Journey To Lake Superior Ice Caves

Contributor Pam Wright journeyed to the Apostle Islands National Lake Shore on Lake Superior last week. Her images capture the frozen beauty of the shore near Cornucopia, Wis., where towering falls and thick, starkly clear lake ice create an otherworldly environment each winter.

Said Wright of the experience: “My kids and I took the trip to the Apostle Islands Lakeshore Ice Caves. The topography along the shoreline is dramatic — towering pillars, cliffs, and arches of red sandstone. There are stacks of red, yellow and greenish ice clinging to the cliffs and icefalls cascading to the lake.”

The caves vary in size and boast stalactite icicles that come in many shapes and sizes. They are found about 1 mile from the Meyers Beach Rd. trailhead, but don’t underestimate the trek — it can be a rigorous walk.

You may get battered by northerly winds and sup-zero temps. Some places require a bit of scrambling over ice shards. There is no quick way of rescue should you need it, so be prepared for harsh winter conditions if you go.

“I still shake my head at the folks headed out their in jeans, a baseball cap with their teacup dog,” Wright said. “Part of the reason I took my kids this year was the weather — the temps were forecasted to be in the 20s and the winds around 7mph. We put on all our layers, packed a daypack with plenty of hot cocoa, water, snacks, chemical hand warmers, and a small first aid kit.”

Last year, the Apostle Islands National Lake Shore caves saw more than 10,000 people on the weekends. This year has proven to be almost as popular. Wright wanted to avoid all of that, and so she visited on a weekday.

Still, she wrote, “on Monday morning we arrived at the main parking lot off Meyers Beach Road at sunrise there were probably two dozen cars in the lot already. After putting on some Yaktrax and giving everyone a trekking pole, we headed out.”

It took Wright and crew 30 minutes to get to the main set of caves, stopping to take pictures of ice formations along the way. The caves string out along a three-mile route, a rigorous six mile round-trip over snow and ice.

There are key rock features that stand out along the way, with creative names like key hole, garage, and crevasse. There are all sorts of fantastical ice features to climb on, through or into — some of the caves are large and cavernous while some fit just a small child.

“Using headlamps, my kids were able to crawl from one cave inlet to another outlet,” Wright reported. “The best kind of playground! Not only were the caves interesting, but Lake Superior itself was incredible — a double bonus. There was little snow on the surface. We were treated to all sorts of crazy ice formations, bubbles, colors and transparency. In places we could see 10 to 20 feet down to the bottom.”

At one point, Wright noted, the park rangers were out on the ice checking the depth, which they do often. They saw one person headed out to the caves on ice skates.

“Last year, the ice formations throughout the caves were a bit more spectacular, but it’s hard not to appreciate the place regardless, with all of the dramatic scenery,” she said.

The Ice Caves of the Apostle Islands National Lake Shore are worth the trip when Superior freezes over — a phenomenon that doesn’t happen every year. Before last year, the last travel-safe ice to the caves was in 2009.

—See more on the Apostle Islands National Lake Shore.

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