Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Ice Caves
My husband, Kurt, is one of those lucky people who often buys a raffle ticket and actually wins. Usually he comes home with something hunting related but once he brought home a certificate for a weekend at a bed and breakfast in Bayfield, Wisconsin. The Pinehurst Inn looked wonderful and we already knew that we HAD to eat at Wild Rice. We decided to go at the end of October and hit the jackpot when we called to make our dinner reservations. Turns out Wild Rice was celebrating their 10th anniversary with a limited seating, 7 course, over the top dinner. We rounded out our weekend with plans to hike along the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. We were not disappointed. There were breathtaking views of the majestic Lake Superior and the sea caves along the cliffs. Our hosts at the Pinehurst later told us that the caves are even more spectacular if you get a chance to see them in the winter. Unfortunately it’s not often that the ice freezes well enough to view them. The last time was in 2009. Regal and commanding, Lake Superior will let you see the ice caves when and if she’s ready. And as the largest freshwater lake in the world, it’s also the coldest and deepest of all the Great Lakes. Certainly nothing to mess with if you don’t know what you’re doing…especially in the winter. Nevertheless, once this seed was planted in my brain I knew I had to try to see those ice caves someday.
Thanks to the Polar Vortex I got my wish. With temps plummeting as low as -30, it didn’t take long for the ice conditions to get perfect for viewing. So my friend, T, and I started planning our trip to Bayfield. We poured over websites and Facebook posts so we would be prepared. The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore site had critical information on the winter conditions as well as a great map of the caves.
With all the publicity the caves have gotten there have been record numbers heading north. Since we preferred to avoid a huge crowd we chose to go on the Tuesday after President’s Day weekend. That was a good decision…we “only” encountered 1500 people! It was an “unseasonable” 39 degrees and partly sunny; we couldn’t have asked for a better day. And after hearing stories of hand warmers, face masks, frigid winds and frostbite we were thrilled to be able to have our cameras in hand the whole time.
We started out for Bayfield at 8 in the morning. After a quick stop at (where else?) a quilt shop in Ashland, we made our way over to Meyer’s Beach Road. People were already parking about a half mile up the road. Meyers Beach Road is about another half mile and then one more mile of hiking on the lake to reach the caves. Later a park ranger told us that people were parking up to 5 miles down the road when more than 25,000 people visited the previous weekend.
It was well worth the walk to get there! The first cave was breathtaking but only gave us a taste of what was to come. Each step was more spectacular than the next. Crystal chandeliers hung from ice castle ceilings!
We brought along Stabilicers to wear on our boots and were we ever glad we did. They made walking on the ice easy and prevented us from breaking a leg while we spent the rest of the day exploring the entire stretch of the caves…about two miles. Between us we took almost 1000 pictures! It was easy to spot the reporters and professional photographers. This video was being filmed the day we were there by a crew from Australia!
When we finally noticed the sun lowering in the sky we figured we better tear ourselves away and head back. After the day’s adventure that was definitely was a harder trek than we thought!
On our drive home we talked of plans to return. This big lake has a way of luring you back. Unfortunately that may not be as soon as we’d like because Lake Superior’s ice is already breaking up. Only a few days after we went, when the ice on Lake Superior was almost 100%, the winter winds did this:
Sure gives you perspective on why this magnificent lake commands such respect. Two days later the Sea Caves were closed for a few days until it was deemed safe. Clearly, Her Magesty is calling all the shots.
A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature.
It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.
~Henry David Thoreau