Here are three places where we go for up-close freighter watching. I took all of these freighter photos at the three places that I list here:
1.) Sault Ste. Marie
The St. Marys River is the ONLY waterway that connects Lake Superior with the rest of the Great Lakes.
Shortly after boats leave Lake Superior, they will come upon the rapids on the St. Marys River. In order to bypass the rapids, they enter the Sault Ste. Marie Canal and then the “Soo” locks. They exit the locks and proceed down the St. Mary’s River to Lake Huron.
We watch freighters both at the “Soo” locks and also a few miles away at Rotary Island Park, both in Sault Ste. Marie.
Admission to both are free.
Both places have public restrooms. The restrooms at the Soo locks are in the visitor’s center. The restrooms at Rotary Island Park are “primitive,” or, as we always said as kids, “outhouses.”
The United States Army Corps of Engineers operate the Soo locks. Be aware of the Corps of Engineers’ regulations . The viewing platforms and visitors center (and public restrooms) are open to the public during specific hours. You may also be subject to a bag / security check before you can enter the premises. I have linked the Corps of Engineer’s website above so that you can use it to plan your trip.
Volunteers host a few boatwatcher’s hotline phone numbers / websites that you can consult before your trip to watch freighters. This way, you can check on upcoming boat traffic. One website that we use is www.boatnerd.com.
In 2010, we took my parents and two of my sisters to the locks, and only one freighter came through the day of our visit. We actually missed seeing it go through the locks, but were able to watch it travel the St. Marys River, at Rotary Park.
Speaking of Rotary Park: This is another of our favorite boat-watching sites. We often stop for to-go hamburgers at Clyde’s Restaurant, next to the park. You can actually see the freighters, and also the Sugar Island ferry, from Clyde’s. Clyde’s accepts cash only.
2.) Public Marina Near DeTour Village
DeTour Village sits on the DeTour Passage of the St. Marys River. The marina includes public restrooms and a picnic area.
You can also take a short trip down the highway and walk through the DeTour Botanical Gardens. You can view some DeTour Passage shipwreck remains there.
There are no admission fees to view freighters at the marina or to tour the gardens.
3.) Mackinac Island / Straits of Mackinac Round Island Passage
This passage between Mackinac Island and Round Island sees heavy freighter traffic. You can stand next to the water at Mackinac Island and see freighters up close. In fact, I took the above photo of a freighter passing the Round Island Lighthouse as I stood on Windermere Point on Mackinac Island.
I took this photo on the island’s main (carless) highway, between the rock formation known as “Devil’s Kitchen” and the island’s public school.
I also saw a freighter close up from the side of the road, next to the lawn at Mission Point Resort.
Where do you like to boat watch?