The Amazing Ice Caves of Lake Superior - Getting There and What to Know

This winter has been one of the coldest in recent memory, keeping many cooped up inside for far too long. While a lot of you are undoubtedly waiting for spring to arrive, there is one huge positive that has come out of the long, cold days and nights. That, of course, is the opening of the ice caves in northern Wisconsin near Bayfield and the Apostle Islands. This is a rare spectacle that hasn't occurred for the past 5 years, and is suddenly becoming a major tourist draw. In years past, the caves would draw a few hundred visitors each year that they were actually open. This year, however, close to 20,000 people made the pilgrimage out to the islands over just a single weekend! The popularity of these wonders of nature is spreading like wildfire thanks to social media and even national news attention. If you want to see more, you can check out my photo album here.
View of the sun glowing inside an ice cave. Photo by Adam Smith

If you are looking for a day of adventure, I couldn't recommend visiting the ice caves more highly. 

Getting there
 For Wisconsinites, getting to the caves is as easy as getting into your car for a few hours and driving on Highway 13 towards Bayfield. When you get close, you'll know it. You are looking for Meyers Beach Road, but there are National Park Service people everywhere directing traffic and, yes, the traffic can be insane so be prepared to park a long, long ways away. There have been vehicles parked over a 7 mile stretch of Highway 13, so if you are able to actually park your vehicle in the park itself, consider yourself lucky. If you don't feel like dealing with parking (and on weekends I wouldn't blame you) the nearby town of Cornucopia (about 5 miles away) has started running shuttles to the area where you can start the hike for just a couple of bucks each way. It leaves from Elher's general store in Cornucopia throughout basically the whole day (last one ran about 6pm when I was there, schedule may change on weekdays as well).

If you are flying in, the Duluth/Superior area is the closest metro area with a decent airport service. Renting a car from there and driving to the caves shouldn't take more than 90 minutes on a good weather day.
Photo by Adam Smith

What to bring
It can get cold with the wind blowing on the open lake, so dress warm. If you're adventurous, you will be crawling and sliding around in little caves as well, so a pair of snowpants will not be a bad idea - especially if you end up wiping out on the ice, which I witnessed repeatedly throughout the afternoon. My biggest problem was finding a way to keep my hand warm while shooting endless amounts of photos! If you bring kids, they will have a great time but I'd bring a sled to pull them around because the walk can get rather long. 

Photo by Adam Smith
What to know
Speaking of the walk, be prepared to walk slightly over 1 mile from the Meyers Beach entrance where you take some stairs down towards the lake and turn off to the right towards the ice caves. Once you get to the first caves, your journey has only begun. The cave system itself stretches for over 2 miles from that point, so don't spend too much time in one spot, no matter how spectacular it is. Believe me, the further you go, the better it gets. There are some sights a mile or so into the caves that you truly do not want to miss.

Photo by Adam Smith

I'd recommend these caves to anyone, and if you have any interest at all in seeing them - do it soon. There is no guarantee as to how long they will remain open this year as it is entirely dependent on the weather. I'd assume that one should be able to visit most of them for at least another 5-6 weeks, but weather is crazy and you just never know. This place is a photographer's dream and is one of the most special sights I've seen in the entire Midwest of the USA - go check em' out while you have a chance.

If you have a question or comment, let me know in the section below.

Photo by Adam Smith

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