Fun with friends continues – Sault Ste Marie, U.S. and Canada

After a great day of biking on Mackinac Island (remember, its pronounced “Mackinaw”), the four of us still had plenty of places we wanted to check out.  Don and Lisa, driving from Warren, Ohio to meet up with us, could only get away for a week – they have jobs, after all – bummer!  So we filled our days together from our home base at Mackinaw City, driving to the twin cities of Sault Ste Marie – the Michigan and Canadian sides of the international border.  On our last day together we explored Mackinaw City on our bikes.

Sault Ste Marie, MI

We had initially planned to watch large freighters move through the Soo Locks system from an observation platform next to the Soo Locks visitor center.  But then we found out about a two-hour narrated Soo Locks Boat Tour excursion that would actually take us through the locks – much better!

MacArthur Lock -Soo Locks
Our tour boat waiting for the water to fill the lock chamber.  How did I get this shot if we were on the tour?  I didn’t – we went to the visitor center later, and there was the same boat doing another tour!

The Soo Locks are a set of parallel locks located on St. Mary’s river which enable ships to travel between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes.  The locks were required to bypass the rapids of the river, where the water falls 21 feet from the level of Lake Superior to the level of the lower lakes.  The locks are powered by gravity itself – no pumps are used.  Water moves in and out of the lock chambers by simply opening and closing valves, and it takes only a few minutes to fill or empty them with 22 million gallons of water.

Soo Locks, Sault Ste Marie, MI
Soo Locks viewed from the International Bridge

Since we were traveling up-bound at the beginning of our tour, the chamber was filled and our boat rose twenty-one feet straight up to the level of Lake Superior.  The chamber is able to handle ships up to 800 feet long, so our little tour boat seemed like a toy in there! Once the chamber was filled, the gates opened and we cruised under the International Bridge and a railroad bridge.

MacArthur Lock, Soo Locks
Once the chamber filled to the level of Lake Superior, the gates opened and off we went!

As we crossed under the International Bridge, I noticed these two workers who seemed to be comfortable hanging out up there:

International Bridge
Workers on top of the International Bridge

The narrator pointed out several interesting buildings and other structures to us as we moved along.  One of them was the 1/4-mile long Saint Mary’s Falls Hydropower Plant, which has 72 turbines producing electric power from water flowing down its wooden plank-lined canal.  The building is listed as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.  Check out the columnar supports that are shaped like lighthouses:

Saint Marys Falls Hydropower Plant
A quarter mile long building – Saint Mary’s Falls Hydropower Plant

After crossing into Canadian waters, we got a close-up look at one of Canada’s largest steel plants.  We returned to our dock after passing through the smaller historic and newly-restored Canadian lock, and cruising past the Saint Mary’s Rapids.  We learned that more than 11,000 cargo vessels pass through the locks during the 42-week long navigation season.  Vessels of all shapes and sizes go through the lock system – for free!

Sault Ste Marie Canal, Canada
Canadian lock at Sault Ste Marie in Ontario
Sault Ste Marie, Ontario
Going “downstream”, the chamber was emptied before the gates were opened

Although we had experienced “locking through” the Panama Canal during our Princess Cruise in 2012, this time it was much faster and close-up.  What took most of a day for the cruise ship to complete happened here in about 20 minutes.  But these locks were still a man-made marvel when they were built, and we really enjoyed the experience of passing through them.  Not to be missed if you’re in the area!

Sault Ste Marie, ON, Canada

We got a glimpse of the Canadian side of Sault Ste Marie from our tour boat, and since we all had our passports with us we decided to head over there and grab some lunch after the tour.  The International Highway Bridge connects the U.S. and Canadian cities, Sault Ste Marie and is a 2.8-mile long steel truss arch bridge with a suspended deck.  There are two separate spans, a double arch span on the U.S. side which crosses over the four U.S. Soo Locks, and a single arch span on the Canadian side that crosses the single Canadian Lock.

International Bridge
The International Highway Bridge connects the twin Sault Ste Marie cities in Michigan and Ontario
Saint Mary's Falls
Saint Mary’s Falls and the US Hydroelectric plant, viewed from the International Bridge

After an excellent lunch at Shogun, an all-you-can eat sushi place (Steve was going through “sushi withdrawal” and needed his fix), we swung by Ontario’s Sault Ste Marie waterfront and walked off some of the calories, while enjoying the flowers and art displays bordering the river.




Civic Center, Sault Ste Marie, Ontario
Flower garden reflected on the Civic Center windows
Sault Ste Marie, Ontario Canada
The foursome next to Saint Mary’s River, Sault Ste Marie, Ontario – eh?

Before heading back home to Mackinaw City, since Don was driving he demanded that we take a quick detour near Brimley, MI to the lakeshore.  He just had to touch Lake Superior before going home!  They met their goal on this trip of touching three of the Great Lakes –  Superior, Huron and Michigan – way to go, guys!

Lake Superior
Touching Lake Superior at Brimley, MI

 Mackinaw City

We were delighted when we learned that the KOA campground where we were staying had a bike path leading directly into town – how convenient!  On Don and Lisa’s last day with us, we pedaled off and entered the historic downtown area, which was bustling with tourists. After all, Mackinaw City is the jumping-off point to Mackinac Island, with three ferry services to choose from.

Mackinaw City
Shepler’s ferry dock

The five-mile long Mackinac Bridge links Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, and spans the connection of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron at the Straits of Mackinac.  It is currently the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world, and the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere.

Mackinac Bridge
Mackinac Bridge – a beauty
Lake Huron
Lisa sprinkling Don with Lake Huron water during our ride

Perhaps if we had been dressed appropriately we would have checked out the  Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum.  The USCG cutter Mackinaw (WAGB-83) is a 290-foot vessel that was specifically designed for ice breaking duties on the Great Lakes.  It has been decommissioned and is open for tours.

US Coast Guard cutter
US Coast Guard ice breaker Mackinaw is open for tours.
Steve’s eyeing that Weinerlicious hotdog joint, we went over and got ourselves some of those dogs!

On the shore of Lake Michigan and Mackinaw City’s west side lies a rock that may not be as famous as Plymouth Rock, but it has been used as a navigational aid since before the Pilgrims landed.  McGulpin rock (or Chi-Sin – Big Rock) was used by Native Americans as a navigational aid to gauge the lake’s water levels.  It measures 33.0 ft. in horizontal circumference and 37 ft. in vertical circumference.  It’s 9 ft. tall and weighs 54 tons.  I wonder how the heck it got there?

Mcgulpin Rock, Mackinaw City
McGulpin rock, Chi- Sin or Big Rock
Big Rock, Lake Michigan
Don and Lisa sitting at Lake Michigan, accomplishing their goal of seeing all of the Great Lakes!

On our way back to the campground, I couldn’t help snapping a shot of this black beauty amongst the pink flowers.

MacGulpin Point,Mackinaw CityThe four of us had been running around every day – seeing the Henry Ford, biking at Mackinac island, driving to Sault Ste Marie, MI and crossed the international border.  We hadn’t had any time to cook, so on their last day I prepared a couple of filipino dishes – lumpia and pancit canton – as a sendoff dinner for our good friends.  We had lots of fun and made many memories in a short period of time.  That is until next time, somewhere out west!

Lowes RV Adventures








  1. We loved the Soo Locks but there were no tours available while we were there so had to watch the big vessels coming in instead. What a great time you have had with your friends. Look forward to your posts on the UP.

  2. Wow did you guys have a good time. So neat to actually ride through the locks rather than just take a tour. I laughed about your international trip for lunch. Great idea. Both the pictures of the 4 of you are terrific. Very clear you are having a wonderful time. I have to remember that idea of backing the tall people up to something I can stand on behind them. Thanks!! I wonder if Chi-Sin is a Glacial Erratic. Terrific way to determine how high the lake is. That’s some big rock all right. I need to learn from you how to do such a great job covering a longer time than just one day. This is a great post and the picture of the horse in the flowers is so fabulous you should enter it in a contest somewhere.

  3. Other blogger friends of our, actually, two other blogger couples just did that same tour. They loved it.

    You couldn’t get me to climb up and fix that bridge for all the tea in China!

    That is the cutest picture of the four of you by the water. Looks like an awesome time was had by all.

  4. What a fantastic week of touring and visiting with friends! We took a motorcycle ride up to the locks while we were in Empire four years ago. It was a nice experience. With my parents having lived along the water ways with locks, we were accustom to going through in the boat. But it was fun to see these several huge locks together.

    I saw the giant hot dog on top of that stand as we passed by on the highway!! Sure is a whooper!

  5. Touring with friends is the best!! You all were clearly having a blast together. So many great adventures in just a few days — and topped off by a homemade Filipino feast!

  6. It is great to see Don and Lisa again in your photos. I use to share an office with Don at Berkeley Lab. I remember when he meet Lisa. I’m glad you got to spend a week together at the great lakes. Great photos. Big hug for all of you!

  7. The flower garden reflection…gorgeous!!! Great visit…glad to see and read about the area. Sweet you got to do it with good ftiends!!

  8. I haven’t done any lock tour so thanks for showing us. That giant hotdog has too many mustard. I wouldn’t fugitively steal a bite. 😀

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