Ice Caves FAQs
Updated: November 30, 2018
What is the likelihood that the ice caves will be accessible this year?
For the ice caves to open, we need sub-zero temperatures and calm winds so the surface of Lake Superior can freeze for people to walk across the ice to the caves. In the past, the ice caves have opened in late January or February. It is difficult to predict if the conditions will be right this winter for the ice caves to be accessible. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting El Nino effects this winter, which means warmer than average temperatures for the north-central United States.
What are the ice caves?
There are intricately carved sea caves in cliffs along the Mainland Unit of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. As ice was forming on Lake Superior, waves splashing against the rock began to freeze on the sandstone cliff. In addition, water seeping between sandstone rock layers froze to form a variety of features similar to limestone caves. There are large icicles and formations hanging off of the cliffs, curtains and columns of ice, and abundant ice crystals.
Is the ice safe?
Ice is never considered completely safe. Ice conditions can change rapidly, so keep safety in mind at all times. Temperature, high wind speeds and direction can quickly change ice conditions. Images of the ice conditions at the caves can be found on the sea caves watch website. Satallite imagery of ice cover on Lake Superior can be found on NOAA's CoastWatch-Great Lakes Region website. For current ice information at the caves, call 715-779-3397 ext. 3.
Are there tours of the ice caves?
When the ice caves are open, visitors can explore on their own. There are no authorized tours of the ice caves due to logistical and safety concerns. If you want to explore the sea caves in the summer, there are authorized outfitters who run kayak and boat tours listed on our website.
Is there a fee for visiting the ice caves?
Yes. During the Ice Cave Event, there is a $5/person/day fee for those 16 and older for those visiting the caves, regardless of access point or method. The fee is waived for children under the age of 16. The fee can be paid at the Meyers Beach parking lot, at the end of Mawikwe Road, and at Park Headquarters. Please bring cash. There is also an annual pass available for $10/person. The $10 pass is only available at Park Headquarters in Bayfield (415 Washington Ave.) during the Ice Cave Event. There are no other discounts for this special recreation permit fee. Holders of the Interagency Annual, Access, or Senior passes must still pay the full amount. Outside of the Ice Cave Event, there is a $5/car parking fee at Meyer Beach – this fee is waived during the Ice Cave Event.
Where can I find additional information? Is the Visitor Center open?
Up-to-date information is put on the Park Facebook page, as well as the website. The Bayfield Chamber of Commerce, Bayfield County Tourism, and Cornucopia websites all have additional information about staying in the area and shuttle services to Meyers Beach during the ice caves.
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore's Visitor Center in Bayfield will be open 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. each day while the ice caves are open.
Planning your visit:When should I visit?:
If possible, come during the week – and carpool. The weekends, especially Saturdays, can be extremely busy – cars may be parked more than 2 miles in either direction from Meyers Beach Road, greatly increasing the round-trip distance to the caves. Keep in mind the sun sets early this time of year and you should give yourself 2-3 hours to get out to and enjoy the caves. This time is from the parking lot. Add additional time if you need to park along Meyers Beach Road or Highway 13. If you are a photographer, the most dramatic lighting occurs late in the afternoon on sunny days. The setting sun highlights the colors of the rock and ice. Darkness descends quickly after the sun sets, so allow time to get back to your car while it is still light.
Where are the ice caves?
The ice caves are located at the western end of the Mainland Unit of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in far northern Bayfield County in northwestern Wisconsin. There is a parking area and stairs to the beach/ice at the end of Meyers Beach Road. The turn-off for Meyers Beach Road is 18 miles west of Bayfield and 4 miles east of Cornucopia along Highway 13. The GPS address is: 90500 Meyers Beach Road. The cliffs with the ice caves begin about one mile northeast of the stairs at the end of Meyers Beach Road and extend for about two miles along the shoreline. Eagle Island Rd. does not allow access to the ice caves, even though some GPS’s direct you that way. Access is from Meyers Beach Rd.
How far is it to the ice caves?
From the Meyers Beach parking area, the round-trip distance is 2.5 to 6 miles, depending on how far you walk along the caves. 3.5 miles is typical. Keep in mind that if you need to park along Meyers Beach Road (which is 0.4 miles long) or along Highway 13, your distance will be greater. For example, if you are one mile down Highway 13 from Meyers Beach Rd., that would increase your round-trip distance by nearly 3 miles compared to parking in the Meyers Beach parking area.
Where can I park?
Parking is available within the parking lot at the end of Meyers Beach Road, along the west side of Meyers Beach Road, and along the north side of Highway 13. NOTE: Mawikwe Road has been closed to parking by local governments because it is very narrow and doesn’t allow for two way traffic if cars are parked along the road, however, visitors can walk down Mawikwe Road to access the ice. It is approximately 1.5 miles from Highway 13 to the ice along Mawikwe Road and an additional ½ mile to the ice caves. From the junction of Highway 13 and Meyers Beach Road, it is approximately 0.4 miles to the stairs and ice access and an additional mile to the ice caves.
Is there a shuttle service available?
In past years, there has been a shuttle service. We will provide updates as they are available.
How should I prepare for a visit to the ice caves?
Make sure to bundle up and dress in layers. Take something that will allow you to cover your face – a neck gaiter, balaclava, or scarf. Bring water and a snack. Pay attention to wind chill factor (see chart to the left). The caves are very exposed to wind, especially from the west. Spiked footwear, such as Stabilicers or Yaktrax, is highly recommended. The entire area tends to be very slippery. You may encounter slush or wet areas. Wear waterproof boots with non-skid soles and cleats. Tennis shoes are not recommended.
How long will the ice caves be accessible?
This is hard to predict because it is weather dependent. For current information on the ice cave conditions, call 715-779-3397 ext.3 or visit the park's Facebook page. (https://www.facebook.com/apostleislandsnationallakeshore/)
Should or can I bring skis or snowshoes?
You can bring snowshoes or skis, however, it’s too early to predict whether it will be easier to walk, snowshoe or hike to the caves. Walking with spiked footwear is always recommended.
Are there area where I need to be more cautious?
Are their age restrictions (or recommendations) for people?
There are not, just keep in mind everyone out there needs to be able to endure the cold, slippery conditions and a long hike.
Any advice for bringing children to the ice caves?
Do cell phones work in the area of the caves?
Cell service tends to be very poor at the caves and around the Meyers Beach area.
Are there toilet facilities?
There are only toilets in the Meyers Beach parking lot. They tend to be limited and have long lines. There are no toilets at the caves.
Are there garbage cans?
Yes, in the Meyers Beach parking lot and at the Mawikwe Road/Highway 13 intersection. Please carry out all trash and dispose of it properly. Be considerate of others and do not leave trash in the caves.
Is there a place to change clothes at Meyers Beach?
Is there a place to stay warm or out of the weather at Meyers Beach?
No. There is a small shelter, but it's open on three sides.
Is there food or drinking water available at Meyers Beach?
No. The closest food or water is in Cornucopia, four miles away.
Does the Meyers Beach parking lot close at night?
No, but travel over ice in the dark is not recommended.
Is it safe for a person to go out to the ice caves alone?
The ice is never considered completely safe. If you choose to go out alone, it is recommended that you go when other visitors are present and let others know your plans.
Are there going to be Park Rangers out on the ice?
Rangers are not on the ice on any schedule, but will be out there with school groups, the media, or to take care of serious injuries. The parking area will be staffed on a daily basis to manage the crowds.
Park Regulations (also known as, "Can I...?")Can I bring my dog?
Yes, but it is not recommended. Dogs must be kept on a leash (6’ or less) at all times and cleaned up after (doggie doo bags are available near the stairs). And please be considerate of other visitors – keep your dog under control, clean up after them, and carry out your doggie doo bags - do not leave them in the caves. Keep in mind that pets are not allowed on the Shuttle.
Can I bring sled dogs?
Yes. Personal sled dog trips can be made to the caves. Commercial sled dog trips are not allowed. The same rules as regular dogs apply – clean up after your dogs. And please be considerate of other visitors. Keep in mind that there is no place to access the lake near Meyers Beach with a sled dog team.
Can I use a snowmobile, ATV or UTV?
Snowmobiles, ATVs, and UTVs may NOT be operated near the mainland sea caves or anyplace along the mainland ice from Saxine Creek to Sand Point between the shore and the park boundary ¼ mile out into the lake. This is to protect the safety and enjoyment of the thousands of visitors walking in this area. Snowmobiles, ATVs, and UTVs may be operated on the frozen surface of Lake Superior surrounding the islands and from Sand Point to the mainland unit's east boundary within the park for the purpose of ice fishing, hunting, trapping and access to non-motorized activity (e.g., hiking, camping). Snowmobiles are not permitted on the islands or off-road on the Mainland Unit.
Can I use a drone?
No. The use of drones is prohibited in all National Park areas, including the Ice Caves and the Meyers Beach area, which are within Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Keep in mind that the park boundary extends onto Lake Superior ¼ mile from the shoreline.
Can I ride my bike to the caves?
No. Bicycles are not permitted off-road or on trails within the park, which includes the frozen surface of Lake Superior. They are permitted on roads.
Can I ride a horse to the caves?
No. Horses are not permitted on the frozen surface of Lake Superior within the boundaries of the Park.
Can I camp near the caves?
Yes, with a camping reservation. There is a single campsite in the park’s Mainland Unit. The campsite is a 4.5 mile hike along the snow-covered Mainland Trail from the trailhead at the Meyers Beach parking lot. The trail leading to the overlooks of the ice caves is usually snowpacked and slippery. Boardwalked sections are narrow with steps that may be difficult to traverse on snowshoes. The section of the trail beyond the overlook point is lightly used, may have deep snow, and may be difficult to follow. To make a camping permit reservation, you can visit recreation.gov, or you can call 715-779-3398, ext. 2 to make a reservation. Office hours are Monday-Friday, 8:00 am – 4:30 pm.
Can I ice climb?
No. Climbing, scrambling or rappelling on the cliffs or ice formations is not permitted along the mainland sea caves. The delicate nature of these formations makes them highly susceptible to damage. Also, at any given time there may be hundreds of people at the base of the cliffs. If ice or rock were to give way and fall on someone it could cause serious injury.
Island Information:Which islands have caves?
The Mainland, Sand Island, and Devils Island have the most sculpted caves in the park. Most people visit Sand and Devils Islands during the summer. Getting to the islands in the winter can be very risky. The only cave location that is checked for ice conditions is along the Mainland sea caves.
Can I ski/snowshoe/dog sled to see caves on the islands?
Yes, you can ski, snowshoe or dogsled on your own, but it is at your own risk. The ice thickness is only tested near the Mainland Ice Caves.
Can I winter camp in the Park?
Yes, with a camping reservation ($). You can make a camping permit reservation on recreation.gov, or you can call 715-779-3398, ext. 2 to make a reservation. Office hours are Monday-Friday, 8:00 am – 4:30 pm.
General Information:How often are the ice caves accessible?
In 2014, they were accessible for the first time since 2009. They were accessible again in 2015, but for a much shorter period of time. Between 2003-2009, they were accessible for at least a short period of time each year except for 2006. They were not accessible in 2016 or 2017.
How unusual was the visitation in 2015 compared to other years?
The visitation in 2015 was 38,000 over a nine day period. In 2014, the visitation was 138,000, but the season was much longer, nearly 2 months. In 2009, the season length was similar to 2014, but the visitation was only 8,400 and in 2017, a year without accessible ice caves, visitation for January and February was 3,100.
What's the latest date the ice caves have been accessible?
In the mid-2000’s (approx. 2005) the caves were not accessible until March and people were still walking out to the caves that first week in April.
What is the longest season the ice caves have been accessible?
2014 and 2009 probably tie for the longest seasons (approx. 8 weeks).
Why is some of the ice on the ice caves blue?
Ice only appears blue when it is sufficiently consolidated that bubbles do not interfere with the passage of light. Without the scattering effect of air bubbles, light can penetrate ice undisturbed. In ice, the absorption of light at the red end of the spectrum is six times greater than at the blue end. Six feet into the ice, most of the light in the red spectrum can’t be seen. A lack of reflected red wavelengths produces the color blue in the human eye.
Why is some of the ice on the ice caves pink?
The cliffs at the mainland sea caves are formed from Devils Island sandstone. The sand grains in this rock are weakly cemented and easily eroded by wind, ice, and waves. That is how the caves form, but when the reddish sand grains slough off the rock and become imbedded in the ice, the ice acquires pinkish appearance.
Partners:The Park cannot run the ice caves alone with the incredible turnout of visitors in recent years. We only can do this with the support of the local communities and governments that provide essential services to visitors and staff. Thank you!
Last updated: December 17, 2018