Fall Getaway to Sault Ste. Marie

In the Upper Peninsula, the state’s oldest city goes with the flow of the St. Marys River. Its Soo Locks link two Great Lakes, bringing vessels and visitors.

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Caption: Kayaking on the St. Marys River
Credit: Aaron Peterson

Though Sault Ste. Marie is nearly 350 years old, the town retains its vigor, thanks to visitors who come to see the Soo Locks and stay for the history, food, and fun. Fall gives the Soo a ruddy complexion and a youthful golden glow. 
The Soo Locks connect Lake Superior and Lake Huron, letting ships bypass rapids on the St. Marys. Giant oceangoing vessels share the locks with smaller craft—thousands of boats pass through each year. Watch them up close from a two-story public viewing platform with open-air and glassed-in areas. The adjacent visitors center offers exhibits and info on freighter arrivals. For a more in-depth look, book a two-hour narrated river cruise (through mid-October).
Take an even longer voyage on the St. Marys, one of about 8,000 years, at the River of History Museum, open May to mid-October. Start at the time of glaciers, then meet Native Americans (see a jingle dress), fur traders and Jesuit settlers, and learn about lumbering and the locks. 
Docked, the 550-foot-long Museum Ship Valley Camp is hard to miss. It’s now loaded with exhibits such as lifeboats from the Edmund Fitzgerald. Open mid-May to mid-October, it delivers tons of history and a taste of life on a cargo ship.
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Caption: View from the Tower of History
Credit: Aaron Peterson

Get a bird’s-eye view of the Valley Camp, as well as historic homes, the locks and fall-color countryside from the Tower of History. Ride an elevator (or climb 292 steps) to an open-air deck with 360-degree views.
In this water town, whitefish rules at restaurants, but other local favorites tempt your palate. At The Antlers, mounted animals dominate the decor. Try a Soo Stew Canoe, a stew-like dish served in a toasted sourdough shell. Karl’s Cuisine, in a boat-shaped building, wins rave reviews for its stromboli. Lockview Restaurant serves whitefish in six ways. 
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Caption: Bird’s Eye Outfitters and Superior Cafe
Credit: Aaron Peterson

If you’re sampling the cuisine, you might as well enjoy a brew or two. Bird’s Eye Outfitters sells coffee, beer, and outdoor gear. Irish pub Moloney’s Alley features craft beers and a full menu. Soo Brewing Company, the city’s first microbrewery, keeps its own creations on 10 taps. The Palace Saloon dishes up drinks and Mexican cuisine, and its mahogany bar dates to 1903. Three One Three offers a rustic vibe, with custom-made furniture that includes tables and chairs made from tree branches.
After you’ve seen your fill, retreat to a hotel with a history. The Ramada Plaza Ojibway, a block from the locks, opened in 1927 and has lodged luminaries including President George H.W. Bush and pro boxers Joe Louis and Jack Dempsey. The hotel was built on property donated by Chase Osborn, the only Michigan governor from the Upper Peninsula.


Caption: Soo Locks
Credit: Aaron Peterson

Soo Locks by the Numbers
21foot drop between Lake Superior and the St. Marys River. The locks let boats navigate the change.
22 million—gallons of water needed to fill Poe Lock, the larger of the two locks.
7,000–12,000—the number of vessels going through the locks each year.
1,100—the length in feet of the longest ship the locks can accommodate. 
The Paul R. Tregurtha, the longest vessel on the Great Lakes, measures 1,014 feet.
$500 billion—the value of the iron ore shipped through the locks each year. Iron ore is the world’s second-most valuable mineral resource (oil ranks first).
By Gary Thompson