Soo Locks

 Posted by at 1:26 am  Nick's Blog
Jul 292011

After a lazy morning at home, playing catch up from our last few days of traveling, we spent yesterday afternoon at the Soo Locks Visitor Center, watching the huge freighters going through the locks. If you have not seen this yet, you really need to put it on your bucket list!

Every year, some 10,000 ships pass through the locks, which raise and lower vessels more than 21 feet, to bypass the rapids of the Saint Marys River between Lake Huron and Lake Superior. It is an awesome sight to see a 1,000 foot long ship raise or drop that far in a matter of minutes. To give you an idea, here is a picture of the lock gates opening, with the lock flooded.

Lock closing

And here is the lock open at the other end, once the water level has dropped.

Lock low water

The Visitor Center has several elevated viewing platforms, where visitors can get a bird’s eye view of the process.

Viewing platform

The locks were very busy yesterday, and we saw six or eight ships pass thorough in rapid succession. In this picture, the John J Boland (left) has just left the lock, and the Algona Discovery (right) is headed toward the lock.


As you can see, it’s a very tight fit. with no more than ten feet to spare from one side of the lock to the other.

Algona Discovery coming in

Once the ship is inside the lock, it is tied to stanchions on the dock, to hold it securely while the water level is raised or lowered.

Tying off

Algona Discovery tight fit

Here is an example of how far the ships raise or lower. The Saginaw is heading into the lock carefully. I am amazed at how skilled the captains must be to avoid rubbing the sides.

Saginaw coming in

Once inside the lock, the main deck is several feet below the level of the lock sides, and one could almost step from the lock directly onto the superstructure.

Saginaw riding low

And here is the same ship, riding high, once the lock is flooded!

Saginaw riding high

We learned some interesting bits of trivia from the more experienced ship watchers, who have spent a lot of time at the locks. For example, as ships pass through, headed up to Duluth or other ports to pick up cargo, they drop off bundles of laundry at the Soo Locks, and a local company washes it. When the ship returns a few days later, they pick the clean laundry back up! Cool, huh?


After spending about three hours observing the lock traffic, and still not getting our fill of it, hunger finally drove us away. At least a dozen blog readers had urged us to try a restaurant called the Antlers, and we’re sure glad we did! The place is amazing, with hundreds of stuffed animals, antlers, and all kinds of trash and treasures decorating the walls and hanging from the ceiling. And the food was fantastic too! Miss Terry had the Cherry Smoked Whitefish Chowder, which was served in a sourdough bread bowl, and I had the steak bites. Both were delicious, and the service was fast and friendly.

Back at the Elks Lodge campground, we visited with some of our neighbors for a while, and then headed inside. Terry had taken nearly 500 pictures at the locks, so just downloading them from her digital camera’s card and sorting through them took a while.

Elks lodge campground

Even when we’re busy playing tourist, Bad Nick is always looking for a reason to climb up on his soapbox, and he found it with the story of a cop out of control. Read his new Bad Nick Blog post titled Bully With A Badge, and leave a comment. 

Thought For The Day – How come dumb stuff seems so smart while you’re doing it?

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Nick Russell

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  10 Responses to “Soo Locks”

  1. We loved it up there when we took our visit a few years ago, besides watching the ships in the Locks, we also opted to take the cruise through them…LOVED IT! To actually be in a boat that goes up and down inside the Locks was just amazing!

  2. We were just there at the Soo locks in early July and no mosquitos or may flies then. Guess we just missed them!

  3. One of the coolest things about Blogging is the ability to re-live your own travels. After your post, I was motivated to find our blog post when we were there. 3 years ago, almost to the day! We saw the biggest Lake Boat, the Paul R Tregurtha go through the lock.
    Someone made a comment on that post warning about cell phone roaming charges so close to Canada as well as mentioning the Elks campground.
    Your readers can learn how easy it is to create or improve their own blogs at the Gypsy Journal Rally in Celina with seminars from the Geeks On Tour.

  4. Compared to what you just saw. . .we saw miniature locks in Seattle. . .but this subject has always fascinated me. I still remember studying about the Erie Canal in Geography Class. . .so I will look forward to seeing this for myself. . .someday!

  5. What fantastic photos. I have never seen the locks but it sure is on our list now for a to do. The pilots on these boats do not dare to sneeze it seems.

  6. We, too, stayed at the Elks Lodge and were captivated by the big freighters in motion and in the locks. We were going east to west, so saw many of the same huge ships pass under the famous Lift Bridge when we stayed at the Lakehead Boat Basin in Duluth (they were working on the freeway then, too – a year ago – what a mess!). We finally bought a book of all the Great Lakes ships so we could read about each of the ships as we saw them.

    Those huge freighters seems like another force of nature – fire, water, ice and 1,000 ft. long freighters.

  7. I will reinforce Jim G’s invitation to the Geeks Seminars. We have attended more than one of them, and find them to be outstanding. Their ability to break complicated stuff down into small, easily digestible pieces, without dumbing it down, seems almost magical.

    Photos of the lakers brings back memories from the dim and distant past. I can recall touring a USS ore boat in Gary, in the 1940’s, when my dad worked at Gary Sheet & Tin. I couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 at the time, but the memory of that awesome beast has stuck with me all this time. Anyone interested can tour one of the old ore boats in Duluth, if you can get off the freeway. That situation reminds me of the old song about Charlie on the MTA – “will he ever return…”

    Enough maudlin ramblings – enjoy the rest of your stay at the Soo, and best of luck to Terry with her checkup.

  8. Nick, you must have past UPChucks, a restaurant. No, we did not eat there!

  9. Nick – There is another place that everyone seems to go to when at the Soo.
    You head West on the street past the Locks and curve around along the
    Internatiional Bridge and somewhere along there there is a road that goes
    under the bridge and just a short distance you’ll find a hamburger take out
    place. Everyone eats in there cars. It is very popular and I’m sure any of
    the locals can give you the exact location and names of streets. They close
    for the winter in Sept. so when we were last there a couple years or so ago in
    Oct. they were already closed.
    And Nick, I am surprised that when you said you were hungry you didn’t just
    go across the street to one of the fudge and/or ice cream shops. You can’t
    leave without buying some fudge. We too love viewing the ships going thru the
    locks and have been there several times thru the years.

  10. Many years ago we went through the St Anthony Lock in Minneapolis in a canoe. Talk about immersion experience! That was very up close and personal. I don’t think you can do that at the Soo Locks, though.

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