Photo: Tourism Sault Ste. Marie
Commissions may be earned from LuxuryOntario‘s affiliate partner links.
I grew up in Ontario’s Algoma District and still cottage there every summer. The wilderness is spectacular and uncrowded, and outdoor activities and inspiration have long attracted artists, photographers, writers, and adventurers.
With its boating, fishing, and endless trails, the region’s biggest city, Sault Ste. Marie – affectionately known as the “Soo” – is perfect for the active traveller or nature lover. It’s a place to ride the rails, toss a fly in the St Mary’s River rapids, explore the Canal National Historic Site, go for a paddle (the Lake Superior coast is a paddlers’ mecca), drive the north shore of Superior, or simply stroll along the city’s beautiful waterfront boardwalk.
Join me as I share the spirit of adventure with these fun things to do in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
Things To Do in Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma
Ride the Rails aboard the Agawa Canyon Tour Train
The Agawa Canyon Tour Train is a fun day-long rail adventure (Photo: Tourism Sault Ste. Marie)
All aboard for a one-day wilderness rail excursion over towering trestles, alongside pristine northern lakes and rivers, and through the rugged mixed forests and granite rock formations of the Canadian Shield.
The Agawa Canyon Tour Train heads north, deep into Northern Ontario and inland to the Agawa Canyon Park about 180 km away. The fall colours are spectacular in September and October – but remember to book your train tickets a year in advance so you won’t be disappointed.
Cast a Fly in The St Mary’s River Rapids
Algoma’s abundance of lakes and fishing opportunities rivals that of anywhere in the world, but if you only have an afternoon to spare, this urban fishing opportunity is not far from downtown Sault Ste. Marie and is one I highly recommend. The St Mary’s River rapids are a world-renowned fly-fishing destination for steelhead, Atlantic salmon, five Pacific salmon species, and resident rainbow trout.
Author and adventurer Ernest Hemingway once exclaimed that “the best rainbow trout fishing in the world is in the rapids of the Canadian Soo!” If you do not have your own gear, you can rent one, and hiring a guide gives you the greatest chance of catching the big one. The fun is in landing a trophy-size trout, so practice catch and release. While my colleague hooks a pair of sizeable steelhead, I latch on to a 25 lb sturgeon – the only problem was I was using an 8 lb test line.
If you are new to fly fishing, lessons are available. Not a fly fisher? Try casting into the St Mary’s River connecting Lake Superior and Lake Huron with Angling Algoma. The river contains an impressive fish population from walleye to whitefish, salmon, trout, pike, and bass.
Explore the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site
The Sault Ste. Marie Canal, built in 1895, was the world’s longest lock, the first to operate using electricity, and the last link in an all-Canadian navigational chain from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Superior. Today the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site is a great spot for boat-watching, picnics, or just to watch other fly fishers catch bigger fish than you did.
On the edge of the rapids lie the historic buildings and antique machinery of the historic canal. Take the time to enjoy Whitefish Island to the south of the canal, wandering along the 2.2 km Attikamek Trail that takes you under the International Bridge. You can also rent a fat bike and explore to your content. Parks Canada always provides an interesting and valuable learning experience.
The new Sault Lock Tours are a fun addition to the list of things to do in Sault Ste. Marie. Hop aboard Miss Marie for a two-hour long cruise through both the US and Canadian locks… and have your cameras ready.
Go for a Paddle Along the Shores of Lake Superior
The Lake Superior coast is a paddlers’ mecca, giving you access to rugged rock headlands as well as sheltered sand and cobble beaches. Lake Superior Provincial Park south of Wawa has open water kayaking from many lovely coves that will have you thinking you are ocean kayaking.
You can paddle the St Mary’s River that links Lake Superior to Lake Huron but take care in the unpredictable currents. You can also paddle through the Sault Ste. Marie Canal Lock, and several guiding outfits and rentals are available.
Contact Lake Superior Adventures for canoe and kayak rentals or guided outings.
Go for a “Superior” Drive
This vastness is what earned Lake Superior the Ojibwe name gichi-gami, the great sea. Road-tripping the North Coast of Superior is my favourite Ontario drive. While a “must do” tour during the fall colour period, it’s always scenic, with awesome views of the rugged Lake Superior coastal area. Photography and painting opportunities abound.
Visit attractions like the Agawa Crafts and the Canadian Carver tourist centre and take a break for a swim at the beautiful crescent sand beach at Pancake Bay Provincial Park or at Katherine’s Cove. A word of warning here, though: Superior is cold even in mid-summer.
Linger at lookout pullovers at Old Woman Bay, Sand River, and Agawa Bay, and check out the Agawa Pictographs. Canada’s Group of Seven artists were inspired by the landscapes of Algoma, having made multiple trips here starting in 1918, while producing hundreds of paintings, outdoor sketches, and moments of inspiration along the way. As you travel the north shore of Superior, visit the Group of Seven interpretive installations in 21 locations, depicting actual painting sites.
Enhance the experience at each of the interpretive installation sites by downloading the Moments of Algoma App before you hit the road.
Adventure and Attractions along the Boardwalk
If you have an hour to spare for a brisk walk or leisurely bike ride in the city limits, the Sault Ste. Marie Boardwalk is the perfect place. Many tourist destinations can be found along this waterfront route, including the Roberta Bondar Pavilion & Marina, the Art Gallery of Algoma, and the Heritage Discovery Centre.
Historic plaques, which tell a story of the Soo’s past, are displayed along the waterfront. Observation and fishing platforms also extend out from the boardwalk over the water. If the weather turns, pop into the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre located in the historic waterfront hangar that was once home to the Ontario Provincial Air Service. Highlights include over 30 aircraft displays, two theatres, flight simulators, and interactive children’s activities.
Ideas and Inspiration
For ideas and inspiration, as well as assistance with the planning and execution of a memorable getaway to Sault Ste. Marie and the Algoma District, visit www.saulttourism.com.
Finally, why not make a weekend getaway of it as you explore the best things to do in Sault Ste. Maire in Algoma? Check out these great places to stay in Sault Ste. Marie.
Contributing Editor James Ross writes about destinations and travel adventures for various international publications. You can see more of his work at www.thejamesross.ca.