Home Canada TOP Things to Do in Sault Ste. Marie

TOP Things to Do in Sault Ste. Marie

by Valerie Vanr

Tour the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site and the Bushplane Heritage Centre. Ride the Agawa Canyon Tour Train on an autumn colour tour through northern Ontario wilderness to stunning Agawa Canyon Park.  

We’ve got the details on the top things to do in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada.

What to Do in Sault Ste. Marie Canada

This is our itinerary for One Day in Sault Ste. Marie:

With more time in the area, be sure to explore the hiking trails in Sault Ste Marie.

Enjoying the autumn colours on the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, definitely a “must-do” Sault Ste. Marie fall experience.

Map of Sault Ste. Marie Attractions

Sault Ste. Marie Attractions Map
Click on the above Sault Ste Marie Attractions Map for an interactive version

Sault Ste. Marie Canal – National Historic Site 

The historic canal is a must-see stop and the birthplace of the city.

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 and the completion of an all-Canadian water route from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Superior.

Red lock gate Sault Ste. Marie Canal
The red canal gate is the end of the pleasure craft lock built in 1998 within the 1895 lock. The upper extent of the 1895 lock is on the extreme right.
Andy walking canal toward powerhouse
The powerhouse was the heart of the power plant generating electric power to operate the lock and light the site from 1895 to 1942. It was the first lock in the world operated with hydro-electric power

Today watch boats navigate one of the longest locks in the world for pleasure craft from mid-May to mid-October. Parks Canada has operated the pleasure-boats-only lock since 1998. The lock was built within the larger lock constructed in 1895.

Did you know the 1895 lock was the longest in the world in 1895 and the first operated by electricity? Learn more at the Visitor Centre about the canal, the lock and the international incident that led to its construction completing the all-Canadian water route. The Visitor Centre opened in 2022 in the historic Stores Building with new exhibits and an interactive lock model.

Andy with canal International Bridge Sault Ste. Marie in background
The single arch span of the International Bridge crosses the Sault Ste. Marie Canal behind Andy. The bridge, built in 1962, is a steel truss bridge 4.5 kilometres long. The dark orange bridge at the side of the canal is the Emergency Swing Dam which protected the canal when the lock gates were hit by a ship in 1909.
Picnic table front of red stone 2-storey building
There are a number of beautiful, sandstone-block buildings by the canal. The red sandstone was quarried from the canal bed during construction of the canal.

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. The historic site is only staffed and maintained between May and October, though the grounds are accessible year-round.

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.

Andy walking boardwalk green bushes
Andy saunters along a boardwalk on the Attikamek Trail.
Val in the lookout shelter Attikamek Trail
The Attikamek Trail system includes boardwalks and lookout shelters along the St. Marys River.

Sault Ste. Marie Museums

Three nearby museums explain other parts of Sault Ste. Marie’s history. They are all worth spending at least an hour at.

Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre

Learn about Ontario’s rich bushplane and firefighting heritage from the museum’s experienced volunteers. The museum has operated for over 40 years and is the only one in the world dedicated to the bushplane.

Yellow bushplane row of planes Bushplane Heritage Centre
The Bushplane Heritage Centre is in a former hanger and is full of bushplanes.

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.

Bush camp set up tent fire equipment
Learn about fighting forest fires from both the air and ground and the backcountry life at bush camps like this one.

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 hours and admission information, check the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre website.

Entomica Insectarium

For something completely different, visit Entomica, which explains the hidden world of insects.  Check the tanks for many different species. The insectarium is inside the Bushplane Heritage Centre and included in admission.

3 glass cases of plants and bugs Entomica
Learn about insects at Entomica inside the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre.

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. The site highlights the roles played by businessmen Charles Oakes Ermatinger and Francis Hector Clergue, two 19th-century entrepreneurs who contributed to the growth of Sault Ste. Marie.

Log outbuilding in front of Ermatinger Old Stone House
This stone house, built in 1813/14, was the home of Charles Ermatinger. He was a partner in the North West Company, the world’s largest fur trading company. This is the oldest stone house in northwestern Ontario.
Exhibit room table snowshoes clothing fur bales
Ermatinger was a pleasant, hospitable person and his business prospered. The house became the center of the district’s business and social scene. He retired in 1828 to the Montreal area after the deaths of his 3 sons and brother.

Visit two of the oldest stone buildings in northwestern Ontario. The Ermatinger Old Stone House is set as it would have been between 1813 and the late 1820’s when Ermatinger and his wife lived in it. 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.

Andy standing outside Clergue Blockhouse Sault Ste. Marie
Clergue added a second storey to an abandoned gunpowder magazine built in 1819. It was both his home and office for a time. He surrounded the blockhouse with a private zoo including bears, deer, moose and other animals.
Piano chairs small table fireplace Clergue Blockhouse
Clergue developed a group of integrated companies which were central to the industrialization of Sault Ste. Marie.

The Sault Ste. Marie Museum

Visit the museum, in the former post office, dedicated to the history of Sault Ste. Marie and its culture.  The early 20th-century building with clock tower is home to the Algoma Weaver’s Guild, the ArtSpeaks Project and the Sault Ste. Marie & 49th Field Regiment R.C.A Historical Society.

Check the Sault Ste. Marie Museum website for hours and admission information.

3-storey red-brick building clock tower
The three-storey, red-brick and stone building complete with a clock tower operated as a post office between 1906 and 1949 when it was used for other government offices. The city purchased the property in 1982 for the Sault Ste. Marie Museum.

Agawa Canyon Train

Experience a full-day, 10-hour adventure to Agawa Canyon Park, a wilderness park in the bottom of stunning Agawa Canyon, aboard the Agawa Canyon Tour Train. The train operates between August 1st and Canadian Thanksgiving weekend (2nd weekend in October).

The train travels through the mixed forests of the Canadian Shield, beside rivers and lakes, and across towering trestles, on the 4-hour ride to the canyon floor.  As the journey unfolds, stories of the region, its Indigenous inhabitants and explorers are told. Enjoy the stunning view out the window and look up to the flat screen monitors in each coach for an “engineer’s eye-view” from the locomotive-mounted cameras.

Picture of train coloured woods and lake
This picture, high on the wall of the train station, gives a hint of the amazing landscape along the route to the Agawa Canyon.
Val by the Agawa Canyon Tour Train logo in the Canal District Sault Ste Marie Canada.
Get your tickets early for the Agawa Canyon Tour Train! We didn’t and missed out.

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 so passengers can explore the area. 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 lunch. 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 peak fall colour season, typically mid-September to early October. Be sure to book well in advance. Visit the Agawa Canyon Tour Train website for train schedules, tickets and more information. The train depot is in the Canal District.

Sault Ste. Marie Waterfront

The area from the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site along the St. Marys River to the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre is known as the waterfront. It’s a mix of parkland, entertainment and tourism options, shopping and hotels. These are a few of your options in the area.

The Canal District – Entertainment and Tourism Hub

This was the original industrial core of the city. It is being rejuvenated as an entertainment and tourism hub.

The beautiful Train Station, opened in 2021, was bricked with locally sourced bricks and distressed to blend in with its neighbours. The building houses the train depot for the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, a pub and retail area. Be sure to see the stunning artwork in the retail area done by Indigenous artists.

Long 2-storey red-brick building Agawa Canyon Train station
Agawa Canyon Tour Train’s station opened in Sault Ste. Marie’s Canal District in 2021. The building houses the station, a pub, and retail space.

Adjacent to the Train Station is an event space which includes an ice rink in the winter. The Canal District’s Events webpage has a list of what is happening in the district. The building on the south side, the Machine Shop, contains several restaurants and more event space.

Gateway Casinos Sault Ste. Marie

The casino opened in 1999 offering slots and table games as well as an on-site 100-seat restaurant and a bar. 

St. Marys River Waterfront Boardwalk

The boardwalk and a multi-use trail parallel St. Marys River Drive on the narrow strip of parkland between the street and the river. Several chain hotels and Station Mall, a shopping centre, are in this area.

Roberta Bondar Park

The park’s outdoor Tent Pavilion often hosts concerts and festivals. It has covered seating for more than 1700 people. 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. The marina beside the park has over 50 fully-serviced dock slips and is a Canadian Customs check-in point.

The gallery has operated for over 40 years from this beautiful waterfront parkland. Check out the Art Gallery of Algoma’s What’s on webpage for current exhibitions, hours and admission information.

Art Gallery of Algoma - Sault Ste. Marie
Beautiful parkland along the St. Marys River surrounds the Art Gallery of Algoma.

Hiking Trails in Sault Ste. Marie

In addition to the trails around the Sault Ste. Marie waterfront, the forests and hills surrounding Sault Ste. Marie are filled with hiking and mountain biking trails. In the winter, some trails are open for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. They are beautiful in any season.

We enjoyed hikes in these two areas with trails for all fitness levels.

Aerial view coloured treetops surround blue lake
The leaves of the trees in the hills around Sault Ste. Marie change to reds, yellows and oranges in the fall making a stunning sight.

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.

Waterfall top to bottom over rock side trees
Beautiful Crystal Falls at Kinsmen Park.
Andy walking on elevated boardwalk in woods
Andy is walking on a boardwalk section of the Crystal Creek Trail.

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 1200 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.

Andy standing wooded path Roberston Cliffs Loop
We hiked part of the Robertson Cliffs Loop to a scenic waterfall.
Andy on top rock outcrop waterfall edge
This pretty waterfall is on the Robertson Cliffs Loop trail. Andy climbed up the side of it.

We hiked part of the Robertson Cliffs Loop, a 5-kilometre hike to a scenic waterfall and lookout 150 metres above the forest. Access is from Robertson Road. There are 4 parking areas with trailheads into the conservancy.

For the trail map, visit the Algoma Highlands Conservancy – Our Trails webpage.

Sault Ste. Marie Restaurants and Breweries  

Check out these restaurants and breweries in Sault Ste. Marie after a day of exploring the city and beyond.

  1. Enjoy a brew and pub favourites at Northern Superior Brewing Co.’s The Tap Room next door to the Bushplane Heritage Centre.
  2. Grab a bite to eat in the Blockhouse Pub on the west side of the Train Station in the Canal District.
  3. Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant is the place to go for classic Italian fare in a relaxed atmosphere. We thoroughly enjoyed our pasta and wine. The Cavaliere family have operated Giovanni’s in the same spot, 516 Great Northern Road, for over 40 years.
  4. Another Cavaliere family restaurant, Fratelli’s Kitchen and Pizzeria opened next door to Giovanni’s in 2002. Their specialty is pizza but the menu has many more offerings.
  5. The newest member of the Cavaliere restaurant 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.
  6. Outspoken Brewing, known for its craft beers, will reopen in 2024 after a renovation.
andy seated holding drink Tap Room
Visit the Tap Room and enjoy a flight of Northern Superior Brewing finest brews.
Valerie pasta dinners bread wine
Our pasta dinners at Giovannis were delicious!

Be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Northern Ontario for even more road trips and destinations in Northern Ontario.

Highway coloured forest hill truck distance

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