Nine Things You Might Not Have Known About The Soo Locks

Engineer’s Weekend in Sault Ste. Marie is June 27 – 28, 2014. This last weekend in June has something for everyone, including boat races, spectacular vistas and the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at the great Soo Locks.

Photo courtesy of Sault Ste. Marie Convention and Visitor's Bureau

Photo courtesy of Sault Ste. Marie Convention and Visitor’s Bureau

Check out these nine interesting facts about the Soo Locks to inspire your visit from Sault Ste. Marie Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

A man-made marvel and the busiest lock system in the world, by cargo tonnage, yes the Soo Locks! On average, between seven and ten thousand ships come through the locks during the shipping season each year.  Built in 1855, these locks connect Lake Superior to Lake Huron and beyond.  We have repeat visitors every season; they call themselves Boat Nerds, that watch ships from all over the world use this free lock system.  Now here are some facts about the locking system and the St. Mary’s River.

$500.4 Billion value attributed to the iron ore shipped through the Soo Locks each year. An average of 80 million tons of cargo moves through them each year.

7,000 passages each year – Crews at the Soo Locks complete these lockages during the 42- week- long navigations season. They are open 24 hours a day.  Can you take your personal boat through the locks? Yes, as long as you have permission from the lockmaster.

2,342 miles- ships from all over the world visit this port as the locks are a part of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, which connects Duluth, Minnesota to the Atlantic!

22 Million gallons of water to lift a boat. The locks are powered by gravity itself!  Water moves in and out of the lock chambers by just opening and closing valves.

1000 foot boats- There are 13-1000 footers on the Great Lakes, and the largest boat that comes through the Soo Locks is the Paul R. Tregurtha, coming in at 1013 feet which is larger than three football fields! The first vessels on the great lakes were 40 foot-long canoes.

Mikel B Classen

Photo courtesy of Mikel B Classen via Sault Ste. Marie CVB

9 hours between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, it takes a freighter about nine hours to pass through the St. Mary’s River system

21 foot drop- A thick layer of bedrock holds back the waters of Lake Superior where it joins the St. Mary’s River. This drop prevented boats from passing through. This reddish sandstone lines most of Lake Superior southern shores and is about 1000 feet-thick.   The Fairbanks Scale Company, which is still in business today, built the first permanent lock, State Lock.

3-4 cents per ton- From 1855 to 1881, this was the toll, but today it is free.

The propeller in Soo Locks Park is from a steamer named the Independence, which exploded just northwest of today’s locks.  One crewman is said to have survived a trip down the rapids on a hay bale from the ship.

Now that you know more about the Soo Locks, come and visit us during Engineer’s Weekend, when you can go into the locks and get up close and personal with this engineering marvel!

Engineer’s Day is always the last Friday in June, which is June 27th this year. See what Engineer’s Weekend is all about in the video below.  

Have you been to the Soo Locks? Tell us about your experience!

An Off the Beaten Path Fall Color Tour in the Central U.P.

Jesse Land, founder of Things to do in the U.P., a website dedicated to helping people discover the best of the Upper Peninsula, fills us in on his recommendations for taking a fall color tour around the central U.P.

Check out Jesse’s last post for tips on taking a fall color tour around one of the U.P.’s most cherished areas – the Keweenaw Peninsula. Stay tuned for additional fall color tour ideas from Jesse later this season!

When most people think of a fall color tour in the Upper Peninsula, the central U.P. (the Iron Mountain – Menominee – Escanaba area) is not what they have in mind.

Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s actually pretty cool if you know where to look!


Let’s start off with breakfast in Iron Mountain, shall we? The tourists eat at the Holiday Kitchen. I suggest you do like the locals do and pop into B’s County Café (629 S. Stephenson) for an authentic Upper Peninsula greasy spoon experience. The service is always friendly and the women bustling behind the retro countertop sure make a mean breakfast! Try the French toast on homemade bread. My stomach is growling just thinking about it.

The Morning Drive

Here’s where you leave the pack behind. Head east out of Iron Mountain on the ever popular U.S. 2, but make a right at the caution light in Vulcan (just past the Iron Mountain Iron Mine but before Northwood’s Adventures) and pick up county road 577. This smooth, curvy road is lined with hardwoods and birch and always makes for a beautiful fall drive.

Follow 577 all the way to Menominee, where I’d recommend exploring the historic downtown waterfront district for a while before heading north on M-35. This scenic route follows the coast of Lake Michigan’s Green Bay, and connects Menominee to Escanaba. There are plenty of beachside pit stop opportunities along M-35 and there’s sure to be plenty of color!


All of that sightseeing is bound to make a person hungry. If you’re in the mood for a sit down, quality (though somewhat pricey) meal, The Stonehouse is tough to beat. They’ve got consistently excellent food and terrific service. Ferdinand’s Mexican Restaurant is a great place for a casual lunch, and if you’re looking to keep on trucking, grab a couple sub sandwiches from D&M subs and hit the road.

If you feel like stretching your legs a little while in town, drive down Ludington Street until you reach Lake Michigan, then park and walk around. The Sand Point Lighthouse is probably the most popular landmark in Escanaba, but the House of Ludington is also fun to check out.

Now it gets Interesting

Kitch-iti-Kippi (say that three times fast) in Palms Brook Sate Park, also known as “Big Spring”, is a standout attraction of this general region. And from Escanaba, you’re about fifty two miles away. Follow U.S. 2 east to county road 442 and then follow the signs from there. You’ll enjoy gazing down at huge trout as you float over Michigan’s largest natural spring. The water is crystal clear and the sand “erupting” below as water bursts upward through the ground is really something to see!

In my opinion, the Garden Peninsula is one of the most overlooked parts of the Upper Peninsula, and that’s where you’re headed next.

From Kitch-iti-Kippi, backtrack a couple miles on U.S. 2 then head south on county road 183, the road that heads to Fayette State Park. You’ll pass both the Garden Bay Winery and Threefold Vine Winery (wine tour, anyone?), as well as a couple art galleries. Of course, the standout feature here is Fayette Historic State Park, but one could just as easily spend the rest of the day exploring the Garden Peninsula’s other gems and beautiful fall colors.

County road 183 is a wonderful drive and the colors in this area are gorgeous in the fall. But best of all, since this is an off the beaten path fall color tour, you’ll have it all to yourself!

Jesse Land is the founder of Things to do in the U.P., a website dedicated to helping people discover the best of the Upper Peninsula. To learn about the best things to do in the U.P., follow Jesse on Facebook at

A Fall Color Tour in the Keweenaw Peninsula

When fall in Michigan arrives, there’s no better place to be to see the dynamic colors of a trillion trees!

Today Jesse Land, founder of Things to do in the U.P., a website dedicated to helping people discover the best of the Upper Peninsula, fills us in on his recommendations for taking a fall color tour around one of the U.P.’s most cherished areas – the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Stay tuned for additional fall color tour ideas from Jesse throughout the season!

When I recently polled my Things to in the U.P. Facebook fans about their favorite place for an Upper Peninsula fall color tour, most of them referenced someplace in the Keweenaw Peninsula. I have to agree with them.

There’s just something magical about the Keweenaw and the crisp air and colorful leaves of autumn seem to kick the magic up a notch.

What follows is my personal recommendation for an awesome Keweenaw fall color tour day trip. I’ll actually be doing this exact trip myself in a few weeks!

I recommend starting your day in the town of Houghton where you can catch a glimpse into the rich history of the Keweenaw’s mining culture via a tour of the Quincy Mine.

From there, head north on U.S. 41 to Calumet and try to avoid having lunch at the Michigan House Café, not because it isn’t awesome (it is) but because today I’m sending you to my “secret” beachfront dining spot right smack on the shore of Lake Superior.

Take in the historic downtown buildings of Calumet like the Calumet Theater. If you’re into art, stop into one of Calumet’s many art galleries, and be sure to crab a coffee or ice cream at the very cool converted train depot 5th & Elm before continuing north on U.S. 41.

About thirteen miles north of Calumet, follow M-26 into Eagle River. Visit Eagle River Falls as you come into town and then make your way to your beachfront lunch spot. I’m sending you to Fitzgerald’s, easily one of the best restaurants in the Upper Peninsula, and very likely all of Michigan.

The food and service at Fitzgerald’s are consistently excellent, and the views of Lake Superior from every table are awesome.

After lunch, stretch your legs with a walk on the sandy beach right in front of Fitzgerald’s, then hop in your car and head north again on M-26. You’re only going to go a few miles, though, because no trip to the Keweenaw is complete without a stop at The Jampot! And since it’s only a few feet away, stop at Jacob’s Falls for a photo opp.

Okay, here’s where we kick the “color tour” into overdrive. The stretch of M-26 north of The Jampot is curvy and wooded, thick with vibrant colors to the east and views of Lake Superior to the west.

And though M-26 continues on all the way to Copper Harbor, be sure not to miss the turn to Brockway Mountain drive. This little road winds up 720 feet to the top of Brockway Mountain, where on a clear day you can see for miles! The view from the top of “Brockway” is one of the best in the U.P.

Now, with Brockway Mountain under your belt, continue down Brockway Mountain drive into the quaint but oh so cool village of Copper Harbor to peruse the shops and see the sights. If you’re a history buff, check out Fort Wilkins Historic State Park while you’re there. I’d also recommend popping into the Keweenaw Adventure Company. You may not have time for an adventurous excursion on this day trip, but make a note of it for next time because you can’t beat this place for a guided kayaking or mountain biking trip!

From Copper Harbor, follow a freshly paved and fun to drive section of U.S. 41 south through the “tunnel of trees” back down to the Mt. Bohemia ski area, where for $8/person you’ll be able to ride the ski lift up the hill and take in yet another spectacular view of the surrounding area.

Congratulations! You’ve now seen enough of the Keweenaw to know you need to plan another trip! Stop at the Keweenaw Convention Center and Visitor’s Bureau in Calumet as you head south to pick up some maps and brochures for next time!

Jesse Land is the founder of Things to do in the U.P., a website dedicated to helping people discover the best of the Upper Peninsula. For regular Upper Peninsula travel tips, follow Things to do in the U.P. on Facebook at