When I learned that Lake Superior had frozen over enough this winter for people to walk to the ice caves along Wisconsin’s northern coast, Brandon and I recruited a crew of friends to make the journey. On Sunday, after attending the American Birkebeiner festivities in Hayward, we packed up and headed north to Bayfield on state highway 13 and through Red Cliff until we reached the lake access point known as “Meyers Beach” just up the shore from Cornucopia.
Most winters the park remains open, but the caves are not navigable without a thick layer of ice. But this year, frigid temperatures gripping the Midwest have turned Lake Superior into flat, ice-covered frozen tundra only to be seen a couple of times in the past two decades. Since earlier this winter, when waves crashed and froze along the sandstone cliffs, tens of thousands of visitors have flocked to see the fantastic icicle formations.
Most people travel by car, but with modest parking accommodations, many visitors are walking for miles along the state highway just to reach the trailhead. Some even travel to the caves by cross-country skis or snowshoes, and parents tote bundled children in toboggan sleds.
The hike from the trailhead is about one mile to the caves, and the walking trail can consist anywhere from packed down snow to soft, deep snow mixed in with an uneven terrain of ice boulders, cracks, rolling mounds and slippery ice slides. A very fun hike if you are dressed for the occasion !
As you begin to approach the ice formations, it almost feels as though you are making your way through an art gallery, each exhibit as unique as the next. Intricate and spectacular, dangling like chandeliers, some almost alien-like, others embodying shrines for royalty, I caught myself wondering — what concept was the artist going for in this piece?
It’s a humbling experience to stand before these massive ice formations, taking in what this lake is truly capable of.
You could spend hours exploring the frozen landscape, shimmying around on your stomach from one crystal cove to the next, each filled with delicate, feathered icicles dangling inside.
The last time the caves were safely accessible was in 2009—and this year’s ice layer, though thick, could quickly disappear. I encourage everyone to go explore them while you still can — this dazzling shoreline may only be navigable for another few weeks !
>> Ice Cave Adventure Tips <<
Pictures don’t do these spectacular wonders justice. Make the trek — GO see them !
Shuttle buses are being offered, more info here.
There is a $3 fee to park in the parking lot (approximately 50 spaces).
Restrooms are available in the parking area.
Keep furry friends on a leash.
Go during the week (less busy) and on a sunny day, if possible ☼
Dress appropriately! Warm comfortable boots, snow pants, down winter jacket, extra layers, hats, scarves, gloves and something to keep your face protected from wind.
Before making the trip, call for the latest ice condition report. We visited right after a massive snow storm that forced officials to closed the park temporarily until the trailhead was accessible again. And depending on winds, currents and temperatures, safe ice conditions can deteriorate at any given time. Call the Apostle Island ice line before you go, the report will tell you everything you need to know >> 715-779-3398 (ext. 3)
If you simply cannot make the journey to see the ice caves in person, please enjoy this lovely video slideshow created by my talented mother =)
Video created by >> “A Ricci Studio” Web Design & Management