You have to see it to believe it

Sault Ste. Marie area jam-packed with fun events year round

Soo Locks Boat Tours provide an up-close perspective of the massive vessels that cross the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie. (Courtesy photos)

MARQUETTE — Starting this Thursday, the hundreds of people attending the 2017 Great Lakes Harley Owners Group Rally centered in Sault Ste. Marie will find out what they say about the Sault is true: You have to see it to believe it.

The rally will include all sorts of public events through Saturday, including a demo fleet, allowing people with a valid motorcycle endorsement to try out the newest Harley-Davidsons, and an International Parade of Flags featuring hundreds of motorcycles riding through Sault Ste. Marie Saturday.

And no doubt the visiting HOG members will be checking out some of the Sault’s outstanding attractions.

“You have to see it to believe it” is what Linda Hoath has to say about why travelers should visit the Sault Ste. Marie area.

“You have to see the marvels,” said Hoath, executive director of the Sault Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This area is so unbelievably diverse. There’s Lake Superior State University, there’s the Native American culture. There’s the whole maritime history. And of course, there are the Soo Locks.”

A freighter passes through the Soo Locks. (Courtesy photo)

The Soo Locks are an engineering marvel that connect the Great Lakes via the St. Marys River to allow shipping access around the Midwest. The St. Marys River is the only water connection between Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes. Because there is a section of the river — known as the St. Marys Rapids — where the water falls about 21 feet from the level of Lake Superior to the level of the lower lakes, the construction was a necessity to overcome this natural barrier to navigation.

“The locks we have are so important, not just to the Upper Peninsula or to Michigan, but to the whole nation,” Hoath said. “You have to see this. The engineering on it is amazing. It’s still using the same gravitational system that it started with, although there of course have been many improvements through the years.

“It’s incredible.”

The locks are a main attraction, but Sault Ste. Marie has much more to offer to visitors, she said.

“You have to see the tribe. You have to see the history and the cultural aspects the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians brings to this area,” she said. “It’s not just the casino. The casino is awesome, but the tribe has so much more it offers the region.”

A mother and son admire fish of the Great Lakes in one of a series of aquariums, a featured stop on the Museum Ship Valley Camp. (Courtesy Photo)

The Sault area’s history, tied to the visit from some of North America’s earliest explorers, is one of the longest running in the United States.

Established in 1668, the Sault is the birthplace of Michigan and one of the earliest settlements in the Midwest.

“The river is the reason we’re here,” Hoath said. “We’re here because of the waterways and that’s still true.”

Hoath offered some specific ideas for things for visitors to do while in Sault Ste. Marie:

≤ Soo Locks Boat Tours: “Don’t just view the Soo Locks — live them. Climb aboard and let the friendly staff explain the history and function of the locks. Ride alongside massive freighters, Coast Guard vessels, and more as your boat ‘locks through’ to explore the upper river. Double-decker boats offer the best of both worlds: open air on top, enclosed from the elements below.

“Step aboard and leave the hectic mainland behind for a perfect getaway with family and friends. Satisfy your thirst with a beverage and snack bar during the day, or make reservations for a dinner cruise and enjoy a tasty buffet including fresh Lake Superior whitefish.”

The Soo Locks Boat Tours also conducts a weekly lighthouse cruise.

≤ Museum Ship Valley Camp: “Launch your tour of the Soo from this retired cargo freighter at the river’s edge and explore the pilot house, cargo holds and crew quarters like those freighters still plying the St. Marys River today. With more than 100 exhibits, you’ll also get a closer look at lighthouse lenses, a photo tour of the 1,000-foot freighters on the upper Great Lakes, and an unforgettable look at two lifeboats from the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald.

“A series of aquariums featuring fish of the lakes, complete with interpretive signage, is a fascinating stop for visitors of all ages. Turn a ship’s wheel, go topside to watch passing freighters, and daydream about the life and lore of working the inland seas. Visiting with a group? Call in advance for a personal tour guide. Suitable for all ages, plan to spend at least 90 minutes on board and leave enough time to visit the Ship’s Store gift shop located just off the parking lot.”

≤ Tower of History: “No need for a navigational system to find your next stop. At 210 feet above the twin Saults, the Tower of History is easy to locate on Portage Avenue. Travel by elevator to your choice of four viewing platforms: two in the open air and two enclosed by glass. On a clear day, visitors can see as far as 20 miles in the distance but you’ll find the St. Marys River, Soo Locks, Cloverland Hydroelectric Plant and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, vying for your attention … and your camera lens. It’s a panoramic view like no other and an affordable stop for families.”

For much more information on the Sault Ste. Marie area, visit saultstemarie.org or saultstemarie.com.