Sunday, July 17, 2022

Temperature 83 Degrees, Abundant Sunshine, Clear Blue Skies

Soo Locks, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

Another one of the must see attractions for us while in this region were the Soo Locks. So yesterday morning we were out and on the road by 8 am for the 45 minute ride north to them.

In due time we were welcomed into the city of Sault Ste. Marie or as our GPS likes to say Sault Sweet Marie!

Either luck or our early arrival resulted in us getting a parking spot right outside the entrance to the park which then left us with a short walk to

the observation platform. When we arrived there were only a few people present but that quickly changed. Later, talking to others I discovered that some people actually spend the whole day here as well as part of the evening hours. Now, as much as I enjoyed our time here I don’t believe I could spend a whole day. It’s fun and a really neat experience to watch the Great Lake Steamers lock through but after awhile one looks just like the next.

Let’s go watch some ships lock through!

First, as to the location of the locks. The Soo locks are on the St. Mary’s River and they allow ship traffic between Lake Superior (upper left) and Lake Huron (to the right). In this area of the St. Mary’s river is a serious of unnavigable rapids which drop 21 feet from Lake Superior to Lake Huron. Originally, at the rapids in the St. Mary’s river men had to unload and carry everything around the rapids.

Then they actually tried taking the ship and moving it on rollers down the street around the rapids. It took an average of seven weeks to move the ship just one way!

Today, thanks to the locks ship traffic moves smoothly through the area with no need to load and unload. Not to mention with the size of today’s ships there is no way you could move them over land.

A quick note on how the locks work.

No pumps, nothing but gravity to fill the locks and empty them. So simple, so efficient, so reliable.

However, it does take a whale of a lot of water to do so.

So where do you want to go?

Now, for the ships themselves going through the locks.

This is the first ship we saw lock through. This is the CSL Laurentien, a self discharging bulk carrier, just leaving the Poe lock. The ship was built in 1977, its overall length is 739 feet, beam is 77 feet and it has a draft of 31 feet. The ship’s normal cargo is iron ore.

Once the CSL Laurentien was clear of the lock another ship began to move into position to enter the lock.

In the lock and waiting to be lowered to the level of Lake Huron which is off the ship’s bow. This is the Mantoulin. Believe it or not this is actually two ships merged into one. The bow section was built in 2014 and the stern section was built in 1991. In 2015 the two sections from separate ships were joined together to create the ship you see in front of you. The resulting ship is 664 feet in length, has a beam of 78 feet and a draft of 30 feet. The ship’s normal cargo is also iron ore.

Look closely and you’ll be able to see the number 6 on the ship’s bow. This is before the lock is emptied and the ship is lowered.

Look again and you’ll see the number 10 on the ship’s bow. Then compare the height of the ship in the first picture to its height in the second picture. It has now been lowered and is ready to proceed out of the lock into the passage-way leading to Lake Huron.

Here’s an even better example of the difference in height between the two lakes.

This is a tour boat entering the MacArthur lock from Lake Huron. Let’s all wave to the people down there on the boat.

The same boat after the lock has been filled. You could now jump on and join them if you wanted to. The boat is now ready to make its way to Lake Superior.

After we watched the ships locking through, we went to

the Visitors Center to discover a bit more about the locks. Here is a bit of what we learned.

There are currently four locks at Soo.

The two to the right, Davis and Sabin are closed. Sabin is on track to be replaced with a new lock the size of Poe by 2030.

The third from the right is the Poe lock and is 1,200 feet long, 105 feet wide and has a depth of 32 feet. It is the largest and currently the most used lock. If, for some reason, it were to fail a lot of shipping would come to a halt on the Great Lakes.

The fourth from the right is the Macarthur lock and is 800 feet long, 80 feet wide and has a depth of 31 feet.

The need for a larger lock is directly due to the increase in size of ships sailing the Great Lakes.

Today, there are 13 ships that are 1,000 feet in length sailing the Great Lakes.

Think of this: one 1,000 foot ship can carry the equivalent of: seven 100 car trains with a 10,000 ton capacity; or, 3,000 large trucks of 25 ton capacity each. Moving bulk cargos through the Soo Locks and across the Great Lakes saves more than $3.9 billion per year in freight costs.

The Soo Locks I discovered do not operate year round. They are usually closed between January and late March when ships on the Great Lakes are laid up for maintenance. However,

So that was our day at the Soo Locks. We had a great day there and learned so much which made it a great day all around. If you are ever in this area I would strongly encourage you to spend a few hours there. It is absolutely fascinating to see first hand the passage of these great ships between the two lakes. To think of all that is involved and how it happens so seamlessly is amazing.

Thanks again for spending some time with us.  It’s always great to be able to share our story with family and friends. Comments? Feel free to share them with me. And always remember, cherish every moment of every day that God gives you and live those moments to the fullest. 

Our continuing mission remains the same: to explore as many new states as possible, to seek out new acquaintances and make new friends, to boldly go where we have not been before


  1. I was wondering if you were going to visit the Soo Locks. I went there with my parents. My memories are very vague, so I do hope to visit again. I don’t remember a visitor center. I do remember my dad asking a mailman (term back then) where a good place was for us to eat breakfast. My dad said a mailman would know a good place. We love the Army COE campgrounds. I wish they’d put one there by the Soo Locks. 🙂 This does look like a really interesting place to visit. Thanks for your post!


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