Apostle Islands Ice Caves: A Winter Wonderland

I started complaining about the cold Minnesota temperatures back in November, which seems silly now that we’ve gone from cold to down-right frigid!

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

Island Boy and I spent Christmas in New York City, where it was an average of 50°F, so the 45 degree swing in just a few hours was a bit shocking. I’ve started to settle in again though (and by settle in, I mean only leave the house for necessities), and I hear there are even some above-freezing days on the horizon! Ok, so why all this cold weather talk? Well, adventure seekers here in the Midwest have a very specific reason to hope that it stays below-freezing a while longer—so we can experience the natural wonders that are the Apostle Islands Ice Caves!

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

In northwestern Wisconsin (about 18 miles west of Bayfield), there’s a place called the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, where the mainland meets Lake Superior, and that Great Lake stretches for as far as your eye can see and then some. You may have heard of the Apostle Islands (often called the “Jewels of Lake Superior”) as a popular summer destination for sailing, hiking, fishing, camping and especially kayaking, but what you may not know is that in the late winter when the conditions are right, a 2-mile stretch of the shore near Meyers Beach morphs into a series of breathtakingly beautiful ice chambers that you can walk right out onto the lake to enjoy! Kashmir and I first heard about the caves last year when they became accessible for the first time since 2009, and we were fortunate enough to visit them before they closed for the season—we even brought our pup {Haley} along for the adventure!

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

After being closed for 5 years (previous winters saw warm temps and/or high winds), the caves saw a record-breaking 138, 000+ visitors in 2014…but even with tons of other people around, it’s a very peaceful place where you can easily tune everyone out and just take in the natural landscapes. One of the first points of interest along the trek out to the caves is a series of frozen waves—I find it mind-blowing to see how water can freeze mid-movement like that. There are frozen waterfalls that create columns of ice extending from the tip of the red stone cliffs to the lake below. Some of the chambers remind me of underground caverns full of stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones, only here they’re made out of ice and you can experience the added beauty of the sun shining on (and even through) some of the formations. The ice changes each day, and can also include various crystals, curtains or even small caves you can crawl through. The pictures may be awesome, but you truly have to experience it in person to understand just how “cool” it is. My 2014 was filled with many outdoor excursions, and honestly…the beauty that Mother Nature bestows upon us never ceases to amaze me. The Apostle Islands Ice Caves are no exception. Believe me when I tell you—they are bucket list worthy!!

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

**Unfortunately the caves are not open for 2016. Thanks to El Nino, the area has experienced much warmer than average winter temperatures, and consequently the lake did not freeze over. Although the Ice Caves are not accessible, you can still venture out on top of the lakeshore and view some of them from above. For more info, visit the National Park Service website or the Apostle Islands Facebook page and call the automated Apostle Islands Ice Line at 715-779-3397 (extension 3) for current ice conditions at the caves, as they will continue to be monitored. The caves were previously free to visit, but as of 2015, there is a charge of $5/ person (age 16+) to cover the costs of ice monitoring and increased staffing required for the growing number of visitors. As always, there is a $3 parking fee at Meyers Beach.

Apostle Islands Ice Caves

If you plan to visit the ice caves, here are my tips for a safe + enjoyable experience:

❄ To avoid the crowds, visit during the week if you can.
❄ For best parking availability, arrive early in the day and carpool. (If you have to park out on the county road, it could add 1-3 miles to your hike.) A shuttle from Cornucopia may be available on weekends and could shorten your walk considerably during busy times ($2 each way, no pets).
❄ Dress warm–Wear something to shield your face from the wind, which can be fierce at times. Dress in layers, as you may get warm after hiking and might get cold later.
❄ Wear comfortable waterproof boots with good tread. (Ice spikes and/or ski poles will be helpful in 2015.)
❄ Bring a day pack with water, snacks and perhaps a thermos with a soup or beverage to warm you up if you get cold.
❄ Allow plenty of time to hike and enjoy the caves (I recommend 3-4 hours), and check what time the sun sets so you don’t get stuck out there in the dark.
❄ If you plan to bring your dog, be sure they wear boots if their paws tend to get cold, or bring a backpack/sled they can be carried in if they are small, and consider a jacket/sweater as well.
❄ Be sure to use the restroom at the Meyers Beach parking lot, as there are no facilities after venturing onto the lake.
❄ Keep an eye out for newly formed cracks and falling rock and ice.
❄ This is a no-brainer, but BRING A CAMERA!! You will want to capture your experience!

Have you been to the ice caves or have a question about them? Do you know of any other cool frozen natural wonders? Leave a comment below!

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2 Comments


  1. These are beautiful! My husband an I have been in Wisconsin for about a year and we MUST make it up to the islands soon.

    Reply

    1. Thanks Beverly, and YES you should!! It’s a pretty spectacular place. Kash + I are hoping to make it up there to go kayaking yet this summer!

      Reply

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