with meatballs. Nevertheless, we started by splitting an order of crispy onion rings.
Legend has it that this Yooper saloon began selling ice cream as a guise during prohibition. However, the IRS considered a $900 profit for a monthly ice cream sale sketchy, so they switched to selling lemonade, only not to minors.
Dinner at Antlers made the list of must-try experiences for us in Sault Ste. Marie. Not only did we have a filling meal, but we also had our fill of humorous tongue-in-cheek. We wanted to try different foods for a variety, but a beer-battered whitefish platter with fresh-cut fries won us over. One large piece of moist, flaky fish with a crunchy batter and fries reminded us of eating fish & chips in the United Kingdom. We couldn’t finish our meal, but it was tempting.
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