Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, sits on the Upper Peninsula of the state, a vast wonderland of engineering and wilderness wonders riding the Canadian border.
Whoever named this American city and the Canadian sister city of Sault Ste. Marie never realized how challenging research could be in the year 2023.
Let’s get a lay of the land first. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (the UP) is in part of the state that some less geographically inclined might not realize is actually an extension of “The Mitten State.”
The Upper Peninsula commonly referred to as the “You-pea”, is north of the state section shaped like a Mitten.
If someone says, “I’m from the thumb,” that means the right side of the state which is shaped like the thumb of a mitten.
Others will hold up their hand and point to reference where they are from.
North of the mitten, across the Mackinac Bridge, is the UP.
From there, the UP is described as Eastern or Western, and Eastern UP is where we find Sault Ste. Marie.
The city is the transition point between Lake Huron and Lake Superior.
To understand more lingo here, it’s commonly referred to as The Soo, since Sault Ste. Marie is pronounced, “Sue Saint Marie.”
Now, having a Sault Ste. Marie just a mile away across the international border can lead to confusion.
If you have all the documentation to cross the borders easily, you’ll have two great cities to explore.
For purposes of this article, any reference to Sault Ste. Marie will be in the Michigan location unless otherwise noted.
The location is remote but rewarding, whether you want to go chasing waterfalls, watch a freighter transition between the two lakes in a mastermind technological process, or get lost in the BARmuda triangle, Sault Ste. Marie is a four-season destination.
Warnings & Dangers in Sault Ste. Marie
OVERALL RISK : LOW
Crime rates are low across the board, offering a safe community to explore on the American side. The biggest risk is a warm-blooded visitor not being prepared for a brutal, yet exhilarating Winter. With the right safety guidance, you’ll fall in love with The Soo and enjoy a low risk all around.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
It’s necessary to have a rental car here since there are so many places to explore and cross international boundaries. Buses take you to and from the remote Kincheloe, and ferries can take you to a list of islands. Taxis and rideshares are sparingly available to get around town or use as a sober driver, but don’t rely on those. All risks are low, but there really is only one option – a rental car.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
Two purse snatchings were reported in 2021, which is a low risk. However, it’s good to know that a purse is slightly more at risk than a wallet.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : LOW
The city averages 10 feet of snow, with the snowy season running from October through June. From November through March, you’ll be hard-pressed to a find a day above freezing, with lows getting into single digits (Fahrenheit). Even summers don’t reach 80°(F) on average, so plan for cool to bitter cold, depending on the season. Severe thunderstorms, blizzards, tornadoes, and flooding are major risks, so research safety for the biggest risk during the season you visit.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
The city hasn’t seen more than four robberies in a year since at least 2011, and 2021 had no robberies. The risk is low.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
With 10,000 ships moving through the waters here, the Soo Locks will always be a potential risk. However, there is also law enforcement and military protect from two countries to keep it safe. Lone Wolf acts of terrorism are also a concern in any U.S. city. For example, in 2022, a pipe bomb was placed outside a cell phone store. It wasn’t detonated, but it could have been disastrous. That’s not meant to scare you. It is just a reminder to always be vigilant and report any suspicious activity.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Tourist scams are rare here, and the majority of complaints deal with common nationwide scams target residents and the elderly. You can review the Federal Trade Commission website for a list of ongoing and new scams in America.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
This is another low risk, with crime rates being far below any concerning level. However, don’t let your guard down. Even if you’re enjoying a night out on the town, wear warm weather clothing and never go into the wilderness alone.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2021 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations, making the water safe to drink. If a breach should happen, you’ll get that information through emergency alerts and the city’s social media pages.
Safest Places to Visit in Sault Ste. Marie
Let’s clear up any confusion about the travel websites.
To learn about the entire UP, the website is uptravel.com.
Each Sault Ste. Marie has its own tourism site:
- Saultstemarie.com is Michigan
- SaulTourism.com is Canada
The Michigan site has a travel app, with all the great website information in an easy-to-use interface.
It also breaks down activities by seasons, so you can hone in on specific things to do.
You can also download the Sault CVB Visitor’s Guide with detailed information and maps to help you explore.
Many attractions have seasonal hours or are closed during winter.
Use social media pages for attractions or museums to get the latest information as website aren’t always updated.
The Soo Locks are one of the most popular for tourists.
I’ll leave the “how it works” to your tour.
As an overview, these locks allow massive ships – up to 1,000 feet long – to get from Lake Huron to Lake Superior through the curving St. Mary’s River.
Things to know:
- The locks close from January 15 – March 25 for maintenance
- The Visitor’s Center is open from Mother’s Day through mid-October
- The surrounding park is open year-round
- Use marinetraffic.com to track incoming and outgoing ships or call (906)253-9290 for the schedule
Downtown Soo has a mind-boggling number of things to do.
Whether you need a Hot Toddy or a strong stout, the BARmuda Triangle of downtown has 13 bars in just three blocks, making it easy to move from one place to the next even in bitterly cold weather.
History is alive in The Soo, with Historic Water Street offering several primitive homes and businesses to view from bygone eras.
Other historical sites include:
- Tower of History: Go for the insane observation deck views, but stay to enjoy the history.
- River of History Museum: It’s not all about the Great Lakes here. St Mary’s River is a vital waterway with a great history.
- Museum Ship Valley Camp: Step onboard a freighter with 100 exhibits covering the deck and cargo hold.
Indigenous people still celebrate heritage and history, and you can become immersed in the culture at the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians Interpretive Center.
Check the city’s event schedule for the annual Pow Wows, offering dancing, singing, and arts/crafts.
Hiking trails are everywhere in the UP.
Choose one that suits your experience level and be prepared for a long drive.
The most popular trail is Tahquamenon Falls State Park, about 90 minutes away.
Please note many trails offer maps for summer and winter, so follow those routes for the right season in the name of safety.
Kayaking is available seasonally on the river and guided tours are the safest way to go.
Fishing charters and scenic charters are also available.
You can’t beat the fall foliage here for a road trip, and the tourism site offers updates as the season wears on for the best viewing.
Places to Avoid in Sault Ste. Marie
Most of the hotels in the city will be along I-75 and 3 Mile Road, which is a safe area.
There aren’t particularly dangerous neighborhoods in The Soo, but you should always stick to main roads and public attractions.
If you do visit the Canadian Sault Ste. Marie, the downtown area can be dangerous.
Avoid trying to cross into Canada without proper documentation.
Even though it’s “just across the bridge,” it’s still an international boundary as if you were flying from Africa to England.
The tourism bureau recommends using Canadian Dollars as much as possible since usually it’s a better value, but never assume a U.S. business with take Canadian Dollars or a Canadian business will take USD.
You can pay with either currency at the border, but not a mix of both.
If you have any kind of criminal history, even a misdemeanor DUI, you won’t be allowed to enter Canada without express permission.
You should contact Immigration Canada to get the paperwork started.
The final decision is made at the time of the border crossing.
For those traveling with a group, confirm the background of each person.
You don’t want one person’s history to keep everyone from crossing.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Sault Ste. Marie
- Sault Ste. Marie has its own police department, with the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office covering the region outside the city boundaries. Each is on Facebook @SaultPD and “Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office.”
- Since this is such a rural area, signing up for Smart911 is a great idea. This free program allows you to enter name, contact info, emergency contacts, and health conditions with an option for any important notes. If you do need to call 911, that information will be provided to emergency responders.
- Don’t be surprised if you share the roads in The Soo with an ATV. The vehicles are allowed on the road with strict age limits, speed limits, and requirements to ride the right side of the road. Check the list of roads where ATVs are NOT allowed on the police department’s website.
- Check your mobile devices’ coverage map, as some of these rural areas won’t have 5G service, and even 4G can be limited. Bring a paper map and store it in a plastic bag so it won’t get wet since you can’t rely on GPS.
- The city’s Facebook page is @SSMCity. You should follow this for important information like road closures, event cancelation, and snow plowing details.
- Campers should avoid showing up to a site without reservations. Bookings can be made up to six months in advance, and you can set alerts to find out when spots become available on certain dates.
- Outdoor lovers should consider getting the Recreation Passport for all state parks, rec areas, boating sites, campgrounds, and trails. Daily passports are $11, but if you pay $39, you get a passport for a year and more time to explore the many state wilderness areas.
- You can paddle the Soo Locks or designated areas of the lakes/river. Even if you cross international boundaries, you’re safe to explore. However, you cannot drop an anchor or land on foreign soil without getting in big international trouble with stiff penalties.
- Bears and coyotes could always be spotted in Sault Ste. Marie, and you’ll likely run into wildlife on the trails. Visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to learn more about safety steps for each animal. Never, EVER, feed an animal here. Bears that get fed are more likely to get comfortable around humans, which could end poorly for the human and the bear.
- Here’s a new one for me – the sheriff’s office warns about a iPhone and Apple Watch features that calls 911 in case of a crash. However, riding snowmobiles on bumpy and loud trails can accidentally trigger a 911 call. They don’t go as far as asking you to disable the feature, but more so you are aware that it can happen. If you do accidentally call 911, don’t hang up. The dispatchers will assume there is an emergency and try to contact you or get to you. Just admit it was an error.
So… How Safe Is Sault Ste. Marie Really?
The Michigan side of Sault Ste. Marie is safer than the Canadian side.
Even though crime data is presented differently between the countries, The Soo in Canada is commonly ranked in the Top 10 Most Dangerous in Ontario while the Michigan Soo has violent crime rates 40% lower than the national average.
On top of the low crime rates, just 5% of violent crimes happened against strangers in 2021.
As a border city, the larger concern about potential violent crime increases centers on drugs and illegal guns.
America is already facing an Opioid Crisis that is selling Fentanyl-laced drugs to addicts, leading to more overdoses.
Since many illegal drugs cross the border from Canada, there are more drugs readily available in Sault Ste. Marie.
Even if a drug appears to be a prescription drug like Xanax, don’t buy anything that isn’t from a legitimate and licensed pharmacy.
It could have a deadly dose in it, you wouldn’t be able to see or smell it.
You still need to lock your car and remove any personal belongings, but you can rest assured that common sense goes a long way here.
The real concerns should be knowing wilderness and cold weather safety, as well as studying wildlife interaction advice from experts.
How Does Sault Ste. Marie Compare?
- Visas – Border security will be strict, given the increase in people trying to illegally get into Canada or the U.S. You’ll need a passport and visa per each country’s rules, which you can find on the Border Patrol or Immigrations website. Each country has specific rules, so don’t just review one site if you plan on crossing between the two Soos.
- Currency – Either the U.S. Dollar or Canadian Dollar will be used, depending on which side of the border you are on. Currency exchange locations are more plentiful that in any other small Michigan town because of the border crossing.
- Weather – Don’t underestimate winter here. Bring high-quality insulated layers and waterproof outer layers. Wind chills here can get to -40°(F) during the worst of winter. Hiking boots and snow boots are essential and comfortable walking around shoes in the summer will help avoid blisters from all the places to explore on foot. Bug spray and sunscreen should also be packed.
- Airports – Chippewa County International Airport isn’t the biggest airport, but it’s really the only option you have unless you want to drive five hours to Detroit. The local airport can get you to Minneapolis-St. Paul or Detroit, which are both major connections for airlines.
- Travel Insurance – Travel insurance should cover both the United States and Canada, with supplemental options for wilderness adventures. Even flight travel insurance is important since winter weather can leave you trapped in The Soo until it’s safe to fly again or keep you from getting there.
Sault Ste. Marie Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Jan -10° C
Feb -9° C
Mar -4° C
Apr 4° C
May 11° C
Jun 16° C
Jul 19° C
Aug 18° C
Sep 14° C
Oct 8° C
Nov 1° C
Dec -6° C
Average High/Low Temperature
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