Explore the top things to do in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Tour the waterfront between the Sault Ste. Marie Canal and the Bushplane Heritage Centre. Ride the Agawa Canyon Tour Train through northern Ontario wilderness to stunning Agawa Canyon Park.
Whether you decide to spend your time exploring nature or the waterfront, Sault Ste. Marie has lots of things to do. Here’s all you need to know for a fantastic visit.
What to do in Sault Ste. Marie
Enjoy the great Ontario outdoors and learn about Sault Ste. Marie’s history on these diverse experiences.
- Explore the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site
- Ride the rails on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train
- Stop by the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre
- Hike a Forest Trail
Sault Ste. Marie Attractions
The St. Marys River flows over a series of cascades and rapids dropping seven metres from Lake Superior into Lake Huron. For hundreds of years, Indigenous people and early European colonists carried their boats and cargo around the rapids. A community developed at this natural gathering spot called Les Saults de Ste. Marie, French for St. Marys Rapids.
The first canal and lock around the rapids was built in the late 18th century, but was destroyed in the War of 1812. The second was built by the Americans in Sault Ste. Marie Michigan in 1855. About a decade later, an international incident led to the next chapter in Sault Ste. Marie Ontario’s growth.
This historic canal is the first stop on our tour along the waterfront of the St. Marys River and a “must-do” experience in Sault Ste. Marie.
Sault Ste. Marie Canal – National Historic Site
Enjoy nature and history at Sault Ste. Marie Canal.
Watch boats navigate one of the longest locks in the world for pleasure craft. Parks Canada operates the pleasure-boats-only lock from mid-May to mid-October. Opened in 1998, the lock was built within the larger lock constructed in 1895.
Did you know the 1895 lock was the longest in the world at that time and the first operated by electricity? Its construction completed an all-Canadian water route from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Superior. Learn more at the Visitor Centre about the canal, the lock and the international incident that led to its construction.
A number of the site’s 19th century stone buildings are open to the public. Tours are available of the historic Powerhouse Building, the Emergency Swing Dam and the Superintendent’s Residence. For hours and admission information check Parks Canada’s ‘Plan Your Visit’ webpage.
Cross the lock gates of the canal to a bit of wilderness in the city. Walk the Attikamek Trail system, 2.2 kilometres of easy, winding trails. They pass through forest, wetlands and under the International Bridge on South St. Marys Island and Whitefish Island. Signs along the trail give information about the plants and animals on the islands. Whitefish Island is the territory of the Batchewana First Nation. Learn about the First Nation’s relationship with the island and surrounding waters.
The packed gravel and boardwalk surfaces make the trails perfect for hikers and cyclists. Parks Canada rents fat-tired bikes at the Visitor Centre.
As you leave the national historic site on Canal Drive, turn left at the “T” into the Canal District. This was the original industrial core of the city. It is being rejuvenated as a community recreation and tourism hub.
The district’s newest building is covered with local brick and distressed to blend in with its neighbours. On the west side of the building, the Blockhouse Pub serves pub-style food and all-day breakfast. Next to it is a community space and Indigenous teaching lodge built by the Batchewana First Nation. The station for CN Rail’s Agawa Canyon Tour Train occupies the rest of the building. The station opened in September 2021.
Agawa Canyon Train
Experience a full-day adventure to Agawa Canyon Park, a wilderness park in the bottom of stunning Agawa Canyon, aboard the Agawa Canyon Tour Train.
The train travels through the mixed forests of the Canadian Shield, beside rivers and lakes, and across towering trestles, on this 4-hour ride to the canyon floor. As the journey unfolds, stories of the region, its Indigenous inhabitants and explorers are told in five languages. Enjoy the stunning view out your window and look up to the flat screen monitors in each coach for an “engineer’s eye-view” from the locomotive-mounted cameras.
The canyon is 150 metres deep and 1.5 kilometres long. The canyon began as a fault in the rocks a million years ago and was widened by glaciers into the canyon today.
Indigenous people consider this a special place and have for thousands of years. The canyon and the northern landscape along the railway inspired a number of the Group of Seven’s notable works of art. There are several “Group of Seven” easels at the station and in the canyon which explore more about these famous Canadian artists.
The train stops in the canyon for about 90 minutes allowing you to explore. Easy hiking trails visit 3 waterfalls (Otter Creek, Black Beaver and Bridal Veil Falls) and a lookout for a panoramic view over the canyon. Picnic tables provide a spot to enjoy your packed lunch. If you intend to fully explore the canyon’s waterfalls, you may want to eat on the train.
The Agawa Canyon Tour Train is always popular but it is especially so during the fall “colour” season. Be sure to book well in advance of your visit. For train schedules and tickets, visit Sault Tourism’s Agawa Train webpage.
Sault Ste Marie Waterfront
Leaving the Canal District, turn right onto Bay Street. Gateway Casinos Sault Ste. Marie is on your left. Keep right at St. Marys River Drive to hug the St. Marys River. This street will give you a different view of the canal. Multi-use trails parallel the street on the narrow strip of parkland between the street and river.
Foster Drive is the next right. Several chain hotels can be found along this section of waterfront along with Roberta Bondar Park. Doctor Roberta Bondar, a Sault Ste. Marie native, was Canada’s first female astronaut to go to space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1992.
There are often concerts and festivals under the park’s outdoor Tent Pavilion which has covered seating for more than 1700 people. The marina beside the park has over 50 fully-serviced dock slips and is a Canadian Customs check-in point.
Foster Drive ends back on Bay Street. The Art Gallery of Algoma has operated for over 40 years from this beautiful waterfront parkland. Check out the Art Gallery of Algoma’s ‘What’s on’ page for current exhibitions, hours and admission information.
Bay Street ends at our final two waterfront stops; the Bushplane Museum and the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site.
Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre
Museum volunteers educate visitors about Ontario’s rich bushplane and firefighting heritage. The museum has operated for over 40 years and is the only one in the world dedicated to the bushplane.
The building was originally the riverside hangar of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources’ Fire and Aviation Division. Formed in 1924, it was one of the earliest agencies mandated to protect the vast forests of northern Ontario. They accomplished their mission through early detection of forest fires, transporting fire crews and more.
Did you know Ontario was the first to experiment with dropping water from planes to fight forest fires? Learn about the first planes used and the evolution of ground and air firefighting.
Every spot in the massive hanger displays bush planes, items carried in them and much more. The Children’s Flight Centre has flight simulators, arcade-style gaming consoles and interactive displays. There are two theatres, an actual fire tower and a 1940’s style bush camp.
For something completely different, visit Entomica. This insectarium within the museum, explains the hidden world of insects. Check their tanks for many different species.
For hours and admission information, check the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre website.
After visiting the museum, walk next door for a brew at the Northern Superior Brewing Co.’s The Tap Room.
Across Bay Street, the Ermatinger-Clergue National Historic Site highlights two 19th-century entrepreneurs and their contributions to the growth of Sault Ste. Marie.
Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site
Learn about the area’s involvement in the fur trade, the exploration of the continent’s interior and the War of 1812 at the Heritage Discovery Centre. This lays the foundation for the roles played by businessmen Charles Oakes Ermatinger and Francis Hector Clergue.
Visit two of the oldest stone buildings in northwest Ontario. The Ermatinger Old Stone House is set as it would have been when Ermatinger and his wife lived here between 1813 and the late 1820’s. The Clergue Blockhouse, relocated in 1996, was Clergue’s home from 1894 to 1908.
For hours and admission information, check the Ermatinger Clergue National Historic Site website.
Sault Ste. Marie Museum
Visit the museum dedicated to the history of Sault Ste. Marie and its culture. The early 20th-century building is a former post office complete with clock tower. The Algoma Weaver’s Guild, the ArtSpeaks Project and the Sault Ste. Marie & 49th Field Regiment R.C.A Historical Society are all based here.
Check the Sault Ste Marie Museum website for hours and admission information.
Hiking Trails in Sault Ste. Marie
The forests and hills surrounding Sault Ste. Marie are beautiful in any season. They are filled with hiking and mountain biking trails. In the winter, some trails are open for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
We enjoyed hikes in these two areas with trails for all fitness levels.
Hiawatha Highlands Conservation Area and Kinsmen Park
The conservation area is huge with 35 kilometres of forested trails. Hike along creeks, lakes and waterfalls. See many kinds of birds and animals from the trails. In the winter, both novice and expert skiers can enjoy cross-country skiing on groomed trails.
Kinsmen Park occupies 97 hectares within the Highlands. We hiked to Crystal Falls on the Crystal Creek Trail. At the falls, the water races through a narrow slot between pink granite rock faces, dropping about 15 metres over a 50 metre distance. The scene is picture perfect. A wheelchair accessible boardwalk runs beside some of the trail.
For a map of the park’s trails, see the local Kinsmen Club’s website. Kinsmen Park also has a baseball diamond, children’s playground and picnic area.
Robertson Cliffs and King Mountain Trails
The Algoma Highland Conservancy protects 1175 hectares of beautiful hardwood forest, with cliffs, streams, ponds and wetlands. It is home to a large variety of wildlife; from wolves, moose and bear to peregrine falcons and many kinds of plants.
The conservancy’s lands are the Robertson Cliffs, a 125-metre drop off the mountain to the Goulais River Valley, and the western half of King Mountain.
Trails are open year-round for non-motorized, low-impact use: hiking, biking, running, back-country skiing and snowshoeing. There are kilometres of maintained trails. They link together to form loops of varying lengths and difficulties.
We hiked part of the Robertson Cliffs Loop, a 5-kilometre hike to a scenic waterfall and lookout 150 metres above the forest.
For the trail map, visit the Algoma Highlands Conservancy – Our Trails website.
Access is from Robertson Road. There are 4 parking areas with trailheads into the conservancy.
Sault Ste. Marie Breweries
Check out these breweries in Sault Ste. Marie after a day of exploring the city.
For some amazing food, try one of the Cavaliere family’s three restaurants in the area, each with a unique menu and focus. They are known beyond the city limits for great food and atmosphere.
Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant is the place to go for classic Italian fare in a relaxed atmosphere. We thoroughly enjoyed our pasta and wine. They have been open in the same spot, 516 Great Northern Road, for over 40 years.
Fratelli’s Kitchen and Pizzeria opened next door in 2002. Their specialty is pizza but the menu has many more offerings.
The newest member of the family is the Burger Don. Styled as a “prohibition-era” burger joint, enjoy gourmet burgers, hot dogs and tacos along with spiked milkshakes and craft beers.
Sault Ste. Marie Map
Interested in more Itineraries? Sign up here.