Now that the calendar reads March, spring is in the air. Soon the snow will begin to melt, the ice will recede, and our favorite Sault Ste. Marie shops and restaurants will sprout back to life following their winter hibernation. While spring may officially start on March 20th, in the Soo the season truly begins on March 25th when the Soo Locks open for the season.
As per federal orders, the Soo Locks close on January 15 and re-open March 25 every year. During this time maintenance is performed on the chambers. Although there are occasional exceptions, such as ice, these two dates are pillars for shipping season in the Great Lakes. As soon as the clock strikes midnight on March 25, freighters, tugboats, luxury crafts and more can resume lockage between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.
Being one of the most important days (maybe the most important) of the shipping season means the first freighter to pass through the Soo Locks on March 25 receives a lot of recognition. Typically, there has been a ceremony held while the vessel locks through that includes a photo-op and community dignitaries presenting gifts. It’s not uncommon to see the Soo Locks Park packed with spectators and for media outlets to attend! Stay up to date on our Facebook for information relating to the 2023 Soo Locks opening.
Once the Soo Locks open for the season, freighter traffic quickly picks up. Freighters tend to keep as busy of a schedule as possible. It’s estimated over 70 million tons of cargo go through the Soo Locks yearly supporting over 120,000 jobs. In order to move that much cargo (mostly taconite pellets) through the locks, there can be no wasted time.
Because of the hectic freighter traffic, there is no set schedule to when a freighter will be passing through the Soo Locks. Fret not though, we have a handy guide here to help you find your favorite freighter so you can see it up close from the Soo Locks Observation Deck. The park itself is open daily, even if there is still snow on the ground (although, the observation deck may be closed occasionally for snow and ice build up.)
Once things warm up a tad more, the Soo Locks Park really comes to life for visitors. Visiting hours increase the Soo Locks Visitors Center opens. This popular educational destination opens around Mother’s Day every year and stays open until October. Plus, once the Soo Locks Visitors Center is open you can either visit the center for estimates on freighter traffic or call the Soo Locks hotline at 906-202-1333 for up to date estimates on when freighters will be pass through the Soo Locks.
Whether you plan on visiting Sault Ste. Marie in the spring or in the summer, the opening of the Soo Locks signifies a fresh year for tourism is about to begin. As soon as you can hear echoing baritone horns sending out salutes along the St. Marys River, you can rest assure that there will be good times to be had in the Soo.