We found the top five places to watch Great Lakes freighters. If you are from Michigan, you know it’s one of the great pastimes of living on the Great Lakes. Watching the giant Laker freighters slip past is an incredible sight. With more than 25 companies operating commercial vessels in the Great Lakes, seeing these freighters is a common sight and a favorite pastime for many enthusiasts. The largest Great Lakes freighters are massive, with some exceeding 1000 feet in length, the equivalent of a 100-story building.
Here are a couple of places to view freighters in Michigan that offer the best up-close experience in the region.
What We Will Cover
#1 Blue Water Bridge and Thomas Edison Park – Port Huron
This river’s edge park and walkway offer excellent views of freighter traffic moving upbound and downbound on the St. Clair River.
#2 Calcite Near Rodger’s City
The fantastic point with this site may not be the closeness of the freighters, but this busy port is also home to the largest carbonate mine in the world. The Calcite Quarry operation can easily be seen from space and has been active for over 85 years. The rocks are processed to create crushed aggregate, building and soil enhancers, lime, and additives for steel production. The quarry ships over 9 million tons of calcite material each year.
The best views of freighters can be found at Harbor View Park.
#3 Old Mackinac Lighthouse
The lighthouse park along the Mackinac Straits offers some of Michigan’s best backdrops for freighter gawking. The straits are a convergence of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. A favorite shot is to capture a big freighter going under the Mackinac Bridge. You can check the estimated times the freighters will cross the straits at boatnerd.com
#4 The Soo Locks – Sault Ste. Marie
The Soo Locks is considered one of the best places to view freighters in Michigan and all the Great Lakes. Every up-bound or down-bound freighter must use the Locks to enter or exit Lake Superior. On a unique viewing platform, you can watch the ships raised or lowered between the lake and the St. Mary’s River. Great views and photographs can also be had at Rotary Park, Aune-Osborn Park, Sherman Park, and the Parks and Recreation area near the Cloverland Hydroelectric.
#5 Marquette South Harbor
The South Harbor area is a short walk down the hill from downtown Marquette. We like walking along the Ellwood Mattson Lower Harbor Park or drinking on the Iron Bay Restaurant patio. Admittedly seeing a freighter in the harbor is rare, but it does happen. A better option may be to head up Lakeshore Drive to the docks near the Presque Isle Park entrance. Here you can see the giant freighters tied up and marvel at how big they are. You may see offload operations of coal or the onboard loading of taconite from nearby mines at this spot.
#6 Duluth Minnesota Ship Watching
On the western shore of Lake Superior in Duluth. Its Duluth harbor cam points out the canal near the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center and Aerial Lift Bridge. It’s one of the top spots to watch incoming ship traffic in all the Great Lakes. Fortunately, you don’t have to visit Minnesota to see this neat site.
#7 Two Harbors, Minnesota
Located on the North Shore of Lake Superior, the Two Harbors Lighthouse offers a scenic spot to watch shipping traffic.
#8 St. Clair, Michigan
The St. Clair River waterfront features a boardwalk, parks, and a marina, offering fantastic views of great lakes freighters as they pass through.
#9 Cleveland Ohio
The historic Coast Guard Station on Whiskey Island, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Voinovich Park offer great spots to watch ships on Lake Erie. The live cam above is from the Cleveland Water 5-Mile Crib in Lake Erie.
#10 Great Lakes Freighters From Detroit, Michigan
The Detroit Riverwalk offers several viewing points to watch freighters and other vessels navigate the Detroit River between Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie. This live cam is from the Detroit River Watch Webcam – The Dossin Great Lakes Museum.
#11 Welland Canal, Ontario
The Welland Canal connects Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, bypassing Niagara Falls. The Lock 3 Viewing Centre in St. Catharines offers an observation platform to watch ships pass through the locks.
#12 Point Edward, Ontario
Located at the southern tip of Lake Huron, the waterfront in Point Edward provides a great location to watch ships entering and exiting the St. Clair River.
#13 Kingston, Ontario
With its location at the eastern end of Lake Ontario and the beginning of the St. Lawrence River, Kingston offers several waterfront parks and vantage points to watch ships pass by.
FAQ on Great Lake Freigher Viewing
Where can I see the Great Lakes ships?
Visit popular viewing spots like the Soo Locks in Sault Ste to see Great Lakes ships. Marie, Michigan; Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge and Canal Park in Minnesota; Two Harbors Lighthouse in Minnesota; and the waterfront areas in Port Huron and St. Clair, Michigan. Other excellent locations include Cleveland’s Whiskey Island and Voinovich Park in Ohio; Detroit’s Riverwalk in Michigan; the Welland Canal’s Lock 3 Viewing Centre in Ontario; Point Edward’s waterfront in Ontario; and Kingston’s waterfront parks in Ontario. Remember that shipping schedules and traffic may vary depending on the time of year and weather conditions.
Where can I watch the ships in Port Huron?
In Port Huron, Michigan, you can watch ships along the St. Clair River at locations such as the Blue Water Bridge, Thomas Edison Parkway, Pine Grove Park, and Vantage Point Maritime Center. Each of these spots provides excellent views of passing vessels, with the Maritime Center also offering a riverwalk, viewing platform, maritime museum, café, and gift shop. Shipping schedules and traffic may vary depending on the time of year and weather conditions, so bring binoculars and enjoy observing the ships in Port Huron.
Why are there no container ships on the Great Lakes?
Container shipping on the Great Lakes is limited due to factors such as infrastructure limitations, size restrictions imposed by the St. Lawrence Seaway, competition from rail and trucking, a regional focus on bulk cargo, and seasonal navigation restrictions caused by winter ice cover. While there is some container shipping in the region, the existing ports and vessels are primarily designed for bulk cargo transportation. Expanding container services on the Great Lakes would require significant investments in infrastructure and the development of more efficient shipping routes.
Related Great Lakes Freighters Watching Reading
Great Lakes Ship Building in the 1800s – The greatest Great Lakes shipbuilding in the Great Lakes region was during the lumbering era. From 1839 until the early 1890s, the virgin old-growth Michigan forests were cut down to produce lumber for growing towns and cities in the lower Great Lakes. Michigan was the nation’s leading lumber producer from 1869 until about 1900.
The Huron Lightship – Lightships are floating lighthouses that could be anchored on the lakes where it was too deep or impossible to build lighthouses. Lightships displayed a light at the top of a mast, and it sounded a signal in foggy conditions. Locals called the Huron “Old B.O.” because of the pretty, unique sound, the fog horn made.
Fort Gratiot Lightstation – The area just to the north of Port Huron has a rich history. Noted as a strategic chokepoint, the mouth St. Clair River was the gateway to the northern lakes and the rich fur and lumber trade. Shipping on the Great Lakes increased in the 1820s and Congress recognized the need for a navigational aid at the mouth of the St. Clair River. This is how Fort Gratiot Mi Lighthouse was established.
11 Lake Erie Webcams – Best Views From All Around the Lake – For those unable to visit in person or simply seeking a glimpse of the lake from the comfort of their homes, webcams provide an excellent way to experience the breathtaking views and monitor local conditions.
Great Lakes Cruising History – Luxurious Times – Recently several cruise ships have announced routes and stops throughout the Great Lakes region. Currently, there are three cruise lines that cover the Great Lakes. Victory Cruise Lines, Great Lakes Cruise Company, and Blount Small Ship Adventures. The Great Lakes Cruise Company has four ships that cover a wide range of ports and destinations.