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Superior Adventures

Guided five-mile kayaking trips take Upper Peninsula paddlers through the world-famous Soo Locks.

Michigan is blessed with an abundance of magnificent places to kayak, including the unparalleled adventure of paddling through the world-famous Soo Locks with Bird’s Eye Outfitters in Sault Ste. Marie.

The St. Marys River flows 75 miles and connects Lake Superior with Lake Huron, serving as a border between the United States and Canada. Before Europeans arrived in the Great Lakes region, the Ojibwe traveled this area they called Baawitigong, which means “at the cascading rapids.” The rapids were created by a 20-plus-foot drop in water levels at the stretch between the twin border cities of Sault Ste. Marie.

The first Sault lock was constructed in the late 1700s to aid trade canoes, but was destroyed during the War of 1812. A newer lock was opened in 1855 on the American side, followed by one 40 years later in Canada. Today, this collective modern marvel is the busiest lock system in the world, accommodating more than 10,000 ships annually.

Gliding through this busy waterway, where birch bark canoes once passed and today and thousand-foot freighters navigate daily, provides an exhilarating one-of-a-kind paddling experience.

Ken and Wilda Hopper opened Bird’s Eye Outfitters in 2015, with the hope of encouraging locals and visitors to explore the northeastern Upper Peninsula while reconnecting with nature physically, mentally, and spiritually. They initially consulted with a team from Power of Water out of Lansing about their plans, and then began developing a safe paddling route for excursions through the high-traffic St. Marys River.

The Soo Locks Trip begins in the Upper St. Marys River at the Ahsmun Bay boat launch and travels clockwise past the American locks entrance and the rapids, to the less congested, recreational Canadian Lock. Once the paddlers have safely navigated into the canal — measuring 253 feet long, 51 feet wide and 44 feet deep — the upper gate closes and the water slowly lowers, like a draining tub.

“When the water levels are lowered down 22 feet from Lake Superior to Lake Huron levels, you get a real appreciation for how large the rapids in this area used to be,” says Jodi Wizauer, who works at the Sault Ste Marie Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as Bird’s Eye Outfitters.

After about 15 minutes, the lower gate opens and kayakers simply float out into the St Marys River. Carefully navigating marine traffic — freighters, tour boats, sailboats, and other leisure watercraft — paddlers travel back across the international border, past the historic Edison Sault Electric Hydropower Plant and the Museum Ship Valley Camp, and then pass the Soo Locks Campground where the trip concludes. From there, the Bird’s Eye crew transports everyone back to their vehicles at the put-in point.

“I have been on the trip several times and it is truly a unique and very fun way to experience the Soo Locks firsthand,” Wizauer continues. “It is also an enjoyable trip since you’re only going downriver.”

Between June and September, weather permitting, Bird’s Eye guides take small groups out on this five-mile international tour. Passports aren’t required because no one sets foot on Canadia land.

The length of the trip varies, depending on the slowest paddler, but it typically lasts three to four hours. On busy summer days, there can be a trip or two a day scheduled, at a cost of $125 per person. The price (which may change this season) includes renting a kayak, paddle, and life vest.

Safety is always paramount on all open water outings, and while paddlers should have some kayak experience, the trip is open to almost anyone.

“Kids as young as seven have completed the trip with no problem,” notes Wizauer. “There is no age limit on adventure.”



Bird’s Eye Outfitters


Reprinted from the Spring 2024 issue of Michigan BLUE magazine.