Soo Locks, Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, USA
Get a glimpse of maritime history at the Soo Locks, where freighters, barges, tugboats and more traverse the 21-foot drop between Lake Superior and Lake Huron every day and night.
They are legendary in the maritime world – a group of mighty Locks that have provided safe passage and a vital shipping connection within the Great Lakes for nearly 160 years. But they are so much more. They are a wonder of engineering and a living, breathing history lesson. They provide a flight of fantasy as one imagines the highs and lows of a life spent on the seas. They are the destination for nearly 1 million visitors annually – each taking something different and fresh away from the experience. How can something so old feel so new? Visit and see for yourself!
Whether tracing the path of a 1,000-foot freighter aboard a tour boat or watching the action from the observation platform located within Soo Locks park, first-timers and old-timers alike flock to the Soo Locks to see vessels haul vital cargo and share a wave and a smile with the merchant mariners aboard these massive ships.
The first State Lock was built in 1855. Up until then, explorers, fur traders, and Native Americans portaged their canoes and cargoes around the rapids. Everything would change when a 21-foot drop in water levels was rendered less important with the construction of a Lock. Much has been written about the history of this impressive facility.
During its first year of operation, the canal was navigated by 27 vessels. In recent years, nearly 7,000 vessels pass through the Locks annually hauling 86 million tons of cargo. The four Locks operated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers – the Davis, Sabin, MacArthur, and Poe locks – continue to provide the much-needed connection between Superior and Huron. Currently, all ships utilize the larger Poe (1,200 feet) and MacArthur (800 feet) locks.
The locks pass an average of 10,000 ships per year, despite being closed during the winter from January through March, when ice shuts down shipping on the Great Lakes. The winter closure period is used to inspect and maintain the locks.
The locks share a name (usually shortened and anglicized as Soo) with the two cities named Sault Ste. Marie, in Ontario and in Michigan, located on either side of the St. Marys River. The Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge between the United States and Canada permits vehicular traffic to pass over the locks. A railroad bridge crosses the St. Marys River just upstream of the highway bridge.
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