Mainland Sea Caves - Ice Caves
Millions of years ago huge rivers deposited layers of sand that cemented into sandstone. Thousands of years ago glaciers sculpted the sandstone into amazing cliffs towering over Lake Superior. Today, if we're lucky the weather will stay cold enough to form ice so that we can hike out and see it all.
The ice caves are located at the western end of the Mainland Unit of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in far northern Bayfield County. There is a parking area and stairs to the beach/ice at the end of Meyers Road. The turn-off for Meyers Road is 18 miles west of Bayfield and 4 miles east of Cornucopia along Highway 13. The GPS address is: 90500 Meyers Road. See map below.
We want to provide you all with the most current status regarding ice cave accessibility. This becomes a little tricky when using the internet as sometimes servers crash or updates stall the most current versions of this page. There are a couple ways we have mitigated this dilemma:
Note: The ice caves are closed.
This is a year of a strong El Nino. We have seen much warmer than average temperatures this fall/early winter and NOAA predicts this trend to continue into early 2016. This doesn't mean that the Ice Caves won't be accessible this winter, but it's less likely than the last two years. Regardless, the Apostle Islands area is a wonderful place to visit in the winter. For current events in the area, go to: http://bayfield.org/
Bicycles are not permitted in Apostle Island National Lakeshore off of established roads. They are not permitted on the ice near the caves.
The Sea Caves Watch website features real-time images of conditions at the Mainland Sea Caves. Check this before you go out to see real time conditions.
Follow this link to find current weather conditions at the Mainland Sea Caves before you head out. Is it too cold to be out for at least three hours? Are the wind chill predictions too cold for you and your family? Find out here.
National Weather Service
Some things to think about before you head out on the ice:
Visiting the caves in winter requires at least a 2 mile hike (round trip) on the ice of Lake Superior. Travel on Lake Superior can be dangerous any time of the year. Traveling across the ice demands extra attention to personal safety. Because of the unpredictability of lake ice, traveling across it is never completely safe. Before heading out, visitors must understand all of the risks involved, and the physical demands required for hiking out to the caves.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore staff checks the ice and monitors the weather to determine when the Mainland Caves are accessible. NPS is not, however, able to check every day. Cold temperatures can form thick ice, but wind and waves can break up that ice and make it very unstable. Low Risk ice conditions allow the area to be deemed accessible to visitors. ALL of the following conditions must be met for ice to be considered Low Risk:
- Ice thickness along the entire route is known by NPS staff and is greater than 10" for higher quality ice or greater than 12" for lower quality ice.
- No reported "through-ice" incidents have occurred in the area within the past week.
- Area has been checked in the last week by NPS staff and no changes have been reported.
- Ice is locked between established geographical points of land (i.e. Meyer's Beach to Eagle Island).
- No major weather events have occurred that could have compromised ice stability.
The conditions at the caves can change in less time than it takes to walk there. The Ice Line will be updated when low risk ice conditions allow access. Until then, ice travel is too dangerous to reliably say that the caves are accessible. The Ice Line will have the most current information that NPS knows of. It can be reached at (715) 779-3397 extension 3.
Photo by Julie Van Stappen, NPS
Critical points to assist planning for your hike:
- Be sure to dress appropriately for the conditions.
- Wear layers so that when you heat up from the hike, you can remove a layer. When you get colder you can add those layers back on.
- Wear supportive winter boots. The hike from the bottom of the stairs at Meyers Beach to the first point of the caves is 1.1 miles away. The hike will take you over very uneven terrain, posing the potential for injury.
- Wearing crampon type products made for walking on ice will help you stay on your feet. Ski poles are also helpful since footing can be uneven and difficult.
- Take a backpack along with some food and a thermos with a warm drink. Be sure to take along some water so that you don’t get dehydrated as well.
- Take a first-aid kit in case of emergency.
- Let someone know your plans to hike out to the caves and check the weather before you head out.
- Take ice-picks and know how to use them. Please pack out whatever you pack in.
- Take along a cell phone to communicate in case of emergency. It is very difficult to connect a call from the caves, however, if you do make an emergency 911 cell phone call, be sure to let the dispatcher know exactly where you are. Sometimes cell calls are picked up by towers across the lake in Minnesota.
- Pets are better left at home unless you are prepared to completely clean up after their waste and keep them on a leash. National Park Service laws and regulations will be actively enforced at the caves. These regulations include cleaning up pet waste and keeping them on a leash.
- Meyers Beach is a Recreational Fee area. Please pay your fee before heading out on the ice or trail. Please use the west side of Meyers Road for overflow parking. Traffic cones will be placed in the parking lot to block off areas for emergency vehicles.
- The ice formations at the sea caves are beautiful, but they are very large chunks of heavy ice. They can fall at anytime so try not to spend much time underneath them. Keep in mind that what you enjoy about the spectacular formations at the caves is also what other people enjoy. Please do not damage the ice or break off the pieces.
- Snowmobiling and ATV use is not permitted within ¼ mile of the mainland from Saxine Creek to Sand Point.