With shoreline bordering four of the five Great Lakes, Michigan sees a great deal of freighter traffic during the shipping season. With ships making 10,000 passage through the Soo Locks alone each season, chances to see one of these massive vessels in action are aplenty. 1,000-foot lakers haul steel, coal, limestone and more from Lake Superior to Lakes Michigan and Huron, while ocean-bound vessels can be spotted with cargos of grain or maybe even wind turbine parts. The following list showcases six of the best places in the state to catch freighters in action: loading and unloading at two sites and passing by well-known state landmarks at others.
Sault Ste Marie – The Soo Locks should be the top destination on any boatnerd’s list of places to visit, as all vessels traveling to and from Lake Superior must stop here while the locks guide them on their way. A new viewing platform offers great views of these massive ships as they are raised or lowered to an even water level with either Superior or the St. Mary’s River. Other great viewpoints in town are Rotary Park, Aune-Osborn Park, and the small park next to the Cloverland Hydroelectric plant on Portage Ave. Check inside the visitor center by the locks for a vessel schedule, which is updated daily.
Port Huron – There is a reason why the folks at boatnerd.com make their home here, as freighters make their way up and down the St. Clair River on a regular schedule. Vantage Point (51 Water St.) is the top spot in town for viewing, but Pine Grove Park to the north or the area right below the Blue Water Bridge also offer up-close views. For more information visit boatnerd.com, click on “Vessel Passage” then “Port Huron: Vantage Point.”
Marquette – The ore docks at Marquette may not be nearly as busy as they were decades ago, but they are still visited by a handful of Great Lakes freighters each shipping season. Located just outside Presque Isle Park, boats still stop here to unload coal and/or load taconite pellets with more than 9 million tons leaving this port each year.
Algonac – With 1800 feet of boardwalk, this is a great place to spend the day and watch freighters. Algonac State Park also has a campground and nearly a mile of shoreline on the St. Clair River for nautical enthusiasts.
Mackinac Straits – As the meeting place for Lakes Michigan and Huron, the Straits see quite a bit of vessel traffic during the shipping season. Photographing a freighter passing under the bridge is a favorite activity at any of the parks near the Old Mackinac Lighthouse, while a trip by ferry to Mackinac Island offers even more opportunities to see ships up close. For traffic updates visit boatnerd.com, click “Vessel Passage” and then “Straits of Mackinac”
Calcite – Watch freighters load stone right in front of the World’s Largest Limestone Quarry at Harbor View, a small observation park in Rogers City. Based on tonnage this is one of the busiest ports in the Lower Peninsula, with freighters taking away up to 15,000 tons per load. An observation deck here provides a higher view, and a chance to take pictures of legendary ships like the John G. Munson and Cason J. Callaway without the fence in the way. Call (989) 734-2117 for a schedule of expected vessels.