Why You Need To Go To The U.P. And Watch The Soo Locks In Action

Why You Need To Go To The U.P. And Watch The Soo Locks In Action

So I have a confession to make… I am a lifelong Michigander, and I’ve never been to the Soo Locks or Upper Peninsula.

Whew! That feels good to get off my chest.

I’ve done plenty of trolling around the lower peninsula, but for some reason this troll never made it across the bridge as a child. My parents even stopped at the Soo Locks on their honeymoon! What’s romantic about watching boats go up and down? Well, I had to do some research to find out, and it inspired me (as it will for you) to make a trip Up North.

My Mom at the Soo Locks Circa 1982 | Photo Rebecca Calkins
My Mom at the Soo Locks Circa 1982 | Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Calkins

Here are 12 facts about the Soo Locks that make me want to visit:

1. The Soo Locks are the largest and one of the busiest waterway traffic systems in the world.

2. There is a 21-foot difference in elevation between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, creating a three-quarter-mile set of rapids over sandstone that blocked shipping freighters before the canal and locks were built.

3. The first modern lock in this location opened in 1855. That makes for more than 160 years of safe passage and a vital shipping connection within the Great Lakes.

4. The Soo Locks do not have pumps. All of the water movement is 100% gravity fed.

5. During its first year of operation, the canal was navigated by 27 vessels. Now, around 10,000 vessels pass through the Locks annually.

6. You can witness the path of a 1,000-foot freighter aboard a tour boat, or you watch the action from the free and accessible observation platform located within Soo Locks Park.

Soo Locks Circa 1982 | Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Calkins
Soo Locks Circa 1982 | Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Calkins

7. The Soo Locks welcome nearly 1 million visitors annually.

8. 90% of the world’s iron ore moves through the Soo Locks.

9. The United States Army Corps of Engineers currently oversees four locks: Davis, Sabin, MacArthur, and Poe. The MacArthur Lock (800 feet) and Poe Lock (1,200 feet) are currently active, while the Davis Lock and Sabin Lock are waiting to be demolished and replaced by a new, larger lock.

10. From January 15 to March 25 every year, the Locks are closed for maintenance, repair, and inspection. When emptied, the Locks can be used as dry docks for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers vessels.

11. The Soo Locks Visitor Center is only open from Mother’s Day through mid-October, but Soo Locks Park is open year-round. This includes the historic 1899 U.S. Weather Bureau Building, which houses the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society office, a museum and exhibit, and the Great Lakes Images and Papers Collection.

12. On Wednesday evenings in the summer, Soo Locks Park hosts a free public concert series. You can bring a lawn chair and a sweater (this is the U.P. we’re talking about) and find a grassy vantage point to see the music, the water, and the ships. There’s even a fountain with colorful, dancing waters – not unlike my hometown’s Cascade Falls – to provide the ambiance for your romantic photo op.

My Dad at the Soo Locks Circa 1982 | Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Calkins
My Dad at the Soo Locks Circa 1982 | Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Calkins

I’m ready to hit the road, but maybe you need one more reason. Well, here you go: #MIAwesomeList has a bunch of fun stuff to do in Michigan this summer, and Watch the Soo Locks in Action is #9 on the list!

You can even make a whole weekend of it and visit other nearby U.P. destinations like one of Michigan’s nearly 200 waterfalls and Log Slide Overlook at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. If a nature-averse troll like me can do it, you can too!

What is your favorite part of visiting the Soo Locks? Let us know in the comments!