By Conor Mihell
Crank the Shield is a 3-day mountain biking event held in the Algoma Highlands just north of Sault Ste. Marie. With the city having some of the best mountain bike trails in Ontario, bringing the race back is in 2022 is a perfect fit for the community. Registration for this year’s event, being held from July 29-31, is now open. Sault Tourism spoke to event organizer Sean Ruppel about this year’s installment.
In the three years that have passed since the last installment of the Crank the Shield mountain bike stage race, organizer Sean Ruppel has had plenty of time to reflect on what makes this three-day event so special to him. “It’s always been about the type of riding,” says Ruppel, the Muskoka-based owner of Superfly Racing. “It’s all about backcountry adventure riding, out in the wilderness with real mountains and pristine rivers. There’s no better mountain biking anywhere else in the province.”
The long, pandemic-caused wait for the next Crank the Shield event has built up a lot of enthusiasm in Ruppel and race participants. Ruppel’s business plans, coordinates and hosts adventure races across Ontario. In the inaugural, 2018 Sault Ste. Marie event, Ruppel felt like he was sharing a secret treasure with the broader mountain biking community. Ruppel envisioned an epic 230-km route on many of the rugged Algoma trails he had been exploring all his life from a family cottage on Lake Superior. “Make no mistake—this is as ‘real’ as mountain biking gets!” he wrote in the race prospectus.
Ruppel’s mission was accomplished: 180 participants were awestruck (and seriously exhausted) by the expansiveness of the terrain, which included grinding climbs to some of Ontario’s highest peaks, obscure logging roads, multiple river crossings, and swooping single-track. Crank the Shield starts with a wilderness train ride aboard the famous Agawa Canyon Tour Train, and includes overnight stops at Stokely Creek Lodge and Searchmont Resort before wrapping up in Sault Ste. Marie’s Hiawatha Highlands. The 2019 sequel only added fuel to the fire. “It’s like suddenly mountain bikers from elsewhere in Ontario were aware of how epic the off-road riding is up here,” Ruppel notes. “People were starting to look north.”
Then, of course, came all the confusion and uncertainty of Covid-19, which put Crank the Shield on pause. Now, as pandemic restrictions are lifted, Ruppel is equal parts thrilled and refreshed to return to organizing the event July 29 to 31, 2022. Besides the personal pleasure of returning to his own favourite landscape of Canadian Shield mountains, wild rivers and labyrinthine trails, Ruppel believes lockdowns revealed the sense of freedom and great adventures available in Northern Ontario. “So many people have had an awakening,” he says. At the same time, Sault Ste. Marie made huge investments in mountain biking trail infrastructure, expanding the network of single-track at Hiawatha Highlands and investing in new machine-built flow trails for riders of all levels. “The Soo has always been super welcoming and friendly,” Ruppel notes, “but now it’s an even cooler vibe. The city has embraced cycling and the local community of riders is growing rapidly.”
Ottawa-based cyclist Rob Parniak was pushed to his limits by previous installments of Crank the Shield. “The route was harder than I expected,” recalls Parniak. “The first stage with rough trails, river crossings and lots of climbing was one of the most challenging days I’ve ever spent on a bicycle. Getting through it felt like a commendable accomplishment.”
For Parniak, a Sault Ste. Marie native, Crank the Shield was a reunion. He always recognized the city’s outdoor potential, and was blown away when it was put on full display. “I see a sort of scrappy pride in a lot of Sault people of my generation,” says Parniak. “It’s as if they’re determined to defy the stereotypes. They’re creating their own happiness by building their own place. The cycling scene–the bike shops, the trails, the club, this race–are tangible examples.”
Ruppel says the 2022 Crank the Shield race, (July 29-31) will fall back on what made it so successful and impactful in the past, including great hospitality at Stokely Creek and Searchmont and a vibrant after-party at the Bushplane Museum on the waterfront in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. But mostly, Ruppel insists Crank the Shield is all about the riding. “It’s a niche event,” he says. “You have to be a serious off-road rider to take on three days of this type of distance in this kind of terrain.”
Tweaks to the route bring the cumulative three-day distance to 200 km. Upgrades include: an optional climb to the summit of Batchewana Mountain, capped at 20 participants, for those seeking a high-adventure, quad-pumping climb to Algoma’s highest point that won’t be counted in total race time; improved single- and double-track segments in the Algoma Highlands and Searchmont portions of the race; and a velvety smooth, fast finish on 35-km of purpose-built mountain bike trails at Sault Ste. Marie’s Hiawatha Highlands on day three.
“This event has made such an impact on everyone who has ridden it,” says Ruppel, “and after the few years away, I’m excited to get back at it. This is my opus, my dream race. I can’t wait to provide riders with an introduction to my favourite place on earth.”
By Sault Tourism
Sault Ste. Marie has some of the best sandy beaches in Ontario. Our beaches are incredible! All around our city you’ll find perfectly beautiful, long sandy beaches with crystal clear water that are perfect for a swim, a play in the sand or just to relax and soak up the sun. Great beaches are just one reason Sault Ste. Marie is the perfect place for a summer vacation.
Click here to check out 6 of the best sandy beaches in Ontario, all just a short drive from Sault Ste. Marie.
Sault Ste. Marie is the best destination for mountain biking in Ontario. Discover trails for every age, ability or style from jump and flow trails to enduro-style trails carved out of the Canadian Shield. Come and see why Sault Ste. Marie is being called Ontario’s new bike town.
Visit the Hiawatha Highlands, with over 40km of trails including 12km of newly built world-class trails — just a short ride from downtown. If you’re looking for more adrenaline, head to Bellevue Valley, where a 5km trail drops 200m into a beautiful valley of lush maple trees. Visit out new Mountain Bike page for more info.
The Edmund Fitzgerald lookout trail, in Pancake Bay Provincial Park, is the perfect day trip activity from Sault Ste. Marie, and the perfect way to experience Lake Superior.
Just an hour north of the city, it’s one of best lookout hikes in all of Ontario. A beautiful woodland walk through towering maple trees leads you to spectacular views of Lake Superior, as far out as the resting position of the Edmund Fitzgerald ship.
Traditionally known as Bawating (“the place of the rapids”), Sault Ste. Marie is a place of cultural importance. Follow this long weekend itinerary to experience and learn about Anishinaabe culture in our city.
New to 2022, Thrive Tours will be offering a ‘Learn to Powwow‘ tour; a guided experience of vibrant celebrations of Indigenous life. Or if you are visiting in June, experience the Summer Moon Festival featuring real-time creation of large-scale public art.
Visit our Indigenous Tourism page for more info.
The Agawa Canyon Tour Train is one of north America’s iconic train rides and a Destination Canada signature experience. See the boreal forests, rivers, and waterfalls that inspired Canada’s most iconic artists – the Group of Seven, and if traveling in latter part of summer, witness some of the most incredible colours as the maple forests create a stunning palette of reds, oranges and yellows.
This year’s tour season is tentatively planned for Aug. 1 through Oct. 10. More details on pricing and purchasing tickets will be available soon at the Agawa train website.
Stay up to date by visiting our Events page here!
Nestled between Great Lakes Superior and Huron, Sault Ste. Marie is the perfect jumping off point to discover wild rivers, majestic channels, hidden coves, stunning waterfalls and more freshwater lakes than you could ever count. This is what makes us one of Canada’s top outdoor adventure destinations.
Take a tour with Canoes for Conservation, Blaq Bear Eco Adventures, Forest the Canoe and Thrive Tours or do it yourself. Our website will give you all you need to begin your adventure, as well as some Travel Inspiration stories to inspire you!
After a day of adventuring you’ll want to refuel and recharge, and we have some great restaurants serving some fantastic food for any taste. From Syrian Shawarma to spicy Indian, delicious Italian or sizzling steak, the Sault has so many great restaurants.
Whether you’re road-tripping through Northern Ontario or looking for somewhere to get away for the day, Sault Ste. Marie is the perfect place for family adventure! There are so many exciting things to do in Sault Ste. Marie, from biking and boating to eating delicious treats and enjoying local artwork! With all these great places to visit in Sault Ste. Marie (nicknamed “the Soo”), this will be a day that everyone in the family will love!
Start your day off with some coffee from The Machine Shop and then head over to the Soo Canal. When the lock was built here in 1895, it was the longest in all of Canada. Today, pleasure watercraft are transported up and down the river through the lock to bypass the St. Marys River Rapids. Here you can enjoy watching the boats lock through as you walk along the canal.
Next, grab your bicycles and get ready to explore the Sault Ste. Marie waterfront. Bikes can be rented at the canal or from the Roberta Bonda marina in town during summer months.
Take one of the bridges across the canal lock gates to get over to Whitefish Island. Bike or hike along trails and boardwalks as you take in views of the rapids along St. Marys River. You can learn about the island’s culture and history by reading the information signs along the trail. Make sure you also keep a lookout for the fairy doors painted around the island!
The main loop will take a family with young kids around 45 minutes to complete by bike or an hour hiking. Side trails are available if you want to extend your adventure – like going under the international bridge! There are plenty of trail maps to keep you on track.
After exploring Whitefish Island, you can continue your bike ride or stroll along the John Rowswell Hub trail. This beautiful trail & boardwalk provides you with amazing views of the St. Marys River as you pass significant landmarks along the waterfront. Stop to eat a sweet treat at BeaverTails located right on the boardwalk and enjoy the lively atmosphere.
The whole loop is 22.5km and a great ride for the adventurous family, but equally, you can divide and conquer smaller sections too. The Fort Creek section is a beautiful 6km there-and-back trail with three awesome bridges that take you high over the ravine below. Parking is available at the south end.
Next, head into town to get some lunch or continue along the Hub Trail to Bellevue Park to enjoy a picnic. With 7 separate playground structures, Bellevue Park is a kid’s dream come true. Along with its impressive playgrounds, the park also includes a splash pad, beautiful paths along the waterfront and picnic areas.
Now it’s time to experience Sault Ste. Marie from the St. Marys River! You can launch your canoe or kayaks from the accessible boat launch located at Bellevue Marina, making it easy for you to get in the water and explore the river. Don’t have your own boat? No problem! Canoes and kayaks can be rented from the Waterfront Adventure Centre or from Thrive Tours who operate from the same building.
After enjoying your time on the water, head downtown to see the incredible mural artwork around Sault Ste. Marie. These murals have been painted by local and visiting artists, adding vibrant character to the city! If you are visiting during the month of June, you can watch new murals being painted as part of the Summer Moon Festival.
While you’re downtown, be sure to stop by Elliot’s Ice Cream for a treat that not only tastes delicious but also looks like a work of art!
Crystal Falls is located in Kinsmen Park at the North edge of Sault Ste. Marie. The falls are a short walk from the parking lot and can be accessed by walking along a wooden boardwalk. The amazing views keep coming as you walk up a series of steps to viewing platforms and experience the many layers of this waterfall.
If you have time, you can continue your hike along some of the many great trails nearby into the Hiawatha Highlands and the Voyageur trail system.
Now it’s time to relax while eating supper at one of the many delicious restaurants in town. Finish off your day by watching the sunset over the St. Marys River and then get some well deserved rest at one of Sault Ste. Marie’s hotels.
After such a great day of family fun and activities, the whole family will want to come back and do it all again! Sault Ste. Marie is the perfect place for family adventure.
Say hello to ice-frosted trees and streets, snuggly scarves, puffy jackets and cozy nights in by the fire. The snowy season is nearly here, which means Ontario is about to transform into a winter wonderland.
In Sault Ste. Marie, you can truly embrace the best of the cold weather. Located seven hours north of the GTA by car (or a short plane ride), this action-packed Ontarian town is one of the province’s best destinations for a snowy getaway.
Nestled between Lake Superior and Lake Huron on the banks of St. Marys River, Sault Ste. Marie (affectionately known as “the Soo”) is packed with opportunities to ski, snowboard, skate, snowshoe and even surf (yes!) your way through the winter.
Whether you arrive by plane or by road trip, these nine activities will keep you busy on your adventures through Sault Ste. Marie’s idyllic winter landscape.
By Toronto Life Magazine
Remember how much you loved winter when you were a kid? Eagerly awaiting every snowfall, playing outside in the snow for hours, and then hurrying in for supper — exhausted in the best way — before drifting off into the kind of deep, restful sleep that comes after a carefree day spent outdoors in the fresh air?
What if you could recapture that feeling, and trade slushy, sloppy city streets for pristine picture-perfect snow, boundless nature, and outdoor fun that recharges your spirit and rejuvenates your soul? In Sault Ste. Marie, you can.
A quick flight or scenic drive from Toronto, Sault Ste. Marie is Ontario’s premier winter destination — a nature and recreation paradise on the shores of Lake Superior, where you can savour the season as it should be.
Here are five reasons “the Soo” in Algoma Country makes for a fantastic winter getaway:
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By Sault Tourism
Hiawatha Highlands IS winter. Take the 10-minute drive from downtown Sault Ste. Marie on any winter’s day and discover this for yourself. The parking lot outside the iconic Soo Finnish building will be buzzing with activity; people hurrying to get skis on, unloading fat bikes from trucks, lacing up boots and snowshoes. There will also be an unmistakably buoyant and friendly atmosphere because whatever your chosen activity is, you’re about to experience winter the right way.
The favourite activity at Hiawatha is cross-country or Nordic skiing. Over 50km of professionally groomed trails, for both classic and skate skiing, on three unique systems offers something for all abilities.
The Pinder system has 10km of green and blue trails with just a hint of elevation; perfect to learn those cross-country skills. The beautiful Red Pine system is more of a challenge for those looking for some hills and climbs, and with up to 15km of trails, this system is great for a workout! The third system is the stunning Crystal Creek trail network, which offers a variety of graded trails surrounding the creek and waterfalls. You can choose to ski up to 23km of green, blue and black trails, including the extension to Mabel Lake, making this system a favourite.
If you like night skiing then check out the 2km Kinsmen lit section of the Crystal Creek system, perfect for an evening workout. Hiawatha Highlands also runs lantern ski events at various times of the year. Keep an eye on the website or on social media for details of this beautiful event!
A fun activity and a great way to experience winter is to snowshoe! There is more than 9km of snowshoe trails at Hiawatha that run parallel to the ski trails. The Pinder trails are relatively flat and take you through the beautiful Hiawatha forests. If you are looking for a real winter-workout then head to the Crystal Creek trail for 4km of vigorous ups and downs and heart-pumping exercise!
Check out the ski trail map here or above for more info.
Fat Biking has grown in popularity in the last few years and there is now over 9km of trails at Hiawatha Highlands to enjoy. Trails are located within the Crystal Creek system (within Kinsmen Park) and are keenly maintained by the Sault Cycling Club. For a longer ride, you can choose to head out to Mabel Lake on trails shared with skiers.
Hiawatha Highlands has a cozy clubhouse where you can buy passes, refreshments, or warm up before or after your activity. The clubhouse is also where you can rent skis, poles, boots or snowshoes. Visit the ‘Passes’ page to get all the information on daily and seasonal passes and rental equipment.
By Sault Tourism
Witnessing summer’s deep greens change into an explosion of red, orange and yellow is one of the many perks of living in Ontario. There are plenty of places across the province that are perfect for watching the leaves change, but if you want to experience the season’s vibrancy in new and exciting ways, consider looking north of the GTA.
The region of Sault Ste. Marie (also affectionately known as “the Soo”) is one of Canada’s top five locations for fall foliage, according to Forbes. Think of a place where maple forests turn cozy shades of red, where you can lose yourself in the coast’s orange and yellow splendour, and where the vast multicolour landscape takes your breath away — this is Sault Ste. Marie in the fall.
But the Soo is more than just a pretty face. On top of being a magical spot in autumn, Sault Ste. Marie — which is just a one-hour plane ride or six-hour scenic drive north of the GTA — is one of Ontario’s most exciting outdoor adventure destinations.
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By Sault Tourism
Sault Ste Marie is well-known for its breathtaking beauty during the fall season. Nothing can compare to the vivid colours of the leaves, the numerous trails that can be explored, along with views that will never be forgotten that capture Mother Nature’s true-beauty. From mid-September to mid-October you can find so many ways to enjoy the best of fall in our northern community. In the meantime we have narrowed it down to the top five ways that won’t disappoint!
Come to Sault Ste. Marie and experience Ontario’s awesome fall colours as you’ve never seen them before!
This attraction is a long-time tourist favourite when it comes to seeing the fall colours in its prime. Hop on this day-long journey that starts in our Canal District and travels 114km into the Agawa Canyon; along the way you will be immersed by wilderness and its array of oranges, reds and yellows. Once you reach the Canyon you will get to walk around and explore various trails that will take you to beautiful scenic lookouts and various waterfalls where the Group of Seven once painted some of their iconic paintings. This can’t miss experience will certainly be one for the books!
To escape to this beautiful scenic lookout, you only need to travel about 20 minutes north of the City. This intermediate hike will not only get your blood flowing but will guide you through the colourful brush and trees. A helpful tip is to make sure you dress accordingly and be prepared to be in awe once you reach the top! When you have completed this 5km hike on Ila’s Trail, you will come upon the breathtaking fall scenery of the boreal forest. You will undoubtedly want to make sure you capture this view with a picture, as the vibrant colours will take your breath away!
You don’t have to venture far to experience what Fall is all about in Sault Ste Marie. Located just north of the city you will find bridges and paths in Kinsmen Park that will take you through a network of trails, such as the Crystal Creek System, where you will see Fall in all its perfection. You can also explore and visit Crystal Falls at one end of the park and then follow the trails to Minnehaha Falls at the other end.
Another must-do fall experience, are the Hiawatha Highlands via the Pinder System or Red Pine System, these pristine trails, whether traveled by foot or on wheels, will be certain to take your breath away and will surely have you wanting to catch all of the fall colours on camera.
Take fall in at its best right here in the heart of Sault Ste Marie! The John Roswell Hub Trail is a 22.5km trail that surrounds our beautiful city, with paved paths that you can walk or bike on. One of our favourite parts of the hub trail in the fall specifically, is the Fort Creek section. You can park at the Fort Creek Conservation Area and take the trail through the forest where you will come upon some incredible bridges that overlook the stunning ravine. This simple trail system is nice laid-back one hour walk from the Conversation Area to the Third Line section and back.
This beautiful gem of a spot will surely have you loving fall in all its glory. With beautiful walking/biking trails that take you throughout Bellevue park, and bringing you upon the St. Mary’s River where you will then find Topsail Island . Here you can explore the paved trail around Prince Island and take in the scenic views of the St. Mary’s river and marina. With the paths lined with trees and benches you can truly take in the crisp air and colours that fall has to offer at your leisure.
After a full day of fall colour watching it’s time to relax while eating supper at one of the many delicious restaurants in town. Finish off your day by watching the sunset over the St. Marys River and then get some well deserved rest at one of Sault Ste. Marie’s hotels.
After such a great day of family fun and activities, the whole family will want to come back and do it all again! Sault Ste. Marie is the perfect place to see the fall colours.
One of the perks of living in Ontario is that this beautiful province can be enjoyed all year round. With an abundance of natural beauty and opportunities for adventure, there’s one question every Ontarian has to face — where should my next staycation be?
That being said, current restrictions are keeping us from going farther afield, and anyone itching to escape their surroundings and step into nature is encouraged to stay as close to home as possible. But when we are allowed to freely travel again and explore all Ontario has to offer, you might want to consider looking north.
Sault Ste. Marie (affectionately nicknamed “the Soo”) is the place to go for unforgettable experiences right in your own backyard.
Nestled in between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, the Soo is just an hour by plane from the GTA (or a scenic seven-hour road trip) and has something to offer every adventurer.
From camping and fishing to kayaking, biking and much more, it can be hard to know where to start. Arriving with a convenient three-day itinerary like this one will help you make the most of the Soo for when it’s safe to go exploring once again.
By Tourism Sault Ste. Marie
Looking for a family-friendly bike ride in Sault Ste. Marie? The 22.5-km John Rowswell Hub Trail stretches like a ribbon through the city’s residential neighbourhoods, commercial districts and urban greenspace, with minimal hills and a paved surface for easy bike trips for the family. This non-motorized trail is your gateway to family friendly cycling in Sault Ste. Marie.
Riding the entire Hub Trail is an excellent half-day trip for adventurous families looking to cover some distance. An interactive map is available online to help identify starting points around the city, plan your route and discover all the sights along the way. Or, if you prefer a shorter family cycling tour, focus on these shorter sections of trail. A dedicated website here has maps and info to help you enjoy your day!
Fort Creek is a natural oasis in Sault Ste. Marie, the perfect destination for a family bike ride along a 3-km (one-way) forested path. Access the trailhead on Second Line West, a short drive from The Water Tower Inn. The great Northern Ontario wilderness is closer than you think on this easy ride suitable for all types of bicycles.
You may see herons, eagles, hawks and monarch butterflies along this section of Hub Trail, with the potential of spotting beaver hard at work in wetland areas as well. The trail features two stunning bridges spanning deep valleys cut by meandering streams. Mature trees along the trail provide natural air conditioning on even the hottest days.
The historic Sault Ste. Marie Canal is located a short side trip west of the downtown Hub Trail. Leave your car at the Machine Shop, a great spot for a post-ride coffee and gelato (Italian ice cream). Ride along Canal Drive to the stately sandstone Parks Canada buildings commemorating what was the world’s longest lock when it was built in 1895. Today, the lock is used by recreational boaters travelling between Great Lakes Superior and Huron in the summer months.
It’s easy to spend a half-day at the canal: Sign up for a tour with a Parks Canada interpreter, explore the Visitor Centre, or enjoy Victorian tea at the Superintendent’s Residence. Cycle to the end of the pier, watching for vessels navigating the canal along the way. Or, you can rent a fat bike (adult and youth sizes are available) and explore the easy gravel trails of South St. Marys and Whitefish islands, rolling alongside vast wetlands and beneath the monstrous International Bridge.
Check out the Hub Trail along the downtown waterfront for an easy family-friendly bike ride in Sault Ste. Marie.
The broad river is the centre of attention, with passing freighters and great views of whitewater rapids cascading along the international border. Allow your spirit to fall back in time as you retrace this ancient pilgrimage to Bawating, the community’s Indigenous Anishnaabe namesake meaning “place by the rapids.”
Bring your camera for a pretty sunset bike ride, with dining options along the way (check out Fluid Boardwalk Patio + Grill at the Delta Hotel). Head east away from the muted roar of the St. Marys Rapids and ride 2.6km towards the Historic District along a smooth asphalt path and wooden boardwalk that’s suitable for any type of bicycle. Go past the Clergue Park (near the Sleep Inn on Bay Street), and end up at the iconic Canadian Heritage Bushplane Museum, one of Sault Ste. Marie’s top attractions. A happy day with the family can be spent looking at these iconic planes and exhibitions. Complete your family’s itinerary with a visit to the fascinating Entomic Insectarium too.
Located adjacent to the east end section of the Hub Trail, Bellevue Park is Sault Ste. Marie’s largest park featuring 2.4 km of paved paths. Towering trees and cool breezes off the St. Mary’s River make this 17-ha greenspace a great refuge on hot summer days. Combine a family bike ride with stops at Bellevue Park’s multiple playgrounds, picnic areas and splash pad. Post-ride, Sandro’s Family Restaurant, also located in the city’s east end, is a wonderful place to introduce your kids to tasty and authentic Italian cuisine in a casual dining setting.