Mainland Ice Caves

Ice formations frame an opening in a rocky cliff near a frozen lake surface.
2014 Ice Caves

The mainland ice caves have developed quite a reputation over the years as a "bucket list" winter activity. The unique beauty and temporal nature of these ice formations serves to make the event all the more memorable and desirable.

An ice caves event is dependent on a number of factors. There is still a LOT of open water on Lake Superior. Everything has to be just right to create a good ice surface in front of the mainland sea caves. Cold is super important, cause obviously that makes ice. But wind is a major component as well. Due to the caves position on the northwest side of the peninsula with a lot of open water in front of them (all the way to the North Shore of MN), the right winds can wreak havoc on ice formation. In the past, we've seen good ice start to build up and then disappear overnight, due to a strong north wind and the waves it can create.

The ice caves are beautiful, and rest assured, we're excited about the possibility of them becoming accessible. Please keep reading to learn more about the ice caves, conditions, safety, and frequently asked questions.


Know Before You Go

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. Lake ice is unpredictable, so 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 in a matter of hours, and make it 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 (In the event any of these conditions change, the ice caves may be deemed unsafe and closed):

  • 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.

Please Note: By the time we declare the caves accessible to the public, the surface of the frozen lake must also allow a reasonable route of access by rescue vehicles/teams to caves. This is just as critical as having safe thicknesses and locked in ice.


Sea (Ice) Caves Camera

Sea Caves Watch features real-time images of conditions at the Mainland Sea Caves, and tracks wind and wave height during the summer. During the winter, storms and spray from waves can coat the camera lens, making it impossible to see. Park staff try to get out regularly to clear it off, but because it's located in a more remote area, it can be difficult to get to immediately.

Sunny day with a person walking in front of icy cliffs with more people in the distance on the ice.
Mainland Sea Caves - Winter Conditions 2014 - Looking North

NPS Photo/Julie Van Stappen

Planning 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 are 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. During an ice cave event the fee is $5 per person. 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.

Hole in sandstone cliffs with green water in the foreground and distant trees across the water seen through the hole.
Mainland Sea Caves - Keyhole

NPS photo/M. Sweger

More About Sea Caves

Centuries of wave action, freezing, and thawing sculpted shorelines throughout Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, giving us some of the Great Lakes' most spectacular scenery. Learn more about the sea caves of the Apostle Islands.

Last updated: January 30, 2023

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Bayfield, WI 54814


715 779-3397

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