While we were in Sault Ste. Marie, we took the Famous Soo Locks Tour. It was the best thing I never knew I wanted to do! I was fascinated by the whole thing and never even realized how interesting riding through the locks could be. It is now on my “must-do” list if you are ever in Sault Ste. Marie.
We tried to find a variety of things to do while we were on our trip to Michigan. Because of Bob Walliser, Sandy’s dad, we needed to have some things that didn’t require any walking. We decided that taking the Famous Soo Locks Tour would be a good way to see the locks and including Bob. It was a great choice.
There are two boat tour companies in Sault Ste. Marie, the Famous Soo Locks Tour and the Original Soo Locks tour. We chose the Famous Soo Locks tour for two reasons. First, the tour company was closer to our campground. Second, their boats were more colorful. Other than that, I’m sure the two companies and the two tours are nearly identical. In fact, the Original Soo Locks boat followed us the entire time we were on our tour.
The Famous Soo Locks Tour provides an educational tour of historic Sault Ste. Marie on the St. Mary River. The highlight of the tour is going through the Soo Locks. The company has two boats which can carry 150 passengers. During the busy summer season, one boat is going up the river while another is coming down. In September, when we were there, the tours are more spread out. Each tour takes between 90 and 120 minutes, depending on how long they have to wait in the locks.
The Famous Soo Locks Tour company has been operating since 1959. The crew were very knowledgeable and friendly. The tour guide told us the history of the area and pointed out the sights. The rest of the crew operated the boat and talked to passengers while we were in the lock. Sandy spent some time talking to the Captain and I talked to one of the crew manning the ropes. The crewman had lived all his life in Sault Ste. Marie. He worked for the tour company in the summer and picked up various seasonal jobs the rest of the year.
The morning of our tour was cool and wet. It wasn’t the socked in fog, but there were plenty of low-lying clouds. We moved up the river into the lock, waited for the Original Soo Locks Tour boat to enter the lock, then watched the lock gate close. Once the gate closed, the water started to rise. It took less than ten minutes for the water to rise so that we could exit the lock heading further up the river. We exited into the colder and foggier section of the river on the Lake Superior side. After a short spin around a Canadian coal plant, we returned to the lock and reversed the process.
Our tour used the MacArthur lock both directions. This lock was built in 1943 and is too small for most of the freighters on the Great Lakes today. The MacArthur lock is 800 feet long and 80 feet wide. Two tour boats and a tug boat can easily fit into the lock at the same time. Once a boat enters the lock, it ties up to huge concrete stanchions so that it won’t move and bump into other boats in the lock.
Before the pandemic, the tour boats went up the MacArthur lock and came back down the smaller Canadian lock. Because of Covid-19 restrictions in Canada, we were not able to do that. Now that Canada has lifted its Covid restrictions, I’m sure the tour boats will return to that routine. It would have been cool to do two different locks, but it was interesting that I didn’t really mind.
After exiting the lock on the south side, we did a little tour of the St. Mary’s River. We got to see the Canadian side up close and went right by our campground. We also got a good picture of the huge, sandstone Cloverland Power Plant. The power plant was completed in 1902 and is the longest horizontal shaft hydro plant in existence. The building is 1,360 feet long and very impressive.
We really enjoyed our tour of the Soo Locks with the Famous Soo Locks Tour. They took good care of us and gave us some great information. The Classic Lock tour is $33 per adult and there is a $3 discount per ticket if you buy online. The company offers other tours, such as a Lighthouse Tour and a Fall Colors tour. The tours run from the middle of May through the middle of October. It is a tour I would gladly do again.