Every so often, Lake Superior manages to freeze over hard enough for people to trek out onto the lake itself and walk over to the Apostle Islands. The islands, which are normally only accessible by boat, have a fantastic cave system that, in winter, creates incredible ice stalactites that would definitely poke your eye out if given the chance! This year is the first time they’ve been accessible by foot since 2009, and since winter is still cold in Northern Wisconsin, a visit to Bayfield and the ice caves before spring sets in could be the perfect weekend trip for an unusual tourist attraction!
Imagine an Arctic Landscape Within the Lower 48…
It’s about a one mile hike out over the ice to get to the Apostle Islands. Because it is lake ice, the conditions are always a little dangerous, even when Northern Wisconsin whether is at its cold and blustery finest! Beginning at Meyers Beach, you’re hiking out to an extensive cave system that is over 2 miles in length. The terrain can be quite uneven, so be sure to bring a comfortable set of boots and plenty of layers so that you can put them on or take them off as needed!
Keep in mind that there are no facilities available for this hike once it has begun. You may wish to take overland gear with you as well if you expect to spend a lot of time exploring the ice caves. For many people, the average trip will take about 3 hours to hike out, hike back, and explore the caves.
The Great Lakes are 95% Frozen This Year!
Nearly 35,000 people have taken this journey since the parks service called the journey a “low risk” endeavor back in January. According to various news reports, rangers have never seen the ice caves so popular, but that’s likely because of the massive polar vortex that covered most of the nation in an icy blanket not once, but twice this winter. Because of the massive cold and accompanying precipitation that the vortex brought, 2014 is one of the most impressive years for formations in the ice caves that has ever been seen.
Because the ice caves are part of a National Lakeshore, there are rangers available for emergencies, but no set hours where a visit must take place. Officials recommend daytime trips to the ice caves because of the dangers that the night can present, such as the bitter cold, but night adventures can happen. Best of all, you can bring your dog with you on the trip… but you can’t climb on the ice!
And don’t worry if you hear something that sounds like a shotgun blast while you’re out there on the lake. It’s not hunters… it’s the ice shifting underneath your feet! With over 2 feet of ice covering the lake right now, your worries aren’t going to be about falling into the lake. It’ll be that you’ve got enough time to explore all of the magnificent ice formations at the Apostle Islands!
How Do You Visit the Ice Caves?
A weekend trip is the best way to make a trip to the ice caves happen. The closest town is Bayfield and motel rooms book up fast in this small Northern Wisconsin town. You may wish to consider staying an hour or two away from Bayfield to maximize your opportunities to find room and board.
Visiting on the weekends can sometimes be difficult because of the popularity of the ice caves right now. Parking is free, but limited. For $2, you can access a shuttle that will take you there and pick you up at pre-scheduled times. For more information about getting there or accessing the shuttle, you can visit Bayfield’s website about the ice caves.
One thing is for certain… this is an adventure you’re not going to want to miss!