Soo Locks

The Soo Locks is one of many great places and tourist attractions in Sault Ste. Marie, MI. Come discover the Soo Locks in Saut Ste Marie and marvel at the sight of 1000 ft freighters being raised and lowered by the magnificent waterway system constructed in 1850.

Soo Locks Boat Tour, Sault Ste Marie, MI

Take a video tour of the Soo Locks located in Sault Ste Marie, MI and learn how the 1000 foot ocean freighters are lowered and raised in the locks to navigate between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.

Photo of the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, MI.Soo Locks
Toll-free: (888) 694-8313 (Detroit District)
Toll-free: (800) 990-0231 (Soo Area Office)

Come discover the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie and marvel at the sight of 1000 ft freighters being raised and lowered by the magnificent waterway system constructed in 1850. Located in Sault. Ste. Marie just an hour north of Mackinaw on I-75, the Soo Locks feature the largest waterway traffic system in the world! From your position on the upper viewing level you can watch ocean-going vessels as they rise or drop the 21 feet between the levels of the St. Mary's River, allowing you to stand close enough to almost reach out and touch these massive vessels.

Inside the visitor's center you will find a variety of historical and fun information portrayed by artifacts, photographs, a film presentation and an actual working model of the locks. The visitor's center featuring exhibits detailing the history and heritage of the Soo Locks system is open from 7am to 11pm, mid-May to November. Don't let your fun with the locks stop at the viewing docks and visitor center, climb aboard a touring ship and make your own voyage through the locks standing alongside each passing ship. Soo Locks Boat Tours is one of Michigan's top attractions, featuring a 2-hour narrated trip where you will learn about the history of the Locks and Michigan's oldest city, Sault Ste. Marie. There are many departure times and reservations are not required. If you need a change of pace after a long day at the Locks, the Sault is also located near four casino gaming facilities: Kewadin Casino in the Sault; King's Club Casino and Bay Mills Resort and Casino in Brimley; and the Casino Sault Ste. Marie in Canada. Why not put a relaxing finish to your night by enjoying a dinner cruise on the St. Mary's River, sightseeing in Sugar Island's Old North Channel and ride through the Soo Locks while enjoying a delicious buffet style dinner with dessert.

First established in 1688 as a European colony, Sault Ste. Marie is the third oldest permanent settlement in the United States. Before the Europeans arrived North American Indians inhabited the area for nearly 2,000 years. A small native community was established along the shores of the St. Mary and quickly became an important gathering place for food and council meetings. The first European settlement involved French Fur Traders who eventually named the area Sault St. Marie in honor of the Virgin Mary. Others debate the naming of Sault Ste. Marie including some French speakers who claim that Sault means to "jump," so Sault. Ste. Marie is where you come to "jump" the St. Mary River.

For more information on Sault Ste. Marie or the locks, feel free to visit them on their website at

Misspellings of this attraction include: Sault Locks, Soo Sainte Marie, Sue Saint Marie, Sue Locks, Sault St. Mary, Sault St. Marie

Soo Locks Boat Tours - Online Brochure

Virtual brochure and information for Soo Locks Tours, one of many online travel brochures for tourist information in Sault Ste. Marie, MI. Provided by your source for Mackinaw Information and Mackinac Information.

Photo of brochure for "Soo Locks Tours" 

Virtual PDF brochure of Soo Locks Tours

Soo Locks Boat Tours
1157 E. Portage Ave. (Dock #1) 515 E. Portage Ave. (Dock #2) P.O. Box 739
Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783
906-632-1811 (fax)

Ride through the world famous Soo Locks on a Soo Locks Boat Tour.
Ride with the Freighters.
Ride through the Soo Locks in Michigan's oldest city, Sault Ste. Marie.

Experience "locking through" the Soo Locks. Your narrator will explain the history and operation of the Locks as your boat is raised 21 feet, straight up, to the level of Lake Superior.

After your downbound lockage, enjoy a cruise along the historic waterfronts of Michigan and Canada.

See all four U.S. Locks, St. Mary's Rapids, three hydro-electric plants and historic scenic waterfronts of U.S. and Canada.

Experience "locking through" from Lake Huron to Lake Superior.

Cruise underneath International Highway Bridge, and get a sailor's view of many interesting sites.

Cruise along side Lake freighters & ocean vessels.

Learn about passing ships as you get a close up view from your boat.

Boats are climate controlled with restrooms and snack bars.

Docks and Boats are Handicap Accessible.

FREE kennel services available for Soo Locks Boat Tour customers.

Adult Rate 13 yrs & over. Child Rate 5-12 yrs. 4 yrs & under FREE.

Reservations not required for Soo Lock Tour.

Back of brochure contains information regarding Dinner & Luncheon Cruises and Lighthouse & Specialty Cruises. (Reservations highly recommended).

Tickets available on-line at


Soo Locks Tours

Rain or shine (7 days a week). Tour is approximately 2 hours. 9am Departures available for Motorcoach Tour Groups with advance reservations. Individual passengers welcome to sail with groups.

Soo Locks Luncheon Cruise
Experience our delightful Luncheon Cruise on the St. Mary's River. Enjoy a delicious buffet luncheon while sailing on this historic waterway. In the harbor you will view all the exciting sights along the waterfronts of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and her twin border city, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Experience locking through the Soo Locks, and riding alongside the giant ships. This cruise is sure to be the highlight of your tour to Northern Michigan. Come as you are. Dress is casual. For reservations call 906-632-6301 or 800-432-6301. Luncheon Cruise is about 2 1/2 hours. Reservations are recommended. Luncheon Cruises are available 7 days a week for tour groups with advance reservations, and individual passengers are welcome. For reservations and additional departure dates call 906-632-6301, 800-432-6301 or email

St. Mary's River Lighthouse Cruise
Ride through the Soo Locks and navigate the St. Mary's River. See the fully intact light keeper's residence at Cedar Point. View the remains of the original lighthouse on Round Island. Get a sailor's eye view of the fully restored Point Iroquois Lighthouse and light keeper's residence. Tour Canadian waters and see the Gros Cap Reefs Lighthouse. Also view the Point Louise Range Lights and the Point Aux Pins Canadian shoreline, among many other sights.

Private Charters & Special Cruises
- Private Charters - Rent a boat with crew for tours of the St. Mary's River, Soo Locks, or Sugar Island's Old North channel. Available for parties up to 150 guests.
- Convention Functions - Company Outings - Class Reunions - Family Reunions
- Fully Licensed Bar Available on all Cruises
- Hors d'oeuvres & meal options. For Cruise Planners call 906-632-2512 or 800-432-6301.
- Wedding Cruises & Packages - Available for wedding parties up to 150 guests.
- Michigan History - Student Tours: A student tour that is truly educational and a lot of fun. For sample itineraries and information call 906-632-6301 or 800-432-6301.
- Fireworks Cruise - July 1 & July 4: See Canadian Fireworks on July 1 and American Fireworks on July 4. Departs Dock #2 at 9:15 pm, 1 hour cruise.

Soo Locks Dinner Cruise
Enjoy a delicious buffet dinner on a leisurely cruise of the St. Mary's River, combined with our popular Lock Tour. Dinner is erved as you cruise the lower St. Mary's River and the old North Channel between Sugar Island and Canada. Enjoy a delightful dessert as you enter the upper St. Mary's River after locking through the famous Soo Locks. Come as you are. Dress is casual. For reservations call 906-632-6301 or 800-432-6301.

Here's what our past customers have to say about our cruises...
"Excellent Tour! We enjoyed it very much." - Sara, Louisville, KY
"Best Tour Ever! Thanks so much!" - Bruce, Irma, WI
"The tour is fantastic!" - Darlene, Port Sanilac, MI
"This was an item on my so called "bucket list." We really enjoyed the experience." - Ted & Peg, Pigeon, MI.

If you have new or updated information about this virtual brochure, please contact us.

Soo Locks - Army Corp of Engineers - Online Brochure

Virtual brochure and information for the Soo Locks, one of many online travel brochures for tourist information in Sault Ste. Marie, MI. Provided by your source for Mackinaw Information and Mackinac Information.

Photo of brochure for "Soo Locks" 

Virtual PDF brochure of the Soo Locks

US Army Corps of Engineers - Detroit District

Vessels wishing to use the locks can reach the Chief Lockmaster on VHS-FM channel 14 (preferred) or channel 16.

US Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District:
US Army Corps of Engineers, Navigation Data Center:

1-888-694-8313 Detroit District
1-800-990-0231 Soo Area Office

The Soo Locks

Watch in amazement as large freighters, almost close enough to touch, move through one of the busiest lock systems in the world. Located in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, on the St. Mary's River, the United States locks are just across the water from the Canadian lock in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada.

The Soo Locks consist of two canals and four locks: Davis Lock, Poe Lock, MacArthur Lock, and the Sabin Lock (closed), that allow vessels of many types and sizes to safely traverse the 21-foot drop in elevation of the St. Marys River between Lake Superior and Lakes Michigan and Huron.

History of the Soo Locks

Why the Soo Locks Were Needed
The St. Marys River, the only water connection between Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes, known as the St. Marys Rapids, falls about 21-feet from the level of Lake Superior to the level of the lower lakes. This natural barrier to vessel navigation made necessary the construction of the locks project known as the St. Marys Falls Ship Canal.

Long ago the Ojibway (Chippewa) Indians, who lived in the area, would carry their canoes around the rapids to reach Lake Superior from the St. Marys River.

As European pioneers arrived creating larger settlements with increased trading the need for larger boats grew. It became necessary to unload the boats, haul the cargo around the rapids in wagons, and then reload alternate boats on the other side. This process took valuable time. The need to build a lock became apparent thus the world-famous Soo Lokcs were built to form a passage around the rapids in the river.

When the Soo Locks Were Built
In the late 1700s a Canadian company built a lock on the Canadian side of the river. It was destroyed in the War of 1812. A private American company built locks on the U.S. side of the river in 1853. These locks were turned over to the State of Michigan in 1855 and then designated the State Locks. Although the state charged a lockage toll, commerce grew and the locks became important on a national level.

When the Army Corps of Engineers Took Over
In 1881 the locks were transferred to the U.S. government giving jurisdiction to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Currently, the Corps operates the locks toll free to any vessel wishing to pass through the St. Marys Falls Canal.

Future of the Soo Locks

In the early days lock gates were opened manually. Now the gates are opened with the push of a button. The Corps is currently planning to automate the hydropower plant bringing that facility up to 21st Century technology also.

The Corps has plans to replace the Davis and Sabin Locks with a larger state-of-the-art lock, similar to the Poe Lock, to assist in handling the larger vessels of the Great Lakes fleet.

The new locks will be the first lock built at the Soo since 1968. The Corps is looking forward to building this project and bringing this technologically advance facility to the people of the United States.

Visitor’s Center

The award winning Soo Locks, one of the finest tourist attractions in the United States, can be seen up close at the observation platforms located just outside of the world class Soo Locks Visitors Center.

The Corps is proud of its facilities and welcomes visitors from all over the world to this American treasure. The grounds surrounding the locks contain many buildings and structures such as the spectacular fountain located in the park adjacent to the lock complex. The park, open to the public most of the year, is host to many activities, including weddings, and arts and craft festivals held throughout the year.

Every year the general public has access to the locks, on Engineers Day, always the last Friday in June. On this day visitors can venture past the MacArthur Lock into the Administration Building and further into the lock area between the MacArthur and Poe Locks to watch the vessels up close.

The beautifully remodeled visitors center is open from May to November. The Center provides a welcome to visitors, an overview and history of the Locks, and the Army Corps of Engineers’ role in the development of the Great Lakes region. Included in the many interesting gexhibits is a working model of the locks. A small theater features videos on locks history, the Great Lakes, and Great Lakes water levels. Several television monitors within the center display the ships transiting the locks while the knowledgeable staff at the center provide audio information on the vessels as they approach the locks. Information about the size of a vessel, its national origin, tonnage, cargo, destination, and arrival time are provided throughout the day. The Center also contains many artifacts, charts, maps and photographs.

You many also see ships locking through the system on the internet at:

Soo Lock Facts

  • As proud stewards of the locks the Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District operates and maintains the entire facility, at the St. Marys Falls Canal, with the Area Engineer at the Soo Area Office handling immediate supervision of the facilities.
  • More than 11,000 vessels, carrying up to 90 million tons of cargo pass through these locks every year. Many different small passenger vessels and workboats to large 1,000 foot ships carrying more than 72,000 tons of freight in a single load. Most cargo contained in these ships is either iron ore, coal, grain, or stone.
  • The channels through the St. Marys River are maintained at a maximum draft of 25.5 feet at low water datum. When lake levels are above low water averages larger ships take advantage of the deeper water and load up to an additional 200 tons of cargo per inch of additional draft.
  • The Poe Lock, the largest of the four locks, was rebuilt in 1968 to accommodate 1000 foot vessels. It took six years to build and is the only lock ever rebuilt over an existing lock between two operating locks.
  • The Hydropower plant, just north of the locks, generates more than 150 million kilowatt hours of electrical power each year to operate the locks. Whatever power is not used at the locks is distributed to homes and businesses in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and surrounding communities.
  • The lock system is periodically inspected for structural soundness usually during the winter when lock operations close.
  • Ships pass the Administration building located between the MacArthur and Poe Locks.
  • The 63 mile long St. Marys River drops 21 feet from Lake Superior to Lakes Huron and Michigan. Most of this drop occurs at the St. Marys Rapids (also referred to as St. Marys Falls).

The Locks

Poe Lock
Named for Colonel Orland M. Poe, Engineer Officer during the Civil War, and twice assigned as Detroit District Engineer (1870-1873 and 1883-1895)

  • Constructed in 1968
  • Length of 1200 feet
  • Width of 110 feet
  • Depth of 32 feet

MacArthur Lock
Named for General Douglas MacArthur, serving in both World War I and II, most noted as Allied Commander of the Southwest Pacific Theater in World War II, of the Postwar Japanese occupation, and finally of the United Nations forces in Korea. Served as Superintendent at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and also a Corps of Engineers Officer.

  • Constructed in 1943
  • Length of 800 feet
  • Width of 80 feet
  • Depth of 31 feet

Davis Lock
Named for Colonel Charles E.L.B. Davis, Detroit District Engineer from 1904 to 1908.

  • Constructed in 1914
  • Length of 1350 feet
  • Width of 80 feet
  • Depth of 23.1 feet

Sabin Lock (closed)
Named for L.C. Sabin, the only civilian to serve as a Detroit District Engineer (1918-1919).

  • Constructed in 1919
  • Length of 1350 feet
  • Width of 1350 feet
  • Depth of 23.1 feet

How Navigation Locks Operate

These diagrams (see PDF of brochure) show how a ship is lowered in a lock. A ship is raised by reversing the operation. No pumps are required; the water is merely allowed to seek its own level.

With both upper gates and lower gates closed, and with the emptying valve closed and the filling valve open, the lock chamber has been filled to the upper level. The upper gates are then opened, allowing the ship to enter the lock chamber.

Now the ship is in the lock chamber. The upper and lower gates and the filling valve are closed. The emptying valve has been opened to allow water to flow from the lock chamber to the lower level.

With the water level in the lock chamber down to the lower level, the lower gates have been opened, and the ship is leaving the lock chamber. After this, the lock is ready for an upbound ship to come in and be lifted, or may be filled to lower another downbound ship.

Freight Capacity Comparison

One 1000 foot Laker (approximately 60,000 tons) is equal to:
- Six 100 car trains with a 10,000 ton capacity each -or-
- 2308 large trucks of 26 ton capacity each

It is estimated that the Soo Locks water route reduces transportation costs by an average of more than $4.90 per ton. Based on 1997 tonnages, this represents an annual transportation costs savings to the nation of approximately $450 million.

Buildings and Structures of Interest

  • Locks - MacArthur, Poe, Davis and Sabin
  • Administration Building - historical building and the hub of Soo Area Office operations.
  • Lockmasters Tower - located top of Administration Building, lock master directs vessel traffic from this perch.
  • Compensating Works - gates that increase or decrease the flow of water through the river.
  • Hydropower Plant - uses energy from waters flow to produce electricity.
  • Observation Platforms - three free standing platforms where visitors can view locking operations.
  • Visitors Center - tourist information, lock operations model, and videos.
  • Boat Basin - where most Corps vessels are docked.
  • Various warehouses and storage facilities - used to store maintenance and operations equipment.
  • International Bridge and Railroad Bridge - passage to Canada.

If you have new or updated information about this virtual brochure, please contact us.

Reader Comments (1)

Had a wonderfull day at the locks sat up in the viewing area and watched with amazment the ease that the
lock workers moved the ships in and out. The visitors center was great the way they did the displays
was a easy way to understand why, how , the locks work.

June 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbabe

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