Experience “Locking Through” on the Soo Locks Boat Tour

Front View of the American Soo Locks

Have you ever had the opportunity to ride through a lock? The experience is called ‘locking through.’ Out of the 171 locks and dams in the United States, you can ride through one of the busiest along the St. Mary’s River on the Soo Locks Boat Tour.

History of the Soo LocksRapids on St. Mary's River

The Soo Locks is on the northern end of St. Mary’s River between Michigan and Canada and allows boats to traverse the waterway between Lake Huron and Lake Superior. The locks were created to help ships navigate the rapids and the 21-foot drop between the Great Lakes along the river. The first lock was built in 1797 on the Canadian side but was destroyed in the War of 1812. The Candian lock only allows recreation and pleasure boats through that lock.

The US lock was built in 1855, and this is where all the shipping traffic goes through. Today four parallel locks help make the Soo Locks the largest waterway traffic system in the world by cargo tonnage. 80-million tons of cargo go through the locks on 7,000 to 10,000 ships during the 42-week shipping season each year. Did you know that 100% of iron ore passes through these locks? These are the only locks that connect Duluth and Chicago to the Atlantic Ocean.

How the Locks WorkEntering the American Soo Locks

The locks are designed to fit the most massive freighters that travel on the Great Lakes. Poe Lock is 1,200 feet long, 110 feet wide, and 32 feet deep, which can handle the Tregurtha, which is 1013′ 6″ long (more than three football field lengths). The ships navigate into the lock, and both ends are closed. 22-million gallons of water is let in/out by gravity by opening/closing valves. This allows the ship to be raised or lowered to finish their journey on the St. Mary’s River. The whole time for the freighters to get from Lake Huron to Lake Superior along St. Mary’s River is 9 hours.

If you want a closer look at how the locks work, schedule your trip on the last Friday of  June. This is when the public is allowed to go behind the scenes and the security fence and cross the lock gates of the U.S. Soo Locks. During the annual Engineers Day Open House, visitors can get close enough to touch the ships passing through the locks.

Inside the American Soo LocksWater Being Raised Inside the American Soo LocksAmerican Soo Locks Opening to Lake SuperiorSoo Locks view to Lake SuperiorEntrance to Lake Superior

Taking the Soo Locks Boat TourSoo Locks Boat Tour

The Soo Locks Boat Tour is a beautiful journey through the Soo Locks. If you get lucky, you might even be able to share the river with a freighter. The whole trip through the locks and cruising along the US and Canadian coastlines takes approximately 2 hours. It is fascinating to be in the locks and watch the top of the walls get closer to you as the boat is raised. I even reached out and was able to touch the lock wall. When you reach the top, you can see all the people in the visitor center watching you and wishing they were on your boat.Ship Next to the Wall Inside the American Soo Locks

The Soo Locks Boat Tour has been running tours since 1934 and is 50 miles north of the Mackinac Bridge. There are four boats and two docks, so you don’t have to preschedule a trip. If you do want to schedule ahead, you can book online. Tickets are $32 for the daily sightseeing tour. Also, there are the Lighthouse and Dinner cruise tours if you are interested in seeing more of the area.

Cruising along the St. Mary’s RiverThe Coastline of Lower Michigan along Lake Superior

Once you are through the locks, it is a leisurely cruise along the Michigan coastline after you go under the International Highway Bridge. You might see speedboats, sailboats, or even canoes or kayaks. I even saw some fishermen by the rapids. Cruising along the Canadian coast, you go right by the Algoma Steel plant before you go back through the Canadian lock. Lake Superior and the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge

SummaryAmerican Side of Soo Locks

This year,2020, is the Soo Locks 165th anniversary. Plan some time to visit Michigan and, better yet, come up to take a ride on the Soo Lock Boat Tour. Sharing the river next to giant freighters can not help but humble you that we take up such a small place in the world. Michigan is a great place to visit and explore all year round, but being on the Great Lakes is amazing in the summertime. Come and visit!

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Further Reading

If you are coming to Michigan for a visit, check out these posts for further travel inspiration:

1 Comment

  • Karen 10January2020 at 10:09 PM Reply

    yay, Michigan. I grew up there and still miss it.

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