Nordic Skiing in Sault Ste. Marie

An outdoor adventurer discovers incredible cross-country skiing—along with museums, art galleries, and historic locks—in Sault Ste. Marie.

The skiing came first. It had to, when four-foot deep snow covered the ground, coated the trees, and blew from the roofs of the warming huts. There were so many trails to cross-country ski and so little time to do it all on this long weekend trip.

We were at Stokely Creek Lodge, which is about half an hour outside of Sault Ste. Marie, last February. The lodge has 100 kilometres of private trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and which are open for guests of the resort, as well as for day visitors like my outdoor club. 

Snow glimmered in the sunlight enticing us to come out and enjoy winter’s playground. Gathered around the wood-burning stove in a warming hut, small puddles of people from my outdoor club plotted which trail to conquer on our day trip. My group chose an easy route—a ten kilometre loop along Eva’s Way and out to Cora’s Crossing.

People enjoying the ski trail, Stokely Creek Lodge

The skiing was sublime on the mostly flat trail. Soon we crossed a wooden bridge and paused to listen to the gurgling creek below. The gurgle became a rumble as we neared a waterfall. Then the trail snaked atop rolling hills. Going up the hill, sweat dripped off my face, and more ran down my back. Hot flashes in winter are really a nuisance, I grumbled. But, the panting was unusual—a clue that my top-notch level of fitness existed only in my head.

Ski trail along the creek, Stokely Creek Lodge

Going down the hills was smooth, my body remembered how to lean into the curves, or shift my weight around on the skis to slow down or speed up. It even remembered how to get up from tumbles in the snow.

Hot chocolate and lunch awaited us in another warming hut about half way along on our route. There we were joined by a ski club from Wisconsin. They came up every year as the snow was guaranteed, and therefore they did not mind the five-hour drive north. As I chatted to one woman, another joined in, tickled by something we said. They started comparing where they lived back home in the U.S., and found that they were neighbours living about a dozen doors away from each other!

After lunch it was back on the trail for more skiing and daydreaming. At a fork in the path, the group split. One pair continued north aiming to reach a small lake. The other pair turned around and headed back to home base. There was a long curving hill near the base and I was determined to go down it in one smooth glide. And I did.

Until I fell. 

Exploring the sault

The next day I decided to explore the city; it might be awhile before I visit again as Sault Ste. Marie is a seven-hour drive north of where I live in Toronto. Leaving the hotel I walked downtown until I reached the waterfront on the St. Marys River. 

A snowy walk along the Sault waterfront offers views of the St. Mary's River and Michigan. 

My first stop was the Sault Ste. Marie Museum. I spent a happy hour exploring the history of the town, especially the photographs, posters, and films of the Hiawatha shows. I’d thought Hiawatha was a mythical figure, and so it was surprising to learn that on this trip we were walking in the actual footsteps of this hero. Until the 1940s the annual Hiawatha festival was a big event in the Sault, and the show was staged and acted by Indigenous people, speaking in Chippewa. One poster showed a troupe from the 1930s—I was impressed that the museum made sure that each actor was identified.

The Sault Ste. Marie Museum is located in what was originally a post office.

Leaving the museum I followed the river. It was astonishing that such a narrow river was a crucial link in the history of Canada. St. Marys River is at the confluence of Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron. In historical times, Lake Superior was the gateway to the western half of Canada. Fur traders, war ships, and lake schooners filled with passengers all went up and down the river. Sault Ste. Marie grew as a transport hub connecting this huge country.

It was a quick stop at the Art Gallery of Algoma to see some of the Group of Seven paintings. These artists created the iconic Canadian landscapes of forests, lakes and rivers. They spent quite a few summers in Sault Ste. Marie and its environs chasing and capturing these sublime and contested landscapes.

At the gallery, I chatted with a fellow traveller, who told me about his uniquely Canadian career: “I’ve travelled all over the country planting trees,” he said. “I did it for about 12 years. I stopped when I had the little ones. They needed me around.” 

I paused at the outdoor Roberta Bondar Pavilion—named after the local hero and the first Canadian woman astronaut–for a tea break, and chatted to the two men sitting there who had the same idea. They explained that the whine from across the river was from the i-500—the annual skidoo racing competition in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan. It was a big event that attracted thousands. It was also the reason for the helicopter flights from the Canadian side of the city.

Then it was back to my stroll along the river. Passing the still mighty rapids, I wandered over to Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site. It was once the longest canal lock in the world, ensuring that ships could sail from the Atlantic Ocean and up to Lake Superior. Today the canal is used by pleasure boats in the summer. 

Snow and ice were everywhere. Icicles dangled like jewels on buildings. I did not mind, as winter does not bother me as long as I am dressed properly and have a warm place to go back to. Still I was too tired to walk back to the hotel, and so I accepted a ride from the couple I met who were enjoying their own walk in the snow along the locks. After a rest, it was dinner at a Chinese restaurant with my outdoor club.

Many Trails to Ski at stokely

Warming hut covered in snow, Stokely Creek Lodge

The next day it was back to Stokely Creek Lodge. I debated between skiing and snowshoeing, and skiing won again. This time we went along the Trappers Trail to Bone Lake. There is something spectacular about skiing in a snowy forest with evergreen trees towering on either side. It’s like skiing in the land of a Christmas postcard. The blue jays messing about in the trees was a bonus. 

To finish the day we had hot chocolate in the main ski lodge. Comfortable chairs were on offer near the fireplace or facing the enormous picture windows in the lounge. Next to it was the library stacked with books and magazines and another fireplace. Some people dozed, read, journaled and some knitted. I chatted to a couple who said they have been coming to the lodge every year for a decade. It was their winter treat.

Winter and paradise don’t normally occur in the same sentence; but they did for me in my weekend of cross-country skiing in Sault Ste. Marie. And, as the Hiawatha Highlands are nearby and have good skiing too, a return trip to this northern Ontario city is now on my bucket list.

About Jacqueline L. Scott

Jacqueline L. Scott is a PhD student at the University of Toronto. Her research is on race in outdoor recreation. She is also a travel writer. 

Recommended Articles

17 Best Summer Activities in Sault Ste. Marie

Plan your summer in the Soo!

Cruising to the Next Level

A guide to the historic Miss Marie lock boat tour in Sault Ste. Marie.

9 Facts to Know about the Agawa Canyon Tour Train

Get ready for a bucket list experience in the wilderness of Northern Ontario.

Get Sandy This Summer in and Around the Soo

6 best beaches for any occasion.

3 Waterfalls You Can't Miss Near #theSoo

Spring Smelt Fishing in Ontario

Smelts are running! Fishing with Carter Dorscht.

Green Energy in Sault Ste Marie

8 Reasons Why You Must go to #TheSoo Right NOW!

Under The Aurora Borealis

This should be on your bucket list!

Experience The Incredible Indigenous Culture of Bawating

Indigenous Experiences in the Soo

Just add kids

Bugs, Planes and an Arcade

4 Restaurants You Gotta Eat at in Sault Ste. Marie

10 Reasons Why You NEED to Visit a Pow Wow in Sault Ste. Marie

A Spectacular Fall Colour Tour

Come Aboard The Agawa Canyon Tour Train—An Adventure Inside And Out!

That's Italian

The Best of Italy In Sault Ste. Marie!

7 Great Bird-Watching Spots in Sault Ste. Marie

Perfect for both hard-core listers and family fun

Snowshoe Away the Winter Blues

When your hinterland hibernation turns into claustrophobic carb-loading, it’s time to get outdoors

Best Places To Eat For The Gluten-Free Traveller

6 stops you have to make!

8 Ways To show your guests a great time

Hit some local hot spots!

Spring Skiing at Searchmont

Watch for big changes at Northern Ontario’s largest ski resort