By Melanie Purificati
In Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, students come from all over the world to attend college or university in this relatively small city full of hidden gems. For newcomers, it is more difficult than it seems to discover the many wonders of a place that is brand new to them. Have you ever wondered just what makes Sault Ste Marie special and why you should visit here? Or maybe you’ve found yourself here for educational, work, or travel purposes and want to make the most of your time in the city regardless of how long you plan to stay. It never hurts to visit reviews and recommendations from people who have visited Sault Ste Marie and have something to say about what it offers when trying to discover the beauty of it. Allow me to provide for you the top ten recommendations of places to visit and explore in the Soo, from the point of view of someone who has lived here their whole life.
1. Hiawatha Highlands
Hiawatha Highlands are without a doubt one of the Soo’s most popular and loved places for hiking and biking trails in the warmer weather, and unmatched cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, fat biking, and snowshoeing trails in the winter time. Sault Ste Marie is a place that is well-loved in the summer, but with the long and sometimes harsh winters, it is always worth taking up a hobby or sport that will make you excited for every snowfall. Hiawatha offers excellent upkeep with their many trails and recently began offering a “Learn to Ski package” for those who are new to the activity. You can rent skis and snowshoes if you don’t have your own, and as long as you have a valid ski pass, this is something you can enjoy plenty of during your winter free time. In the summertime, the trails are converted for running, hiking, walking, or biking and are an excellent way to soak up the sun and get moving in the scenic outdoors. This is something you can’t get from a big city!
2. The Machine Shop
Sault Ste Marie previously underwent the closure of the decade-old Paper Mill at 83 Huron St, and while this was a great loss of a historic place for the city at first, it was soon converted into an event and restaurant centre. The Machine Shop is family-owned and offers amazing restaurant, venue, and outdoor event options. The Machine Shop is also the new home of the Agawa Canyon Tour Train Station, which descends 500 feet down through the Agawa Canyon. Passes can be purchased for the tour as the weather permits and is especially loved during the fall season. This tour of the Agawa Canyon around the city is something you cannot experience in any other way, and the views as well as the train and restaurant experience offered are sure to provide you with a brand new love of Sault Ste Marie. Inside the Machine Shop there are multiple restaurants such as the Boiler Room, the Steakhouse, and the Gelato Mill. Whether you want a coffee and gelato, a fancy dinner and wine, or one-of-a-kind pizza and cocktails, there is something for everyone. In the wintertime the Machine Shop also offers outdoor skating and the ability to rent the rink with friends or family, and the venue is host to events from weddings to concerts. This is the perfect spot for an outing with loved ones or new friends.
3. The Mill Market
In the summertime the Mill Market, located at 35 Canal Dr, on the waterfront boardwalk, is an excellent place to spend the day alone or with company. There are a number of local vendors to shop from and enjoy. The farmers market offers a great selection of fruits and vegetables, as well as sweets, Italian treats, homesteads, candles, and crafts beyond compare. Sault Ste Marie loves to embrace the local talent and handwork that goes into creating and supplying goods for all those who want to enjoy it.
4. Robertson Cliffs
Located just twenty minutes from the Sault Ste Marie Trading Post, north down Highway 17, Robertson Cliffs is truly one of the city's hidden treasures in the district of Goulais River. These hiking trails range from half an hour to four hours, (depending on how you hike), and lead to different peaks at the top of the 150m cliffs with amazing views of the nature below, so beautiful that a photograph can not do them justice. If you want to make a day of it, take the extra few hours to hike up to King Hill for an even bigger challenge. These trails are irreplaceable and loved in the summertime for a great workout or a relaxing day in nature.
5. Lustrous Downtown Queen Street
Downtown Queen Street is one of the busiest and most interesting places to explore for visitors and locals. This area of town is just a two minute walk from the Station Mall, the busiest shopping centre in town with the most variety. Among Queen Street however, there are endless options of local businesses with plenty to offer, whether you want to visit a small café, a bookstore, or a bakery. There are endless possibilities to explore the nightlife with the local bars around. In the summertime Smokey’s Patio is one of the busiest places in town for a fun night of drinking, dancing, and friends. Just down the street is the ever-loved Outspoken Brewing, which is a beer supply for plenty of places around town and a great place to enjoy live local music and great company. There are a number of local retailers and boutiques such as Homespun Treasures, Stork & Bundle, Emma’s Fashions Ltd, Soo Source for Sports, Ever After, and more. In addition to this there are plenty of lovely secondhand stores with something for everyone, including; Vintage Games n’ Junque, The Rad Zone, the Cubbyhole, etc. Queen street has endless options for local places to eat that have been loved in Sault Ste Marie for many years, from pizza to shawarma there is something for everyone. A day downtown would be nothing short of fun.
6. Sault Ste Marie Waterfront
The Waterfront, also referred to by its companion, the Boardwalk, follows along the St. Mary River just in front of the Station Mall. This scenic walk will bring you to many locations. In the summertime you can pass by Beavertails and enjoy a real Canadian treat, eventually making your way to the Roberta Bondar Pavilion tent where events are often hosted in the summertime, bringing life to the downtown waterfront. The Marina is also along this journey, and the Hub trail for hiking and biking follows you in and extends your explorations. If you walk a bit farther down you will encounter Bellevue Park, where the wildlife and activities are even more lustrous, and nature brings a particular kind of peace from yoga in the park to playing in the playground or just enjoying the fishing nearby. The Boardwalk is also cleared out in the winter and the perfect place to watch the sunset over the snowy river.
7. Art Gallery of Algoma
The Art Gallery of Algoma is the Soo’s art museum, occupying 930 square metres on the St Marys River. This museum is over forty years old and contains some of the most profound and admired art, with over 5,000 pieces from artists within the region of Algoma. If you are an art lover, a history lover, or just someone who can appreciate the beauty of our talents, this is a wonderful place to pay a visit. There are virtual tours and demos as well as new exhibitions are brought in, and admission fees for such typically remain at $10. This is a great place for tourists and locals to admire.
8. Sault Ste Marie Museum
Located at 690 Queen St East, the Sault Ste Marie Museum is a non-profit charitable organization and is home to the city’s most historical artifacts and treasures from the past hundred years and more. The building was converted from the city’s local post office, being a historical site in itself. Whether you’re an art or history junkie, this is the perfect place to spend some time admiring the treasures and stories of how Sault Ste Marie and its surrounding areas really came about. Get to know more about the history of trades and developments and how it has been remembered through early graphite water-colour paintings. This is just one of the many things you can learn about if you are looking for something both educational and relaxing to do in the city.
9. Pancake Bay
Just under an hour drive north of Sault Ste Marie, Pancake Bay provincial park is the perfect place for a day, or even a weekend spent in nature. The camping sites here are unmatched and offer a private area to tent or camp. Also, the beach at Pancake Bay, stretching over 2 metres long, is one of the sandiest, sunniest beaches around and a true treasure to the area. While Sault Ste Marie has a number of beaches to soak up the sun when the weather is nice, Pancake Bay offers a beautiful view of the shore of Lake Superior, and a great balance of privacy while also being able to mingle and enjoy the space with friends. This is well-worth the drive for a full day of fun at one of the Great Lakes’ most beautiful shores.
10. Fort Creek Conservation Area
An intersection point of the Hub Trail, which wraps around the city, Fort Creek Conservation Area is a beautifully scenic path filled with bridges overlooking beautiful waterways and nature views. This is the perfect place to walk or jog, especially with a pet. It is an entirely paved pathway with a lower level of difficulty than the other hiking trails mentioned, a place to take your time and absorb the nature of the city. Fort Creek brings you out into busy parts of Sault Ste Marie, yet in this space in-between, the conserved area holds the beauty of nature that brings peace in the middle of it all. This is a special place to visit if you are needing a break from all the noise.
Beyond this list of top ten wonders, Sault Ste Marie is filled with treasures along the way. There are endless opportunities for enjoying nature in the many parks and trails, and a constantly growing array of local businesses that offer food, retail, and memorable experiences with a particular sort of comforting friendship along the way. These businesses thrive off of the warm people that keep their doors open. Sault Ste Marie may be a small town to live in if you are looking for the “real University experience”, but it has so many things for all different kinds of people to enjoy and do for the first time. In this snowy city, the cold can quickly become your friend if you get to know it better. This small-town feel can also feel busy at times if you let it, giving you the best of both worlds.