Sault Ste Marie (pronounced Soo-Saint-Marie) or (the Soo as called by the locals) is a city of 14,000 people (2010) in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, across the river from the twin city of Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario in Canada.
The oldest city in the state brings visitors in from around the world to see ships pass through the Soo Locks, where international commerce ships make their way between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes. Sault Ste Marie derives its name from nearby rapids and the archaic French word of Sault, which means rapids, or waterfall. The locks and nearby four casinos, as well as the numerous inland lakes, large expanses of forests, wilderness and the Lake Superior shoreline all make for an interesting visit. Across the St. Mary's River and the Canada/US border is its twin city, Sault Ste Marie, Ontario.
In 1668, Jesuits established a mission on the south side of the river as Sault Sainte Marie; a fur trading post was later built and settlement expanded to include both sides of the river. Today, the busy Soo Locks carry many large, ocean-going cargo vessels.
For general information about the two cities, see the article for the Canadian side.
Sault Ste. Marie is served by Interstate 75 from the south. This is the same highway that links Lower Michigan to the Upper Peninsula via the Mackinac Bridge. Sault Ste. Marie is at the northern terminus of I-75, about 50 miles north of the Mackinac Bridge. Two exits will get you into the Sault. 3 Mile Road is the first (approaching from the south) and takes you through most of the town via Business I-75. This route covers the main thoroughfare in town (Ashmun Street) and eventually gets you to Portage Avenue and the Soo Locks. The second (and last in the USA) exit off of I-75 is Easterday Avenue. This puts you virtually on the campus of Lake Superior State University to the east, or gets you more directly to Portage Ave. and the Locks beyond that. The route is not quite as well-marked, however, and goes through some old and somewhat unattractive industrial areas. You bypass the downtown completely, which may not be so good, as you will miss lots of shopping, hotels and other amenities completely. But if you don't take this exit either, you will end up at the International Bridge toll and customs/immigration plaza for Canada. They will turn you around, without proper identification if you make this mistake. It's a hassle since traffic getting onto the bridge is often backed up in this area. Otherwise, crossing the border is reasonably easy. All you need is proper identification: a passport, passport card, Enhanced Driver's License, NEXUS, FAST, or SENTRI card, U.S. Merchant Mariner Documentation or U.S. Military Identification.
The "Sault Ste. Marie Michigan" airport is about 22 miles south of town, a former air force base along I-75. A shuttle bus & rental cars are available. The airport is served by Delta Air Lines, which offers daily flights to and from Detroit Metro Airport. There is also another small airport right in town that used to be the main airport years ago. After a long period of closure, it was re-opened for private planes a few years ago.
There is no rail service on the Michigan side, and buses from the Indian Trails bus line service Sault Ste. Marie Michigan regularly. The Mackinaw Shuttle Service also offers bus and limo service from its headquarters in Mackinaw City to Sault Ste Marie. Major carrier bus services were discontinued some time ago.
Driving is about your only option. If you are headed for the Upper Peninsula anyway, it is definitely worth stopping in the Sault. It is also a great stopover if you are planning to continue on over to Canada, as the Michigan side tends to be less expensive for hotels, food, etc.
- 1 Chippewa County International Airport (CIU IATA), ☏ . Formerly the Kincheloe Air Force Base. Delta flies from Chippewa County International to Detroit and Minneaepolis-Saint Paul
- 2 Sault Ste. Marie Municipal Airport (Sanderson Field SSM IATA).
Taxi and local bus service are available, including buses into Canada.
- 1 Edison-Soo Hydro-electric Power House. The world's longest canal-powered electric plant and dominates the shoreline east of the downtown area. Alford Park overlooks the St Mary's River, where you can relax for a picnic lunch to watch the big ships go by. Brady Park, established on the site of the original Ft. Brady, includes a tourist information center, a Japanese torii arch, the famous "musical fountain," and a comfortable atmosphere from which the big ships can be seen going through the locks. In the winter, the world’s biggest snowmobile racing event is held at the I-500 Snowmobile Track.
- 2 Soo Locks. The world’s largest system of locks, including the largest lock in the Western Hemisphere: it has been a major feature of Sault Ste. Marie since the first major lock was built in the mid-19th century.
- River of History Museum, 531 Ashmun Street. It's in the former Federal Building on the waterfront, and has exhibits that will guide you through the fascinating history of the area from the most ancient times to the present. It includes the “Ship’s Store” souvenir shop.
- 3 SS Valley Camp Museum, 326 E Portage Ave. Housed in a huge retired "laker" - an actual ore-carrying ship. The museum contains many artifacts of maritime history on the Great Lakes, including mementos of the famed Edmund Fitzgerald wreck.
- 4 St. Mary’s Cathedral, 320 East Portage Avenue. The oldest church still in use in Sault Ste Marie, built in 1881. Next door to it is the Tower of History was built as a Catholic Church memorial to the early missionaries to the area. This 200-foot-tall tower is a terrific place to view the St. Mary’s River and the countryside for many miles around. It also includes museum displays.
- 5 Lake Superior State University. It's on the former grounds of the second Fort Brady and has a great hockey team. The campus is pretty and well worth a walk through, as it overlooks the wide St Mary's valley and has a view of the International Bridge over to Canada. Some beautiful views are at night, as the campus is elevated and you can see the distant lights of the Canadian side.
- Tower of History Museum. A 210-foot (64-m) tower explaining the history of the city and its famous locks, as well as an observation deck to see them and other nearby landmarks and attractions.
Cascade Crossing Shopping Center houses many stores and shops, and used to have a Walmart, which has since moved down the business spur away from I-75 and closer to town. There are other stores and shops near the downtown waterfront.
Across the International Bridge is the shops of downtown Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and the Station Mall with over 100 stores and services. The Station Mall is one of the largest regional shopping centres in Northern Ontario.
Some shops in the "Soo" are centered around sweets and confections, mainly fudge or ice cream. There are also numerous gift shops around the main streets relating to the Soo Locks and large freighters that passed through the locks in their hayday, and some still do.
- 1 The Lockview Restaurant, 329 W Portage Ave (Right across from Soo Locks main gate), ☏ . Amidst the kitschy tourist shops is this restaurant with a large plate-glass front offering views of the passing street traffic. Its Lake Superior whitefish is fresh and excellent! On those hot and muggy days, it is well air conditioned too.
- 2 Clyde's Drive-In, 1425 Riverside Dr (follow E. Portage Av out of town until it becomes Riverside Dr., Clyde's is at the Sugar Island ferry dock, across from the golf course), ☏ . This 1950s-style "hamburger stand" has good burgers and fries. It has a large parking area where you eat in your car, and can park facing the beautiful St. Mary's River and watch the lake freighters pass by up close. Closed in winter.
- Antlers Restaurant. It's an old-school classic. Steaks and fish. Tons of amazing taxidermy items and arcana hanging everywhere. Numerous steam whistles are mounted to the ceiling and are blown when a local dignitary enters (or whenever they feel the need). The whistles are painfully loud.
- The Palace. Offers Americanized Mexican food.
- Maloney's Irish Pub. Known for their nachos cheese dip.
- 3 West Pier Drive-In, 849 W Pier Dr (Turn left under bridge, or ask a local), ☏ . Open seasonally, best burger in town, huge portions, a little hard to find. $5-10 per person.
- Back Door Night Club, 313 Ashmun Street, ☏ , fax: . W-Su 8PM-2:30AM. Nightclub with music and dancing. Theme nights Wednesday-Saturday. Designated drivers program and special occasions.
- 1 Savoy Bar, 117 West Portage Ave, ☏ . Open every day but Sunday, with music and dancing.
- 2 The Satisfied Frog, 209 W. Portage Avenue, ☏ . Open 7 days a week. Karaoke Sunday to Tuesday, house band on Wednesday to Thursday and a feature band on Fridays and Saturdays (jukebox available when there is no band playing 25 cents a song). A great place to meet up with friends. Fun, friendly staff, 4 televisions throughout the place. Try the Squashed Frog, a great shooter for a Satisfied Frog Rookie.
- 3 Frank's Place, 123 W Portage Ave, ☏ . Daily from 6AM. Full menu of Italian and American foods, plus a buffet and soup and salad bar. Family owned and operated, huge portion sizes, reasonable prices and many homemade items.
- Days Inn, 3651 I-75 Business Spur (exit 392, down 1 mile on right side), ☏ . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. Indoor pool and hot tub open till midnight. Free wireless access throughout. Fridge, microwave, coffee pot, 27" flat screen TV, free HBO in each room. Free local and toll free calls. Jacuzzi rooms available. Free breakfast from 6AM to 9:30AM.
- 1 Best Western, 4335 I-75 Business Spur, ☏ . Free high speed wireless internet and deluxe breakfast in the morning.
- Comfort Inn, ☏ , fax: . 4404 I-75 Business. Spur.
- Park Inn, 3525 I-75 Business Spur (1 mile northeast of I-75 on I-75 Business Spur, exit 392), ☏ , fax: . Secure online reservations.
- Quality Inn & Suites Conference Center, 3290 I-75 Business Spur, ☏ , fax: .
- 2 The Plaza Motor Motel, 3701 I-75 Business Spur, toll-free: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Charming rooms and wedding venue.
- 3 Soo Locks Campground, 1001 E ast Po rtage Avenue, ☏ . Great place, campground kept clean, on river so you can go fishing, great views of ships coming by. There is a store in the middle of the campground where you can by firewood, food, souvenirs and more. It has a arcade, billiards and a swing set by and in that building. The Ojibway supply boat launches just to the right of the campground.
|Routes through Sault Sainte Marie|
|END ← Sault Ste Marie, ON ← ←||N S||→ St. Ignace → Mackinaw City|
|Marquette ← Newberry ←||W E||→ END|