Trip Report: Apostle Island Ice Caves

Maybe you’ve seen them in the news, or in your social media feed. The ice along the shoreline of Lake Superior is frozen enough right now to walk out to the Mainland Sea Caves along the Apostle Island National Lakeshore. In the summer, kayakers explore the sea caves by boat, but it’s not every year that people get to see them in the winter.

It’s been an especially cold winter here in the upper midwest. It’s meant a lot of snow and a lot of ice. Pretty great for those of us who like to play outside. And pretty great for the sea caves, which are now covered in ice. The cold also means that tens of thousands of people have been able to hike out onto the lake to see the frozen caves.

Sunrise on frozen Lake Superior

Sunrise on frozen Lake Superior

Seth and I drove up last weekend to see them for ourselves. We went out before sunrise on Sunday morning, which was the perfect time to go. We beat the crowds and got to explore the caves with very few others around us. It was a cold morning, air temps were down near -10F. That combined with the dawn light and the ice caves made for a stunningly beautiful morning along the shores of Lake Superior.

The ice is formed both from the waves of Lake Superior and from water trickling out of the rock itself, creating some really spectacular effects.

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The caves were beautiful from the outside; big, grand displays of nature. Inside the caves we found tiny little details that were just as spectacular as the giant icicles outside.

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We hiked about 2 miles from the beach before turning around and heading back. If we had brought our harnesses and a rope, we could have just rapped down from the top of the cliffs. That would have been awesome.

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Not only were the caves absolutely beautiful, but it’s not every day that one gets to walk out onto Lake Superior. The last time it was frozen enough to safely get out there was in 2009, and as soon as the next big storm comes across the lake, there’s a good possibility of the ice breaking up. The window is small. I mentioned earlier that tens of thousands of people are taking advantage of that window to see the caves. It’s incredible that so many people are making the trek to see the beauty of nature. We saw cars parked a couple of miles down the road. People with kids and dogs and sleds hiking out for a rare viewing.

The caves are a 3.5 hour drive from the Twin Cities, and it was worth the trip. If you make the trek yourself and want to avoid the weekend crowds, get out your warm clothes and head out early in the day.

Happy exploring! Thanks to Seth for the beautiful photos.